March 20, 2020

Fourth Sunday of Lent / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionDrawing from the first word of the original Latin text of the entrance antiphon for the Mass this weekend, this Sunday long has been called “Laetare Sunday.” Laetare means “to rejoice.” The Church rejoices that, even amid the drabness and penance of Lent (and indeed of life in general), the glory of Christ shines forth—warm, enlightening and nourishing.

The first reading for this weekend is from the First Book of Samuel. An ancient prophet, and therefore God’s representative and spokesman, Samuel selected the young David to be king of Israel. To signify this appointment, Samuel anointed David with oil.

Anointings have always marked people for special duties or to strengthen them in particular circumstances. All Catholics are anointed when they are baptized or confirmed. Priests and bishops are anointed. Faithful people in bad health are anointed to strengthen them and reinforce their spiritual constitution should they near death. Christian kings were anointed.

David was (and still is) special in the Hebrew mind. He was the great king who united and empowered the nation. But he was much more than a successful political leader. His ultimate duty was in tightening the bond between God and the people. The bond was in the people’s genuine acknowledgement of God. Their lives of obedience to his law confirmed this bond.

St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians provides the second reading. In this passage, Paul admonishes the Christians of Ephesus, in the first century one of the major seaports, commercial centers and pagan shrines of the Roman Empire.

Drawing heavily upon the imagery of light and darkness, Paul links light with righteousness and darkness with sin, calling upon the Christian Ephesians to live in the light.

St. John’s Gospel furnishes the last reading. Central to the story is the Lord’s meeting with a man blind since birth. The Lord gives the man sight. To understand this entire story, it is necessary to realize how Jews at the time of Jesus looked upon physical difficulties.

Unaware of the scientific explanations for blindness and other problems that people of this age have come to know, the ancient Jews believed such terrible hardships came as a result of sin. After all, original sin ushered death itself into the world. In this thinking, sin also upset the good order of nature itself, hence blindness.

Thus, the question came. Was this man’s blindness the result of his own sin or a sin of his parents?

Searching for an answer, the Pharisees questioned the man. They were obstinate and smug. By contrast, the blind man was humble and sincere. He had faith in God and in Jesus.

An added element, surely of special interest to the early generations of Christians who suffered persecution, was that the Pharisees expelled the man from their synagogue. The righteous often suffer from the ill will and short-sightedness of others.

Reflection

The Gospel story recalls a miracle. It also is a study in contrasts. On the one side is the man born blind whom Jesus healed. On the other side are the Pharisees, self-satisfied and confident in their high estimates of their own piety and knowledge.

Apply these contrasts to ourselves. We may not be very evil or even pompous and boastful as were the Pharisees. Still, we have our limitations, among them an incorrect trust in our personal attributes. Our exaggerated judgments of ourselves trick us again and again and again.

All this keeps us in the dark. Lent is the time to face facts. We must recognize our need for God. We must turn to God. He is light.

Life can be a dark night. Laetare Sunday represents the dawn, edging across the horizon. Easter is near. Christ, the light of the world, shines. Rejoice! †

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