Life on the Chrism Trail

Homily for the Fourth Sunday in Lent

March 19, 2023
St. Patrick Cathedral
Fort Worth, Texas

Exodus 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a
Psalm 23:1-3a 3b-4, 5-6
Ephesians 5:8-14
John 9:1-41

The story of the healing of the man born blind which we have just proclaimed from John’s Gospel takes place shortly after Jesus’ announcement that He is the Light of the World who comes to bring the light of eternal life to those in darkness. Today we hear how the Light of the World brought light to a man born blind and in so doing exposed the blindness of those who arrogantly declared that they could see better than anybody else. The episode begins with the disciples wondering about the cause of the man’s blindness. Was it the result of some sin … his own or his parents?

According to the common mindset of the time, the disciples presume that his blindness was the result of a sin committed by him or his parents. Jesus, however, rejects this presupposition and says: “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him.” This hints at the miracle that Jesus is about to perform, and also should encourage us to hope that our defects and tendencies to sin are opportunities for us to experience God’s grace to be victorious over our passions in the way that our sole reliance upon willpower fails us.

The sight granted to the blind man and offered to us by Jesus is not a matter of His will overpowering our own willpower or simply complementing our willpower. Christ is the light that enables us to see first, be attracted to the truth, and then exercise our will through conversion manifested in our words and deeds and acceptance of the full truth revealed in Jesus. The devil discourages us to abandon our conversion to Christ by lying to us through the manipulation of partial truth when God offers us the fullness of the truth in Jesus. The devil’s tactics fluctuate between the shame of accusation (what you did is unforgivable so don’t even think that God will forgive you) and the false self-justification of excuses (that’s not really evil — it’s just who you are, it’s an accident of birth). The devil’s fluctuating tactics between extortion and excuses ensnare our souls with a type of spiritual whiplash that snaps us into avoidance of God’s mercy and the embracing of darkness.

Jesus reveals to the blind man whom He had healed and to us that He has come into the world for judgment, to separate the blind who can be healed from those who do not allow themselves to be healed because they consider themselves insightful or even omniscient. There exists the temptation for every human being to construct for oneself a philosophical approach to life that presents reliance upon God as only an occasional respite to maintain the status quo of one’s self-determination. This is the blindness of the Pharisees and their religious successors of today in all faiths.

Jesus speaks some words that are troubling at first hearing to those of us accustomed to partial truths, “I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind.” We have to see our sins and its effects, or we will not be contrite and repent. The sighted in the light of this world see an illusion of their own righteousness; they are not only blind, they do not even know that they are blind because of their sinful choices.

Yet, the only unforgivable sin is the one that we do not repent over or confess. The sin that we claim is not a sin, the sin that we choose to redefine in shadows instead of acknowledging it and repenting of it. The sin that we soon see as a right and which hardens our hearts from all compassion by becoming demanding and indifferent to those who are harmed by our sins. The pain of hell is when those are condemned see clearly that they loved their sin even more than they loved God, or themselves. The complete blindness is that they freely chose darkness when they saw clearly the option for light and sight. Damnation is ultimately a self-inflicted judgment.

The question which the Lord Jesus asks the blind man is the most important part of the story and is a cause for our joy because He asks us the same question: “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” The man born blind initially recognizes the sign worked by Jesus and he passes from the light of his dim eyes to the light of faith: “Lord, I believe!” As a sincere person the man gradually completes the journey of faith. In the beginning he thinks of Jesus as a “man” among others, then he considers him a “prophet” and finally his eyes are opened, and he proclaims him “Lord” and worships Jesus as God.

The gradual coming to see of the blind man illustrates God’s loving grace in patiently leading us to full and true sight on His terms and in His time — which He orders mercifully towards our ability and willingness to change and be converted. As Benedict XVI surmised, “The Christian life is a continuous conformation to Christ, image of the new man, in order to reach full communion with God. The Lord Jesus is the ‘light of the world,’ because in Him shines ‘the knowledge of the glory of God’ that continues in the complex plot of the story to reveal the meaning of human existence.”

Like the Pharisees we are left with that thought, “What is our blindness? What keeps us from recognizing Jesus around us, in others, and in ourselves? What are our sins?” Unless and until we acknowledge our sins and repent of them, the grace of God cannot work in our lives. We may, in fact, be able to see with our bodily eyes, but the most important things are visible only in the light of Christ that we receive at Baptism. In Him, through the grace of the Holy Spirit, we receive the strength to defeat evil and to do good. May Lent prepare us for the Easter Vigil when we will hear the deacon proclaim, “Christ, our Light,” that we can sincerely respond, “Thanks be to God!”

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