26 March 2017: Fourth Sunday of Lent (Lætare Sunday)

Lætare Sunday
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.

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Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
 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

Rose_banner_sm 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?

—Terence Sherlock

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