4th Sunday of Lent (Fr. Francis)
The Lord anointed my eyes: I went, I washed, I saw and I believed in God (Jn 9:11, 38)
It’s hard to believe that only a week ago that life here was normal! We may have taken for granted many of the things that are now not possible. As we adjust to this constantly changing situation that is our new reality, it is more important than ever to stay connected to Our Lord.
Pray, trust, and take the next step. Certain things simply have to unfold. Look at the depths of vision the man born blind receives in the Gospel today. He receives his physical sight in an instant with just a little obedience. Our Lord spits on the ground, makes some clay, smears it on the man’s eyes, and gives him a simple command, which the man follows, and his physical sight is restored. Incredible right! But this fast acting miracle is only the beginning of the deeper and longer lasting sight. Our Lord disappears from the scene for most of today’s Gospel while the man goes through a good deal of testing and trial, gradually growing in his sight into who Jesus Christ really is.
The man who was born blind has impressive faith. Notice that from the beginning he does not make demands; in fact, he doesn’t even make a request. It’s the disciples who ask about the sinful origin of his blindness. Our Lord takes the initiative to heal him. After the miracle, the questioning comes to him — he’s neither looking to pick a fight nor even to evangelize. And yet, just like he was docile to our Lord from the beginning and received his physical sight, he continues to be calm under pressure, weathering interrogation and insult from the Pharisees, and all the while recognizing more and more the one who took the initiative to help him in the first place won’t abandon him, even if his parents fret about the outcome of such questioning.
Most of us listening today likely have our physical sight, and in this day and age corrective lenses are readily available (I’m wearing contacts myself). However, I would venture to bet that most of us could use a good dose of the trust in the loving presence of Jesus Christ demonstrated by this man born blind.
We often want signs, proof, unmistakable evidence that the love of God is living and effective. However, that is not how it typically works, and certainly not on our schedule. We do not make demands of God. As our Lord said to the devil in the face of the challenge to throw Himself down from the parapet of the temple, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.”
The same rule applies in other relationships. A groom cannot say to his lovely bride on the day before their wedding “Prove to me that you will love me in 5 years. In 10 years. In 50 years.” Such a temptation to a soon to be spouse would be unprovable at best and downright insulting at worst. She will prove her love as it gradually unfolds over those coming years in ways that neither of them can fathom (And consequently, if it is to be a fruitful marriage, his fidelity is part of the equation as well). It is with time and fidelity that such love is proven, but without saying “I do” each day, without taking the next step in trust, neither will know the goodness of mutual fidelity that is theirs to enjoy. Trust has to be there, steps need to be taken, and the relationship gradually unfolds.
We prayerfully move forward with our Lord in the same way. We learn each day that He will not abandon us. Sometimes, there are moments of brilliant, enlightening radiance in which we see clearly, as if for the first time that His loving hand is present and that He is guiding us on. Sometimes, His presence is less obvious, merely the almost unrecognizable background music that is tying things together without so much as a notice.
How do we learn to faithfully keep taking the next step in trust without fear or anxiety? Prayer. Each and every day is the time to lift our minds and hearts to our Lord in humble adoration and trust. The devil tempts us to think that our Lord is not present, that He doesn’t care about or notice what is happening in our lives. Just like the temptation to our Lord from the heights of the temple, the devil suggests that we put our Lord to the test. Such a test is not the way of love. Think back to our newlyweds from before. Imagine the groom saying to his bride, “I love you,” and the bride looking back at him and saying, “Prove it!” It doesn’t work like that. The proof will come as the two weather the storms of life together, in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer, all the days of their lives. Each day demonstrates the love that they share in a way that no mere quick action can prove. We may like big, bold, firework type signs; however, true love and fidelity are proven over a lifetime.
Back to the Gospel for today. Just like last Sunday’s Gospel in which the woman at the well gradually came to see that Jesus is in fact the Messiah, the man born blind goes from declaring Jesus to be a prophet to eventually worshiping Him in the midst of the doubting crowds. Here we are, over halfway through Lent. There are questions and threats of exclusion from polite society for being focused on our faith. It is generally accepted that we have a right to worship, in our own private ways, as long as we’re not too serious about it, as long as we don’t let those private devotions have an impact on our public life. It sure is tempting to ask God to change all of that and make it easy to be a faithful, practicing Catholic in the world without challenge or criticism for believing in Him and acting as though we did. But, that miracle does not currently seem to be on offer. Rather than sudden freedom from the challenges of living out our faith we have instead the insights of 2,000 years of Church history; we have the ordinary signs of God’s never-failing love for His Church in the seven Sacraments; we have the example of countless Saints who have gone before us showing us that lived faith is possible in our fallen world; and we have our Blessed Mother who has appeared many times reminding us of the love her Son has for us and all sinners and that we need to pray the rosary every day to keep seeing this. Yes my brothers and sisters, we have so much going for us, so many reasons to take the next step with loving trust and fidelity.
Do not tempt the Lord your God. Do not demand of Him who laid down His life on the cross for you that He prove His love by signs and wonders. Rather, spend time with Him each day according to your vocation and state of life and move forward, one day at a time, with loving trust. Then, just like the man born blind, you will see that our Lord is there, in good times and in bad, leading us deeper and deeper into His love as long as we have the faithful trust to take the next step. Keep praying. Keep trusting in Him. And all the while remember, we may not know exactly what is coming next, but we know Him.
Fr. A. Francis HGN