|The name Lætare Sunday comes from the Entrance antiphon for the day:
Lætare Ierusalem: et conventum facite omnes qui diligitis eam.
Rejoice, Jerusalem, and come together all who love her.
Lætare is the Latin word meaning “rejoice” or “be joyful.” This Sunday marks Lent’s approximate mid-point, a day to rejoice because Easter is now within sight. Traditionally this day was a day of relaxation from normal Lenten practices.
| 1 Sm 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a
|| Ps 23: 1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6
|| Eph 5:8-14
|| Jn 9:1-41
Despite the light, blind by choice
This week, John’s gospel reading invites the believing community to think about our own blindnesses and asks those preparing for Easter initiation to meditate on the meaning of baptism.
John’s gospel tells of Jesus healing a man who was born blind. This story is rich with meanings, but this reflection focuses on the story’s irony about physical sight and spiritual blindness, and on its baptismal imagery.
- Blindness to illumination to insight. As a sign Jesus gives physical sight to a sightless man. Through the rest of the story, the newly sighted man gains insight into those around him. He sees sighted people blind to Jesus’ healing sign. He watches religious leaders argue themselves into blindness over Jesus’ identity. When he tries to enlighten the learned men, they blindly throw him out. Jesus comes looking for the man. When he finally sees Jesus for the first time, the man is illuminated and recognizes Jesus as God’s son. Jesus judges the religious leaders, who observe the Law, sinful and unseeing. Despite Jesus’ enlightening sign, they choose to remain blind to his identity and saving gift.
- The catechumen’s journey to Baptism. The early ekklasia used this healing story to teach about Baptism. The Greek word ἐπιχρίω (eh-pee-KREE-oh), translated in today’s gospel as “to smear” also means “to anoint.” The word ἐπιχρίω connects Jesus’ smearing the man’s eyes with mud to the bishop’s anointing the catechumen with oil as part of the sacrament of Baptism. In both cases, the material signs (mud and water, oil and water) transform the recipient. When the man washes with Siloam water, he sees; when the catechumen is washed in baptismal water, she or he becomes a member of God’s family. Becoming physically sighted restores the man to his community; becoming spiritually enlightened initiates the newly baptized into the ekklasia, the believing community.
As today’s gospel story progresses, a newly sighted man moves from physical sight to spiritual insight. His gradual enlightenment allows him to see Jesus first as simply “a man (v 11),” then as “a prophet (v 17),” then as “from God (v 33),” and finally as the divine “Son of Man (v 38).” His story traces every disciple’s coming-to-faith: hearing about Jesus, learning about Jesus, and finally personally encountering Jesus.
But discipleship has its price: scripture overflows with stories about those who suffer because of their faith. Courageous witnesses stand as shining beacons, especially in today’s rising hostility to religious beliefs. The sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation give us the strength and courage to witness to the one who is the light of the world. Do we choose to illuminate the darkening world with Jesus’ light? Or do we choose to turn a blind eye, finding safety in our own darkness? How will Jesus see us?
||Ps 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9
||Rom 5:1-2, 5-8
Water and food: lessons in discipleship
This week, John’s gospel reading asks RCIA candidates and the believing community to think about the personal encounters that create disciples.
John’s gospel tells the story of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well. This story is rich with meanings, but this reflection focuses on the story’s confusion and irony about two of life’s basic needs: water and food:
- Water. Jesus opens his dialogue with the Samaritan woman with a simple request: give me a drink of water. For RCIA participants, especially catechumens and the Elect, this story presents water as an image of baptism–the sacrament of initiation and entry into the believing community. Jesus teaches the Samaritan woman to look beyond water’s functional use. Jesus helps her to see and to know what she really thirsts for.In the sacrament of Baptism, ordinary water becomes living water, imbued with ritual and liturgical significance. The baptismal waters drown our former sinful selves, and resurrect us as new creations flooded with God’s own life. Just as Jesus’ words to the Samaritan woman re-integrate her into her social community, Baptism incorporates us into the ekklasia, the believing community. Jesus’ living water restored the Samaritan woman to her social community; Jesus’ baptismal water restores us to God’s family.
- Food. For the believing community, this story provides lessons in evangelization. To fulfill his mission of bringing everyone to the Father, Jesus “had to” evangelize Samaria. He engages the Samaritan woman in conversation, revealing to her who he is and the water he can provide. After she encounters Jesus’ living water, she goes to tell others about him–“could he be the messiah?” The Samaritan woman becomes an evangelist for Jesus.Returning with food, the Twelve tell Jesus: you need to eat. Jesus responds that he is fed by doing and finishing the Father’s will. He teaches the Twelve something else about evangelization. Jesus tells them that the harvest–those ready to accept Jesus’ teaching and to become his disciples–is ready now. The Twelve must act immediately to bring in the next crop of disciples. Jesus invites the Samaritan woman, the disciples, and us to offer living water to others. Jesus’ spiritual food–“to do the will of the One who sent me”–fuels his mission; our spiritual food–the Eucharist–fuels our mission to live as Jesus taught and to make disciples of all nations.
Today’s reading asks us to think about our own discipleship as well as the evangelization of others: How does someone come to faith? What are the obstacles that a disciple must overcome? We come to faith only through encountering Jesus, like the woman at the well. Our baptismal mission is to make disciples. Do others encounter Jesus then they encounter us? Do we remove obstacles to faith or create them? What fuels our evangelization?
||Ps 33:4-5, 18-19, 20, 22
||2 Tm 1:8b-10
Transfiguration: invited to be part of the story
On the second Sunday in Lent–Transfiguration Sunday–the Lectionary readings invite RCIA participants and all the believing community to consider how God calls us and how such invitations can change us.
