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Sunday, fourth week of Lent

March 2, 2008

Blessed Laetare Sunday!

You may remember “Gaudete Sunday” from Advent. Well, “Laetare” means “rejoice” too, and we can trade our Lenten violet for the rose-color of joy today. We rejoice because we’re more than halfway through our time of spiritual preparation for Easter!

Our season is starting to shift. Up to this point, we’ve heard almost exclusively from the Gospels of St. Luke and St. Matthew. Today we move to St. John’s Gospel, and stay there for the rest of the season, with only 2 exceptions (Palm Sunday and Wednesday of Holy Week). St. John’s Gospel is markedly different from the other three (which are collectively referred to as the synoptic Gospels), both in style and in content. John’s main purpose in writing is stated at the end of his book: “That you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:31). As we approach the mystery of Jesus’ Passion and death, we need to be very clear about who He is–the Son of God–in order to understand the meaning underlying His words and actions, and the significance they have for our own lives. We turn to St. John, that he might teach us.

Father of peace, we are joyful in Your Word,
Your Son Jesus Christ, Who reconciles us to You.
Let us hasten toward Easter with the eagerness of faith and love.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
(Opening Prayer for today’s Mass)

I Samuel 16:1, 6-7, 10-13 (God chooses David as king)
Psalm 23 “The Lord is my Shepherd, there is nothing I shall want”
Ephesians 5:8-14 (Live in the light!)
+John 9:1-41(Jesus heals the man born blind)

We are all born in the darkness of Original Sin, in the blindness of those cut off from God. Such is our natural inheritance, thanks to Adam’s rebellion against our Maker.

God doesn’t leave us there.

Like Samuel, He will not permit the feast to begin until we, the last, the least, the all-but-forgotten, are presented before Him. He sees us as He saw the blind man. He looks upon us as He looked upon David, not seeing as man sees (by outward appearance), but beholding our hearts. And He chooses us!

“God is He who sees with the eyes of love, by whose seeing things are enabled to be themselves, by whose seeing I am enabled to be myself.” (-R. Guardini)

In our blindness, our darkness, we are not free to fully be who we are, who God created us to be. So He stoops to the earth, taking the clay from which He first created us and creating us anew. He anoints us with the Oil of Catechumens, symbolized by this holy clay, an oil that cleanses, heals and strengthens us for our battle against evil. Then He sends us to wash in the Pool of Siloam, to the still waters that refresh the soul (see Psalm 23:2). St. Augustine points out that this pool, whose name means “sent” symbolizes Christ Himself, the One sent by the Father for our salvation. To wash in the Pool of Siloam is to immerse ourselves in Christ through Baptism.

We rise from these healing waters enlightened by Christ (“Enlightenment” is one of the names of the Sacrament of Baptism), able to see by His Light. “While I Am in the world, I Am the light of the world” (John 9:5).

We are anointed with Sacred Chrism, even as David was anointed with oil as king in the midst of his brothers (I Samuel 16:13), rejoicing to be anointed by his Shepherd (Psalm 23:5). The Spirit of the Lord comes upon us as He did upon David (see I Samuel 16:13).

In addition to giving us a share in Christ’s ministry as King, the anointing with Sacred Chrism also gives us a share in His ministries as priest and prophet, since anointing was used in the consecration of priests (see Exodus 29: 1-9), and in the appointing of prophets (see I Kings 19:16). As priests, we offer our “bodies to God as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” (Romans 12:1), and unite ourselves with Christ’s sacrifice in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. As prophets, we “go into all the world and proclaim the good news to all creation” (Mark 16:15), making known what God has done for us, and suffering the persecution common to those who speak in God’s Name. As kings, we govern our own passions, lay down our lives in sacrificial service (“Anyone among you who aspires to greatness must serve the rest” -Matthew 20:26), and go to war against the “principalities and powers, the rulers of this world of darkness, the evil spirits in regions above” (Ephesians 6:12).

This transition from darkness to light carries with it new responsibilities. The deeds of darkness, which are so familiar to us, must now be condemned. We are children of light! And “light produces every kind of goodness and justice and truth” (Ephesians 5:9). This light also leads us into the Sabbath rest (Jesus healed the blind man on the Sabbath), a rest from the servile works of sin (“Truly, truly, I say to you, every one who commits sin is a slave to sin”, John 8:34).

We can also expect to be tested. Even though David had been anointed king as a youth, it was only after many years of struggle, many years of being hunted by the tormented king Saul (see I Samuel 16-II Samuel 2), that he ascended the throne. The man born blind had his time of testing too, as the crowd hauled him before the Pharisees, who badgered him to slander the One Who had healed him. They even called in his parents, whose cowardice made them less than supportive. When he courageously refused to bow to their intimidation, they threw him out bodily! He was now formally cut off from the only worship he had ever known.

We too can expect to be badgered, unsupported, formally cut off by our community. That’s why God fortifies us with His Light, and with His powerful anointing. That’s why He makes us partakers in His own divine life (that’s what Sacraments are all about). He comes to us, as He came to the man born blind, rousing our faith and drawing us into the eternal worship of the New Covenant.

May we never take our Baptism for granted again.

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