Homily for Fourth Sunday of Lent
IV SUNDAY OF LENT – A – 2017 Laetare Sunday
Father Christopher Murphy, Pastor
As sung by Steven Tyler of Aerosmith in the 1993 hit song Livin’ on the Edge, “There’s somethin’ wrong with the world today I don’t know what it is Something’s wrong with our eyes
We’re seein’ things in a different way And God knows it ain’t his It sure ain’t no surprise”
This rock band is not your usual prophetic voice. In fact it is usually a voice of vice. Nevertheless they are on to something. As they say, “Even a blind squirrel finds a nut on occasion.” We have lost sight of the way that God sees things. A personal loving God, as He has revealed Himself, must be saddened by the state of disbelief today. Cardinal Sarah, in his latest book, The Day is Now Far Spent, makes a point from his perspective as a man from Guinea. “African man cannot understand a world without God. The river would no longer have sources, and the houses would be without foundations. A world without God and without morality is like a stillborn infant. The Sea of Galilee cannot exist without its source in the Jordan River. A world without God and without moral and religious values is a deadly illusion. Technological advances try to anesthetize man in an ever deeper sleep.” (p. 224)
I hope that as life slows down for most of us that we don’t squander this opportunity to get back to more of how God sees things. The confused may raise a fist to God and cry, ‘If there is a God, how could He let this happen?’
Firstly, His concern is our eternal happiness. Because so many of us have lost sight of that perspective a deadly epidemic that shuts down business such as Planned Parent for two weeks could actually save about 2,000 lives. (According to their statistics https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planned_Parenthood) We must try to see things through God’s eyes. He gives us faith in order to do so, and blessedly it appears that He is giving us some time to get back to it.
We may find these times anxious, frustrating and unnerving, but we are all called to get back to basics. The basics of our own home, our family, our neighborhood, our next-door neighbors… One parishioner commented that she didn’t even recognize the neighborhood children out playing. We are getting back to the basics of free time. Aristotle in his Nicomachean Ethics speaks of leisure as necessary for the good-life, that is, in order to pursue the good. Josef Pieper “points out that religion can be born only in leisure — a leisure that allows time for the
contemplation of the nature of God. Leisure has been, and always will be, the first foundation of any culture.” He warns, “Unless we regain the art of silence and insight, the ability for non-activity, unless we substitute true leisure for our hectic amusements, we will destroy our culture — and ourselves.” (https://www.amazon.com/Leisure-Basis-Culture-Josef-Pieper/dp/1586172565) And so I hope that we’re finding time for some fruitful pursuits, such as parents educating your own children, or those without children in the home – the basics that might include some needed exercise and reading. For all of you, I hope that this might be that needed opportunity for prayer. You parents might be faced with the challenging task of keeping the Lord’s Day holy by leading your family in communal prayer for the first time.
One of the common devotions from the treasury of our tradition is Spiritual Communion. Pope Francis and Bishop Burbidge have been encouraging us to put it to good use in this time that Holy Communion isn’t available for the most part. What is it?
Have you ever been confronted by your fundamentalist Protestant neighbor, “Have you invited Jesus into your heart?” I can’t help but think that Christ has instilled in these baptized separated brethren, that is, those who are separated from Holy Communion, a means to communion with Him. We find ourselves is a similar situation and sure enough we have a spiritual tool for this. We Catholics have a way of inviting Jesus into our lives, even if we can’t get to church.
“The basis of this practice was explained by John Paul II in his encyclical, Ecclesia de Eucharistia: In the Eucharist, “unlike any other sacrament … God joins himself to us in the most perfect union.” Precisely for this reason it is good to cultivate in our hearts a constant desire for the sacrament of the Eucharist. … St. Teresa of Jesus wrote: “When you do not receive communion and you do not attend Mass, you can make a spiritual communion, which is a most beneficial practice; by it the love of God will be greatly impressed on you” [The Way of Perfection, Ch. 35.].1 .” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spiritual_Communion) Of course, allow me to explain that St. John Paul II and St. Theresa of Avila are not speaking of blowing off Mass for a soccer game, but rather the opportunity to regularly get into the habit of seeking communion with the Lord, especially if we are prevented from going to Mass for a legitimate reason.
The Council of Trent teaches that the Eucharist is received three different ways: 1. In sacrament only by those who come to Holy Communion with unrepentant sins. 2. Spiritually only by those who can’t receive, like most of you this Sunday, but desire to.
