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  • Rev. Lawrence E. Polansky

4th Sunday of Lent (A)

"The man who was blind went off and washed himself and came back able to see."

Entrance Antiphon: Is 66:10-11 – “Rejoice, Jerusalem, and all who love her. Be joyful, all who were in mourning; exult and be satisfied at her consoling breast.”

First Reading: 1 Sm 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a – “David is anointed as king of Israel.”

Responsorial Psalm: Ps 23:1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6 – “The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want.”

Second Reading: Eph 5:8-14 – “Arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”

Verse before the Gospel: Jn 8:12 – “I am the light of the world, says the Lord; whoever follows me will have the light of life.”

Gospel: Jn 9:1-41 – “The man who was blind went off and washed himself and came back able to see.”

Communion Antiphon: Jn 9:11, 38 – “The Lord anointed my eyes: I went, I washed, I saw, and I believed in God.”

In 1945, a young soldier named John Howard Griffin suffered a severe head injury in a bombing raid while serving in the Far East during World War II. His eyesight was damaged and over the next year-and-a-half, he became completely blind. Ten years later, he suddenly began to see flashes of light ... his sight slowly began to return and eventually it was completely restored. In his memoir, Scattered Shadows, he describes getting the first blurred glimpse of his wife and children. Growing accustomed to his blindness was, of course, very difficult. Surprisingly, he found it just as hard to adjust to seeing again.


Having said all of that, most of us take the ability to see for granted. We may need glasses to see very far down the road or to read the fine print right in front of our eyes, but that is a small price to pay for the gift of clear sight.


Lent is a period of forty days ... a period of purification and enlightenment. All of us are renewed ... especially those who we call the Elect ... those preparing to enter the Church at the Easter Vigil through Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist. During Lent … during this period of intense spiritual preparation, the Elect go through a period of interior reflections to purify their minds and their hearts. Last week, they began the Scrutinies ... to bring out and heal anything that is sinful in their hearts ... to deepen their understanding of the mystery of sin ... and to fill them with a deeper desire for salvation that comes from Christ ... who is the light of the world.


The man Jesus heals in today’s Gospel had never seen in all his life. He had no memory of his parents’ faces … no sense of how blue a summer sky is ... or for that matter, even any concept of color. A world of utter darkness was completely normal to him. He learned to find his way across a room when he was just a crawling baby ... a skill that Griffin found extremely hard to master. Then one day the man born blind met Jesus and asked for the gift of sight. Jesus dabbed a bit of damp clay on his eyes and sent him off to wash. That washing in the pool reminds us of the pool of Baptism. Immediately the man could see clearly. Or could he? In the Gospel of Saint John, sight is a metaphor for faith. If you trust in Jesus, He will give you the ability to see with eyes of faith. Jesus asks the man, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He responds, “I do believe, Lord,”and he worshipped Him. In a few weeks at the Easter Vigil and on Easter the priests will ask each one of you whether you believe ... renewing your baptismal promises ... hopefully you will respond, “I do,” and together we will worship the risen Christ.


Seeing is a learned skill. In the first minutes of birth, we could see light, and we wailed in protest at its brightness. It took us a while to learn how to focus our eyes on an object, a bit longer to realize where it was well enough to reach for it. We kept on learning for many years: to understand that the big dog on TV was not in the room ... to catch a ball or to hit it (although some of us never acquired that skill ... myself included … but I learned in fifth grade that was because I couldn’t really see properly). Later, because of our sight, we learned to sort the jumble of letters on a page into words and to read and understand their meaning ... we learned to estimate the speed of an approaching car ... we learned to handle tools, from a tiny needle to a chain saw. Seeing with the eyes of faith is also a learned skill. At Baptism, our parents and Godparents, in most cases, make those promises for us. As we get older, we learn about God and we are able to answer those questions for ourselves.


And unfortunately, as we were learning to see ... we also learned how not to see. We learned how to shut out distractions so that we could concentrate on the task at hand. We learned how to ignore unpleasant interruptions like a whining child or a nosy neighbor or a cell phone ringing during Mass. Unfortunately, we also learned how to ignore things to which we should have paid attention … to the plight of the poor ... to the loneliness of a shut-in ... to the plight of refugees fleeing a war-torn country ... even to the needs of even the people dearest to us ... something that offers a possible path of reconciliation between individuals or nations.


As we continue to get older, we can also keep on learning to see. Just a few years after he recovered his sight, John Howard Griffin took his concern over race relations to extremes. With the help of powerful chemicals that darkened his skin, he traveled through the then segregated South to discover firsthand what it was like to be black there. The book he published in 1961 about his experience, Black Like Me, shed new light on the situation for many people and contributed to the concern that led to the passage of civil rights legislation. We may not be capable of such dramatic action or able to reach so many people. Nevertheless, we can bring just a little spark of light into this darkened world by our words and our actions.


“You were once in darkness, but now you must live as children of the light.” That is what Saint Paul tells the church at Ephesus in today’s Second Reading. He is writing to us as well. It is up to us not only to live in the light of Christ, but also to carry it out of the doors of the church after Mass into this darkened world of ours. The Easter Vigil, which we celebrate in a few short weeks, begins with blessing the fire and the proclamation that Christ is our Light. This Sunday, we’re halfway there. Lent challenges us to live in a way that can be exposed to the light, rather than hidden away in darkness and shame ... that is part of the reason why the Sacrament of Reconciliation is stressed during Lent. That light has shone in our hearts since the day of our Baptism. And Jesus continues to fuel it here and now in the meal we are about to celebrate at this table. He invites us to share with Him and with those around us. May God bless you.

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