Fourth Sunday of Lent (A)

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Fourth Sunday of Lent (A)

Why does the Church give us this particular Gospel – the story of the healing of the man born blind - in the middle of Lent?

This Gospel – from John, chapter 9 - is read on the fourth Sunday of Lent and has been used since ancient times to help instruct the catechumens as they prepare for initiation into the Church at Easter.

The Church had traditionally accompanied the catechumens on their journey during Lent to the Sacraments of Initiation celebrated at the Easter Vigil. On the first Sunday of Lent the Rite of Enrolment is conducted at the Cathedral. Those who have been preparing to be baptised or received into the Church through the RCIA program sign up, if you like, for the culmination of their journey on Holy Saturday night.
The Church is very aware of them during these weeks and according to ancient practice offers Scripture readings during Sundays of Lent provided specifically for them.

So it is useful to listen to the story of the healing of a blind man from the point of view of a catechumen. This story explained how Jesus daubed the eyes of the man born blind and commanded him to wash in the Pool of Siloem. As he washed his eyes he received his sight.

The catechumen could see this as an explanation of what will happen to them at their Baptism: the washing in the waters of Baptism will give them new sight. Of course, this has particular meaning for an adult who has lived without the Christian faith for many years and has come to discover the truth of Christianity. It also can speak to us who have been baptised at birth. This is what baptism has given to us. We often do not realise what we have through our Catholic faith. We so easily take it for granted. 

The significance of the healing of the blind man is captured in the second reading where St Paul says, “You were darkness once, but now you are light in the Lord.” Again these are words that the catechumen could easily identify with.

Faith provides us with the capacity to see. We speak about the “eyes of faith”. The human mind has a capacity to grasp truth. Indeed with all the wonders of advances in science and knowledge which we have witnessed in our own lifetime, we are aware that we human beings are capable of using our intellect to achieve amazing things.

However, the mind is limited. In a way we can say it is darkened. While the human mind can learn about so many things, it can manage to miss the essential truth about human life. We can explore the creation and not identify the Creator. We can know so much about how the human body works, yet not grasp in the reality of the soul and the workings of the spiritual. Some can delve into the spiritual realm and adopt all sorts of fantastic beliefs yet not discover the presence of the living God. We are capable of amassing enormous amounts of knowledge, yet fail to grow in wisdom.
The human mind is a wondrous thing. Yet, like all aspects of our humanity, it can also have glaring weaknesses. We all know how easy it is to have mistaken ideas.

Faith – the gift of faith – enables us to see. Faith opens our minds to an enlightenment which comes from above. A light shines in our minds. Faith enables our minds to receive truth through the working of the Holy Spirit. Recall what the Lord taught – “the Spirit of Truth will lead you into all truth”. What faith offers us is an enlightenment that moves beyond what we are capable of by ourselves. Faith enables us to transcend the limits of human thinking.

In the second reading tonight St Paul added, “Be like children of the light, for the effects of the light are shown in complete goodness and right living and truth”. St Paul is urging the members of the Ephesian community to live according to the light. Being enlightened is not just a question of knowledge or insight, but a revelation of how we are to live. St Paul urges this Christian brethren to allow the light of truth to shine fully in their minds, and once seeing then living according to the truth.

In a similar fashion in his letter to the Romans he says, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect”. St Paul reminds us of the dangers of being conformed in our thinking to the patterns of thought from this world. This is a great danger for us today. We live in a media soaked environment. We are constantly being preached to by the world. We can indeed – without realising it – have a Christian heart, but a secular mind. It is so easy to adopt the thinking of a world where Christian truth has not penetrated.

Our prayer can be that we ask for the enlightenment of our minds. We can humbly ask to be led “into all truth”. We can adopt the attitude that we seek a wisdom that is from above. We can implore the Holy Spirit to reveal the truth to us.

We have received an enlightenment through our Baptism. Like the man born blind we have washed and now have sight. What was once a life of darkness is now a life in which the light of truth shines. We are called to live as children of the light.

We Catholics are not to become conformed to the world, for we have the blessing of being enlightened and led into the truth. This truth is revealed in Jesus Christ. This truth is proclaimed by the Church.

Let us gratefully acknowledge the gift of God to us. We have received sight through our Baptism. Let us desire to grow in the truth and ask God to enlighten our minds.

Archbishop Julian Porteous
Friday, 28 March 2014