4th Sunday of Lent; “Laetare Sunday”
Live-Streamed Mass (Coronavirus Crisis)
Cathedral of Mary Our Queen
Mar. 22, 2020
What is the Cause of Our Joy?
At the beginning of Mass, I mentioned that today is “Laetare Sunday” – and, as the Latin scholars among us know, the word “laetare” means, “ to rejoice”! Now, it might seem just a little tone deaf for the Church to celebrate a Sunday of rejoicing, not only in the midst of Lent, but also in the midst of a global pandemic that has claimed the lives of thousands and still threatens the lives of many more people, at home and abroad. Coupled with the pandemic is a global financial crisis which is already affecting the livelihood and the savings of countless people. What’s more, the most defenseless among us are even more vulnerable as healthcare and social service systems are strained to the breaking point. Some may be asking: “Over what should we be rejoicing?”
It’s tempting for me to rush to a correct answer as to the real reason for our joy. But instead of going there first, I think we should journey as one towards that answer. And the route we should take is today’s Scripture readings, the very Word of God, which have the capacity to light our way now and in the difficult days that lie ahead.
Is There Light at the End of the Tunnel?
Over the last few weeks I’ve been asked more than once, “Is there light at the end of the tunnel?” Yes, we want to know when this virus will be brought under control and when the restrictions on our normal way of life will be lifted. People want to know when they can go back to work, when schools will open, when the stores will be back in business, when we can travel, and indeed, when once again Mass will be celebrated publicly in our churches. A large part of the anxiety and fear that we are feeling is that of not knowing, of not being able to foresee when this pandemic will loosen its grip on us.
How appropriate, then, for us to read today the Gospel account of the man born blind, for we are very much like that man as we stumble around in the midst of this crisis. As yet, not even scientists and medical experts can see clearly how to treat this virus, and we get a fair amount of conflicting advice about how best to keep ourselves safe. As this crisis drags on, we may find ourselves dealing with a kind of inner blindness, brought on by conflicting emotions of anger, frustration, and fear, perhaps coupled with doubts about God’s goodness and mercy. When some tragedy strikes, how often is it said, “God was nowhere to be seen!”
So like the man born blind we come today before Jesus, the Divine Physician. We might find ourselves saying to the Lord, “If you could cure the man born blind, can’t you cure those suffering from this virus? And, failing that, Lord, how about helping researchers to find a cure quickly?” … … Actually, there is nothing wrong with a prayer like that. We should pray that the Lord would lay his healing hand upon those who are ill and that he would guide us in the anxious search for a remedy and a vaccine. Let us not discount the Divine Physician’s power to heal us, nor let us discount the power of creation’s Author to help us unlock nature’s secrets. In the face of this pandemic, we, like the man born blind, need to approach Jesus with humble hearts, for we do not control our destiny nearly so much as we think.
The Healing of Our Inner Vision
But let’s just suppose that a remedy to the coronavirus appeared on the scene, that people everywhere saw clearly what they had to do to avoid it or to overcome it. And let us say that very quickly a sense of normality returned to our lives. Would that be the end of the story? Should we let this episode pass into history without learning something from it? Not if we ask the blind man whom Jesus cured; and not if we ask Samuel & St Paul!
If we take another look at the cure of the blind man, we’ll see that Jesus did much more than to make the man’s eyes function. It’s true: we can only imagine how delighted the man must have been to have vision for the very first time, to see people, to see nature, just to see! Yet, Jesus wanted to heal, not just his physical eyes, but the eyes of his soul. And here again, you and I can identify with the man born blind and for this reason: When we look into our own hearts, we realize that our inner vision is often impaired. Perhaps during this particular Lent, when we are confined, and as we struggle with the unprecedented, and with all the feelings that it unleashes, we are, paradoxically, in a better position to grapple with our inward sightlessness. What would it be like to have Jesus cure our inward vision, to give us, in this fateful year of 2020 … 20/20 spiritual vision? Today’s Scripture readings offer us a two-fold answer to that important question.
In our first reading, the Lord instructed Samuel not to anoint as King of Israel any of the sons of Jesse who seemed to be the most apt candidates for that calling. Instead, the Lord showed Samuel whom he should anoint: It was David, the youngest of Jesse’s sons, the most unlikely candidate of all. The Lord explained his choice of David to Samuel, when he said, “Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance but the Lord looks into the heart.” So, if we allow the Lord to restore and sharpen our inner vision, the first thing we may notice is a newfound reluctance to judge others rashly. Instead we’ll be much more inclined to imitate God who judges you and me with wisdom and love and patience. Perhaps we’ll find ourselves giving the other person the benefit of the doubt; perhaps we’ll take the time to look beyond outward appearances.
Our reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, shows us a second benefit we’d receive if we were to allow the Lord to heal our inner vision, and it’s this: Freed from the darkness of sin, we will live as children of light. That is to say, we will rejoice, even in the midst of our problems, because we know we’ve been chosen to belong to God and thus chosen to reflect the light of his glory, not only by rejecting the glamor of sin and the promptings of the devil, but indeed by embracing that which is true and authentically good. Living in the light, you and I will be a source of truth and goodness and love for those around us – for our family, for our Church, and for our society.
Our Faith Made Whole: Seeing Jesus as Lord and Savior
Let us now take one more look at Jesus’ amazing cure of the man’s blindness. At the end of the Gospel, the man who had been cured comes to recognize Jesus not merely as a prophet or as a worker of wonders, but indeed as the Son of Man, as the Messiah sent by the Father to redeem us: Jesus, the light of the world. His eyes, outer and inner, were fully restored when he knelt before Jesus and said, “I do believe, Lord!” – “I do believe”!
The joy of this Sunday in the midst of Lent and our troubles is no ordinary joy, the kind we experience when everything is going our way. No, it’s an extraordinary, life-changing joy, when we finally open the eyes of our heart to the One who is “God from God, light from light, true God from true God” – to the One who frees us from sin, supports us in every trial, and enables us to participate to the fullest extent of our being, in the truth, joy, and love of God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. If today we allow the Lord to touch and heal the eyes of our inmost soul, we will be enabled to experience, even in this extraordinary year, the joy of believing, the joy of hoping, the joy of loving the One who laid down his life so that we could live, the One who calls us, amid the actual circumstances of our lives, to participate in his own grace and glory. To him be glory forever and ever. Amen.