By Fr. Richard Hinkley
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Seriously, Father? Rejoice? At this time? Don’t you know what’s going on? Can’t you see that we are in crisis and that this is not the time to rejoice?
Are you blind?
No, I am not blind, and neither are we the “children of the Light.”
Today is the Fourth Sunday of Lent. It is referred to as “Laetare Sunday” because the word “Laetare” is Latin for the command “Rejoice!” It is the first word of the Entrance Antiphon for this Sunday. Laetare Sunday and the Fourth Week of Lent mark the midway point of our Lenten pilgrimage. With each passing day there will be more time behind us than before us as we approach Holy Week and the glories of the Paschal Triduum. Recognizing this proximity, with the goal more clearly in sight, the Church calls us to “Rejoice.” Typically on Laetare Sunday, similar to its Advent counter-part Gaudete Sunday, the vestments used at Mass would be rose colored, flowers could be used to adorn the altar, and the organ and other instruments could be used more generously. These signs, with the texts for the Mass, all express and stimulate our faith so that, as the Collect for the Mass indicates: “with prompt devotion and eager faith the Christian people may hasten toward the solemn celebrations to come.”
In order to access this authentic source of joy; however, we have to see with a renewed vision. We need the uncreated “Light from Light” to illumine the eyes of our soul, to heal our spiritual blindness and allow us: to behold with clear vision the way things truly are, to put things in proper perspective, to see not as man sees, but as God sees. (See 1st Reading). When we allow God to heal our spiritual sight, suddenly the entire universe appears new and we find ourselves with a different posture towards life. “Even though I walk in the dark valley I fear no evil; for you are at my side with your rod and your staff that give me courage.” (See Res. Ps. 23)
The Gospel for today is one of the three great Gospel accounts from John that have a particular focus on the Catechumens (called now “The Elect” since their approval by the local bishop) as they prepare for Christian Initiation. Last week we recall our Lord teaching that sacramental initiation into life in Christ creates a new source of life within us, “springs of water welling up to eternal life.” This week, we look at the effects of the sacraments of initiation (Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist) as a healing of spiritual blindness and an illumination of the soul with the “Light of the World” (See Gospel). It’s no accident that Light is one of the chief symbols and themes employed in the Liturgy, above all at the Easter Vigil. While Christ heals the man born blind from his physical blindness at the beginning of the Gospel, it is not until the end after the Pharisees “threw him out” that he professes faith in Jesus as the “Son of Man” i.e. the Christ, worships Jesus, and receives true clarity of vision.
While some may choose to focus on the darkness of the valley, we who have been reborn in Christ and are illuminated by his word are truly in want of nothing (Ps. 23). We see the table he has spread before us. We see the anointing he has given us. We see our cup overflowing. God is here and isn’t abandoning us. Our optimism, rooted in a clear understanding of Christ’s abiding presence, can be obnoxious to some and may result in a “social-distancing” that has nothing to do with sanitation. We are also discouraged because we may not have the same access to the sacraments that we normally have. That’s ok. It’s good that the absence of these things hurts. It means we see clearly what’s important. However, rather than stopping there, let us look and see that the Lord has not abandoned us: the liturgy is still being celebrated, the sacraments are still being celebrated. We can like the blind man still worship Christ by coming to adore him in the Blessed Sacrament at Church. We can still worship Christ in our homes and with our families through the Liturgy of the Hours, Lectio Divina, the Rosary, the Divine Mercy Chaplet, the Stations of the Cross and other devotions. We can still worship him by giving to the poor and needy who are always affected worst in times of crisis.
There is so much we can still do! The true tragedy would be to remain blind to that.
“Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.” (2nd Reading)