March 26, 2017

Homily for the Fourth Sunday in Lent, March 26, 2017, Year A

Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Provincial Superior, La Salette Missionaries of North America
Hartford, Connecticut

Jesus heals the man born blind
(Click here for today’s readings)

What did the man born blind do once he could see? He went back. Where? We don’t know. Why? Well, where else? John tells us nothing about his reaction to his new situation. He is totally unlike the lame man healed in Acts 3:8, “walking and jumping and praising God.” He was not even looking for Jesus, as far as we can tell.

It almost makes sense. He is the only blind person in the Gospels whose story does not include Jesus’ being asked to let him see. Maybe he was just stunned, confused at this totally unexpected turn of events. Add to that all the fuss going on around him!

Why did the bystanders even feel it necessary to bring him to the Pharisees? This is an element typical of John’s Gospel, heightening the drama and propelling the dialogue forward to its climax.

With such an interesting story, it is easy to miss the brief prologue, in which Jesus stresses the need to do “the works of God...while it is day.”

The Pharisees in the story exemplify what St. Paul calls, in the second reading, “fruitless works of darkness.” Even the good and great Samuel, in the first reading, initially saw only what he wanted to see. The Pharisees persisted in that attitude.

It is impossible to explain color to one who has never seen it. Helen Keller, in her 50’s, published an article in The Atlantic Monthly (January 1933), titled “Three Days to See”. She wrote, “At times my heart cries out with longing to see... If I can get so much pleasure from mere touch, how much more beauty must be revealed by sight. Yet, those who have eyes apparently see little. The panorama of color and action which fills the world is taken for granted. It is human, perhaps, to appreciate little that which we have and to long for that which we have not, but it is a great pity that in the world of light the gift of sight is used only as a mere convenience rather than as a means of adding fullness to life... How many of you, I wonder, when you gaze at a play, a movie, or any spectacle, realize and give thanks for the miracle of sight which enables you to enjoy its color, grace, and movement?”

Have you ever tried to explain faith to someone who has never known it? It is every bit as much a free gift as Jesus gave to the man born blind. Taking our cue from Helen Keller we might ask how many of us who do believe use that gift consciously. How often do we give thanks for it? It is easy to take it for granted.

Helen Keller suggests we should look at things as if in three days we would be struck blind. Applying that thought to faith, what if we had just three days to build up a store of faith, as it were, and then no more increase, no more deepening? How might we go about it? Today’s Responsorial Psalm 23 might be a good start, but I suspect each of us would take a different approach. It’s an interesting concept.

In the case of the faith of the man born blind, Jesus again takes the initiative. He seeks him out and asks him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He adds the gift of faith to the gift of sight, bestowing an even greater gift on top of an already wondrous one.

Lent provides an opportunity for us to recognize the gift of faith, and ask for more.

In a short story published in 1915 by Luigi Pirandello, the author encounters his recently deceased mother. She tells him, “Look at things also with the eyes of those who can’t see them any more. It will make you sad, son, but that will render them more sacred and more beautiful.”

Think of someone you knew who has died, but whose faith was strong and deep and remains an inspiration to you. Now that he or she is gone, look at life, at the world, at other people, with his or her eyes of faith. What a gift of sight that might be!

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