In the first reading, God calls Abram. God’s invitation marks the beginning of salvation history: God calls Abram and his descendants as the chosen people. Abram’s response allows God to enter into and to act in human history and allows Jesus, a descendant of Abram, to save all nations.
In the second reading from the second letter to Timothy, the author describes a Christian’s vocation–a “call to a holy calling.” God invites us to share in the grace and benefits of Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection as God’s free gift to us; we have done nothing to deserve God’s invitation.
In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus appears transfigured. As a theological vision full of symbols, the transfiguration reveals Jesus as fulfillment of Hebrew scripture prophecies and hopes, divine Son, prophet, and messiah. The transfiguration includes the following actors:
- Peter, James, and John. Jesus invites these three disciples, his inner circle, to witness his transfiguration. They are present for both this vision of Jesus’ revealed glory, and for Jesus’ agony in the garden (Mt 26: 36-46). Some scholars see the transfiguration and Gethsemane as mirror stories, showing Jesus’ seeming conflicting divine glory and human struggle. Peter, James, and John represent us at both awe-full and bewildering occasions.
- Moses and Elijah. Moses (representing the Law) and Elijah (representing the prophets) stand for the Hebrew scripture as the revealed word of God. Having Moses and Elijah present calls attention to their similarities with Jesus: Moses and Elijah worked miracles; fasted for forty days, were rejected by some of the chosen people; and encountered God on mountains. In Jewish tradition, Moses and Elijah have eschatological (end-time) roles: another prophet like Moses will appear (Dt 18:15-19); Elijah will return to announce the messiah (Mal 3: 23-25).
- God the Father. The cloud that overshadows everyone announces God’s presence, as it did at Sinai (Ex 24:15) and the Jerusalem temple (1 Kgs 8:10-11). God repeats the words from Jesus’ baptism (Mt 3:17). God’s command–“Listen to him”–recalls God’s promise to raise up a prophet like Moses; the people should hear and follow him (Dt 18:15). Jesus is both God’s son and promised messiah. The words, like the vision, are for the disciples’ benefit, to strengthen them for Jesus’ coming passion and death.
As we progress through Lent, the Sunday readings proclaim the sweep of salvation history. In every time and generation, God invites humans to be part of something greater than themselves. Abram’s call set in motion God’s saving plan accomplished in Jesus. Today’s letter tells us that God calls each one to be part of God’s continuing saving story promised at the transfiguration. As disciples who have witnessed the resurrection, we understand the transfiguration as a vision of our own future glory promised by Jesus’ own resurrection. What is our role in God’s story? Where does God fit in our own story?
|Gn 2:7-9; 3:1-7
||Ps 51:3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 17
Lent: testing, estrangement, reconciliation
During Lent the believing community walks with Jesus during the final period of his ministry. The Lectionary asks RCIA participants and the believing community to recognize and to reject temptations that might subvert discipleship. For RCIA participants preparing to receive their sacraments at the Easter Vigil, Lent is a time of special rites and prayers.
The first reading from Genesis tells the story of humans’ estrangement from God. Our alienation begins in Genesis, but our full reconciliation concludes only with Jesus’ transformative death and resurrection. Today’s second reading contrasts and completes the story.
The second reading is from Paul’s letter to the Romans. Paul contrasts the effects of Adam’s disobedience (today’s first reading) with Christ’s redemptive mystery. Adam’s transgression brings death into the world and to all humans. But God’s grace and Christ’s obedient act (the cross) are greater than Adam’s transgression. Where Adam’s disobedience brought all humans condemnation, God’s freely given, overflowing grace brought all humans righteousness.
Matthew’s gospel described Jesus’ encounter with Satan in the wilderness. The Greek word πειράζω (pih-RAHd-zoh) means not only “to test to discover someone’s nature or character,” but also “to try to entrap” as well as “to entice to improper behavior.” Satan’s three tests are as follows:
- Turn stones to bread. God’s chosen people suffered hunger in the wilderness (Num 11:5-20). Satan tests the hungry Jesus with bread, but his test is really about Jesus as messiah. Food in abundance is a sign of the messianic kingdom. If Jesus uses divine power to satisfy his own hunger, he compromises himself and his mission. Jesus rejects Satan’s suggestion, responding with Dt 8:3.
- Throw yourself down from the temple. God’s chosen people demanded proof of God’s presence and protection at Massah (Ex 17:1-7). Satan begins his second test with a scripture quote about God’s protection (Ps 91:11-12), but his test is really about Jesus as obedient son and messiah. Jesus’ public show of power would announce his messiahship to all present. If Jesus uses God’s protection to show his messianic power, he compromises his obedience to God and his mission. Jesus rejects Satan’s suggestion,responding with Dt 6:16.
- Earthly power if you worship me. God’s chosen people worshiped a false god when they lost faith in God. In the third test, Satan drops all pretenses and subtlety. He offers Jesus a shortcut to the messianic kingdom without the cross’ humiliation, suffering, and death. If Jesus chooses to establish a political kingdom and this world’s false gods over God’s plan, he compromises his obedience to God and his mission. Jesus rejects Satan’s suggestion, responding with Dt 5:7-9.
Today’s readings ask RCIA participants and the believing community to reflect on human limitations and God’s powerful grace and presence.Rather than use divine power to overcome Satan, Jesus faced the devil’s tests in a human way, in full solidarity with humanity. Jesus shows us that we, too, can overcome traps and temptations. Knowing scripture and committing to live scripture’s message are powerful weapons against the world’s enticements. Do we use God’s word and sacraments when we are tested?