Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Lent, March 22, 2020
Samuel 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-4
Most Reverend Joseph J. Tyson, Bishop of Yakima
Peace be with you! Both the Gospel from St. John as well as our opening Old Testament reading from the Book of Samuel challenge us. To what am I blind? What do I not see?
In our opening reading, the Lord sends Samuel the prophet to Jesse of Bethlehem. The mission? To anoint the new king of Israel. Jesse brings forth all of his sons of mature age. Yet the Lord tells Samuel that it is none of these. Rather, it is the very youngest son, completely out of sight, that the Lord commands Samuel to anoint. Jesse, it seems, was blind to the potential call of his youngest son David.
Parallel to this is our Gospel from St. John. Jesus, from the House of David, hears a man born blind call out to him. Jesus heals the man born blind. Yet the rich details of the Gospel reveal two central realities. First, the blind man actually sees “interiorly.” We might say he has “insight” into the real identity of Jesus: The One sent by God. Second, those who can see with their physical eyes remain spiritually blind to the reality of Jesus as fully human and fully divine, the One sent by God.
How ironic to speak of blindness at the height of this coronavirus pandemic. How can something so unseen change our lives so much? How can a little virus, blind to the naked eye, create such chaos in our world?
Having walked a bit of the journey with Fr. Alejandro Trejo and his recovery from the coronavirus this week, I have become keenly aware how easy it is to take for granted our public health and how blind we can be to the dangers that destroy public health.
For example, we think since no one dies of measles today that we don’t need to be vaccinated. We become blind to the fact that we no longer die of measles because we vaccinate. Likewise, connoisseurs of milk and cheese no longer worry about dying of harmful bacteria from raw cow milk. That is something from the past. Yet we have become blind to that fact that milk is safe to drink because of pasteurization thanks to the work of the 19th century scientist Louis Pasteur, and other scientists.
What is true for public health is even more true for spiritual health. When things go well in our life, we feel no need to pray. But the spiritual disciplines of the Church suggest it’s just the opposite. Prayer builds up our faith. Prayer helps us become spiritually healthy. Prayer helps us overcome our blindness. By focusing on God, prayer helps us see. Prayer helps us see Jesus.
What do we focus on? What do we see? I am keenly aware how hard this suspension of public eucharist has been for so many of you. But is our deprivation of the Eucharist the only thing we see? Can we detect our growing in “spiritual communion” with Christ even as we fast from the Eucharist?
This week it is becoming increasingly clear that the suspension of the Eucharist might need to extend to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Public health officials are asking us to “nest” in place and stay at home, leaving only for the purchase of groceries and medical emergencies. As result, many may not even be able to come to Church for the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Will we see in this only our deprivation?
Like the “spiritual communion” that we can build in the absence of the Eucharist, Pope Francis suggests that even if we cannot go to confession due to the coronavirus there is still a pathway to receive forgiveness even of the most serious of sins. Citing the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis notes: “When the individual faithful find themselves in the painful impossibility of receiving sacramental absolution, it should be remembered that perfect contrition, coming from the love of God, beloved above all things, expressed by a sincere request for forgiveness (that which the penitent is at present able to express) and accompanied by votum confessionis, that is, by the firm resolution to have recourse, as soon as possible, to sacramental confession, obtains forgiveness of sins, even mortal ones (cf. CCC, no. 1452).”
I opened my homily with references to Samuel who saw what no one else saw: David as king. I also noted how a blind man “saw” Jesus as “light of the world.” My hope and prayer for you this week is that like these great figures of scriptures you may see too. May our words be the words of the man born blind from birth: “Lord, I do believe.” Peace be with you!
Artwork: Christ and the pauper. Healing of the blind man. 2009. Canvas, oil. Andrey Mironov / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)