Become Blind to See?
Homily for the
4th Sunday of Lent, Cycle A
Given at St. Jude March 18-19, 2023
By Deacon Ken Steponaitis
Readings for the 4th Sunday in Lent
First, happy Laetare (lay-TAH-ray) Sunday, meaning rejoice because we are officially halfway through Lent. We’re on the downhill slide to Easter and, the reason clergy wear rose, not pink.
I think Jesus likes riddles. He tells us, “I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind.”
To help illustration what Jesus might be telling us today, I want to tell you about I thought I saw the truth of something. You see, I have a wife, and we men know how wives like to help us husbands see how truly blind we can be. Back in 2005 or so, when I was working at St. Joseph in Richardson, a woman, who I’ll name Jan, stopped me in the hallway and asked if I would be interested in some tickets to an opera called Madam Butterfly. I politely told Jan that I was not interested, and I thanked her. Later that day, I told Ruby, my wife, what I had been offered. I told Ruby I was not interest in spending two hours listening to people sing in a high-pitched voice, in a language I could not understand, while reading the subtitles on a screen. And I was pretty darn sure Ruby wasn’t either … that is until I told her that I declined the tickets.
She said, “You did what?!” I said, “I told Jan we wouldn’t be interested.” She said, “Are you kidding me? Why did you tell Jan that?!” I said, “Well I wasn’t interested, and I didn’t think you’d be either.” And without any further consultation from me, Ruby promptly picked up the phone and called Jan telling her, “We’d be happy to use the tickets.” Several days later, we were off to the opera, for the worst two hours of my life.
As with all theatrical entertainment, just before the opera started, the lights went out, the crowd shushed and now our total focus was on the lighted stage. The music began, the singing began, I began to read the subtitles while watching the opera. And I was amazed. It was beautiful. It made me laugh and it quite literally had me in tears at times. I was captivated by the whole thing. By intermission, I couldn’t believe we were half-way through. By the end, I was standing in ovation. It was amazing. And the only reason I had that wonderful experience was because, I had a wife … open to the possibility that we might actually enjoy it.
I thought I saw the truth about operas but until I was blinded by the darkness of the theater, and my focus went to the light of the stage, it was then that I saw the truth of the beauty that this opera truly was.
In a way, my outlook on the opera is much like the story of the pharisees who were sure people born blind were either sinners themselves or their parents had sinned. In the time of Jesus, the conventional wisdom of the day was that you or your parents were sinners if you had an affliction, even one from birth. Which is why the disciples asked Jesus who it was that sinned. And Jesus’s response? Neither had sinned. The man was born blind so that “works of God might [… might …] be made visible through Him.”
Clearly the works of God were not visible to the Pharisees. They were sure Jesus, and the man were sinners. Jesus, because he had worked on the sabbath, the blind man, well, because he was blind.
So, I was like the pharisees. I thought I knew the truth about operas. And Ruby, although not all that interested in operas was at least open to the possibility that this might be something special. And the blind man too was open to the possibility that Jesus might be something special, and so the blind man accepted the invitation to go the pool of Siloam and wash the mud from his eyes.
Remember Jesus wasn’t just saying He came into this world so that those who do not see might see, Jesus also said he came into the world so that those who see, might become blind.
There is a great saint and mystic, St. John of the Cross, who talks about something he calls, “the night of the senses.” And partly what he is referring to is in a way what we are called to do during lent. We are called to shut down our senses by fasting and abstinence, denying ourselves sensory pleasures so we can better perceive the presence of God. This is what a mystic does. By shutting down the senses, by becoming in a way, blind to the world, we open ourselves up to the heavenly realm. We open ourselves up to what in our reading from 1st Samuel, talks about, seeing what God sees rather than what man sees.
Think about this. How often do we close our eyes to smell the fragrance of a rose in order to better smell the fragrance. How often do we close our eyes to taste sumptuous food, or when we kiss or embrace in order to “feel” the love. How often do our great ideas come to us in the night when we are lying in bed, in the darkness and quiet, not able to sleep. Or how often do we close our eyes and go to a quiet place, shutting out the noise of the world in order that we might more easily think and pray? I think we are most receptive to the truth when we enter a kind of darkness, a kind of blindness, where we shut off our senses and open our hearts to possibilities. It is in darkness, in blindness, that we see. Just like in the darkness of the theater, I saw the light of truth on the stage at the opera.
This entire season of lent is about entering into a kind of night of the senses. Historically lent was a period of time where those who were to become Christian, had to go into a night of the senses. They had to become blind to what they thought they knew of the world. They would have to scrutinize themselves, through prayer and fasting, as well as alms giving. In their scrutiny of themselves, they would repent, they would be changed, and open themselves to an entirely new lifestyle.
Here at St. Jude, we have a group of people preparing to be baptized, called the elect, who are doing that very thing. Last Sunday, this Sunday and next, at the noon Mass, the people going through RCIA are experiencing a special rite called a “scrutiny.” During the scrutiny, the priest does what is known as an exorcism. (Not like what you see in the movies by the way.) It’s technically called a minor exorcism. During the exorcism, which is a prayer, we ask that Jesus enter into the lives of the people to be baptized and help them to resist allurements of this world and will fight against the snares of the devil. In other prayers we pray for the elect as they scrutinize themselves, and we ask the elect to enter a night of the senses so they can be open to the healing graces of baptism, confirmation and eucharist. Like the man born blind, these people preparing for baptism will approach a pool, we call the font, and like the blind man, they will be washed clean from the mud of their lives and enter a new life, able to see in a way they have never seen before.
Isn’t it amazing how all these pieces of our faith are tied together. Blindness is a way of seeing. Seeing is a form of blindness. Baptism is a way of being healed of our blindness, and entering a kind of darkness in this world can be a way to see the light of truth, Jesus Himself.
As we approach holy week, it is a solemn time of Jesus’ passion, his suffering and death. And Jesus, the God/Man is willing to endure all that he does, so that we can see the truth of who He is. Jesus wants to heal our blindness. He sends us to the pool of Siloam. It is there where the mud of our lives is washed away. It is there at the pool of our baptism that we see Jesus not just as man and a prophet, but to whom we say, “I do believe Lord, and worship Him.