3. Sacramentally and spiritually, that is, those who are prepared beforehand and come to Holy Communion with a clean conscience.
Dr. Taylor Marshall explains: “So then, if a person is in mortal sin and receives the Eucharist, he receives it only sacramentally but receives no grace, but rather condemnation (1Cor 11:29-30). Now a person in a state of grace who eagerly seeks union with Christ and makes an act of the will (i.e. an Act of Spiritual Communion), this person does receive the grace and presence of Christ. Now then, the best way is to combine both the sacramental reception with the earnest desire of a spiritual communion. This is what spiritual authors call “making a good communion,” which requires preparation (sacramental confession or at least an act of contrition) and an openness to receiving the Divine Savior into a the palace of one’s heart.” (https://taylormarshall.com/2011/11/difference-between-spirtual-and.html)
It is my sincere hope that as absence makes the heart grow fonder, our forced absence from Mass will instill a longing and appreciation for that which we take for granted. I am reminded of the many communities that I served in the Dominican Republic who went weeks and sometimes months without the sacramental presence of the Lord. When I would finally arrived there were many souls who edified me with their gratitude. But in all honesty there were many who fell away from the practice of the faith, or who had been away so long that they had no idea what I was offering. This is a real danger.
If we should have the Mass suspended till May, how many might get plenty accustomed to the weekend and overlook the Lord’s Day. Even before this crisis (may be it’s the reason for the crisis) many of our parish had fallen into such bad habits. They sacrifice the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass to seek the pursuits of the Massless masses. This is the blindness of our age.
Our Gospel passage today is an example of our how Our Lord heals blindness. This is not always welcomed as the Pharisees object. They’re upset because in their eyes Jesus isn’t respecting God’s law regarding the Sabbath. He is sinning. Furthermore, upon investigating the blind man’s healing, they object to his testimony because he is a sinner.
They are wrong about Jesus’ sin, but they are spot on about the sin of the blind man. His blindness is because of sin. “You were born totally in sin, and are you trying to teach us?” The Pharisees are correct. Sin is why there is blindness. This is why the blind man cannot see. They are correct that he is born in sin, because his parents are sinners. We too have Adam and Eve as our parents and hence the world suffers from diseases such as, blindness. What is the answer to the great problem of our sin and blindness?
I hope that you all said, “Christ”. He provides us with faith. “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.” (Heb 11:1) With it we can see the hand of God in creation. We can see His image and likeness in our neighbor. We can see the help of God in our troubles, but the greatest gift is that we can see the Cross in our lives. We can know how God is using bad times, sacrifices or difficulties to make us holy, i.e. saints. From our own Way of the Cross, He is leading us to heaven.
How does the blind man of the gospel see? Jesus puts mud on his eyes and commands him to wash in the Pool of Siloam. Was it the mud or the waters of the pool that restored the man’s sight? No. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus heals and cures in many different ways. The common element in all of our Lord’s miracles is not mud or a pool, but rather the person who follows our Lord’s instructions, or if you will, blind obedience.
Look how blind faith grows through obedience. At first, the man called Jesus a “man”, then he saw Him as a “prophet”, as “a man sent from God” and finally as “Lord”, i.e. Divine. The scriptures say that no one can call Jesus, “Lord”, without the Holy Spirit, i.e. the power of faith.
Faith provides us the necessary grace to see how to cooperate with God’s plan for our salvation. This insight is diminished by our sin. “Mortal sin destroys charity in the heart of man by a grave violation of God’s law; it turns man away from God….” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1855) The Pharisees were right. Sin is the reason for blindness. Ironically, they forget their own sins and in turn are blinded to the work of God before them. How do we restore the vision that sin diminishes? “Mortal sin … necessitates a new initiative of God’s mercy and a conversion of heart which is normally accomplished within the setting of the sacrament of reconciliation:” (CCC 1856) By Confession, the baptized have a sacrament that Christ uses to wash away the mud. We can be restored to the light of faith regardless of how simple the instruments may seem. As mud didn’t restore sight to the blind man, but rather it was humble obedience to Christ, likewise, our participation in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, despite the lowly priest that ministers it, restores the sight of those already washed in the pool of the Baptismal Font.
Please, note that our regular Confession schedule has changed very little. You may find me in the box ready to assist you Wednesday and Friday nights from 6:307:30, and Saturday afternoon 3:45-4:45. If you are concerned about social distancing, the Confession Line at St. Stephen’s has been the safest place to be for years.