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Sunday, fourth week of Lent

April 3, 2011

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!

The rose color actually originated with the use of roses on this day.
One source claims that members of the Early Church exchanged roses on this day
as a sign of mingled sorrow and joy (soft petals and prickly thorns).

What is more certain is that rose vestments are used
for the ceremony of the papal blessing of the golden rose on the fourth Sunday of Lent
(which was referred to as an ancient custom in the 12th century).
This rose, which is fragranced with incense and set with rubies (it was once tinted red),
is a symbol of Christ, the Flower that sprang from the Root of Jesse (Isaiah 11:1).
The fragrance signifies the sweet aroma of Christ,
which should be diffused throughout the whole world by His followers
(see II Corinthians 2:14-15).
The color and thorns remind us of His Passion.

Why is your apparel red,
and your garments like those of the winepresser?
-Isaiah 63:2.

Originally the blessed rose was given to a prince who was present
or was sent to a monarch who had done something special for the Church.
Now it’s reused until a worthy recipient is chosen
(places of devotion–the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
in Washington, D.C. received one in 2008).

The prayer that’s used to bless the rose is lovely:

‘O God! by whose word and power all things were created,
and by whose will they are all governed!
O You who are the joy and gladness of all Your faithful people!
we beseech Your divine Majesty,
that You vouchsafe to bless and sanctify this rose,
so lovely in its beauty and fragrance.
We are to bear it, this day, in our hands, as a symbol of spiritual joy;
that thus the people that is devoted to Your service,
being set free from the captivity of Babylon
by the grace of Your only-begotten Son
who is the glory and the joy of Israel,
may show forth, with a sincere heart,
the joys of that Jerusalem, which is above, and is our mother.
And whereas Your Church, seeing this symbol,
exults with joy for the glory of Your Name;
do You, O Lord! give Her true and perfect happiness.
Accept Her devotion, forgive us our sins, increase our faith;
heal us by Your word, protect us by Your mercy;
remove all obstacles; grant us all blessings;
that thus this same, Your Church,
may offer unto You the fruit of good works;
and walking in the odour of the fragrance of that Flower,
which sprang from the root of Jesse,
and is called the Flower of the field, and the Lily of the valley,
may She deserve to enjoy an endless joy
in the bosom of heavenly glory, in the society of all the saints,
together with that divine Flower, who lives and reigns with You
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, for ages of ages. Amen.’

Today is also known as “Mothering Sunday,”
since today’s antiphon begins “Rejoice, Jerusalem!”,
and the Church (represented by Jerusalem) is our Mother.
This became a day to honor mothers, giving them flowers (roses?!) and a cake
and asking for their blessing–the original, Christian, Mother’s Day.

In addition, 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.
His 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 was–the Son of God–
in order to understand the meaning underlying Jesus’ 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 (You have come from darkness to light. Act like it!)
+John 9:1-41(Jesus heals the man born blind)

What we call “vision” is all too often blindness in God’s eyes.

Not as man sees does God see,
because man sees appearances but the Lord looks into the heart
-I Samuel 16:7

We see illusions, pretences, things that are passing away,
and we mistake them for Reality.
We miss what God wants us to see.

We acquire divine vision from God Himself,
from the Light Who came into the world
so that we might see things for what they really are.

I am the light of the world.
-John 9:5

This has implications.

Everyone who practises evil hates the light;
he does not come near it for fear his deeds will be exposed.
But he who acts in truth comes into the light
to make clear that his deeds are done in God
-John 3:20-21

This is what St. Paul is talking about when he challenges us to live as children of light,
and to take no part in the shameful deeds of darkness.
When we come into the light
we become light.

You are the light of the world
-Matthew 5:14

It also explains what happened to the blind man after Jesus healed him.
When he proclaimed the Reality of what Jesus had done for him,
those who practised evil hated him.
The light he shed exposed their deeds.
They threw him out bodily.

I came into the world to divide it,
to make the sightless see
and the seeing blind
-John 9:39

Some of us, like the Pharisees, think we can see.
We think we’ve got this religion thing all wrapped up.
How are we supposed to desire vision when we think we already have it?

Nobody can teach us anything…not even God.
We judge ourselves, preferring the darkness of hell to the light of Heaven.

“We see”, you say
and your sin remains
-John 9:41

Our sin remains.
Our blindness remains!

The more fortunate among us, like the blind man,
know that we’re blind…or we know most of the time.
There’s so much we just don’t see!

God can give us sight.
And the more He shows us, the more we realize how much we still don’t see!

Who is He, sir, that I may believe in Him?
…and he bowed down to worship Him
-John 9:36, 38

The blind man acquired not only natural vision, but supernatural vision as well.
He began to see as God sees,
looking past appearances–into the very Heart of Reality.
And he worshiped.

That’s the vision God wants for all of us;
the vision that can see ourselves for who we really are–blindness and all–
and that can see Him for Who He really is.

The One Who created us from mud (see Genesis 2:7)
re-creates us by smearing mud on our eyes
and commanding us to go and wash in the pool of Baptism
(if we haven’t been there already)
or Confession (if we have).

When we emerge with new vision,
we are “Siloam” (“sent”) to share it with those who think they can see,
those who will hold our past blindness against us
and ultimately throw us out.

But that’s ok.
Jesus will seek us out and continue the good work He has begun in us.
And sooner or later our witness will bear fruit–
even among the Pharisees.
(see John 3:1, 19:39, Acts 15:5, 23:6)

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