"One thing I know, is that I was blind, and now I see." A statement that has been uttered by thousands upon their conversions to Jesus Christ down the centuries. The great Augustine uttered those wonderful words in his Confessions
And your light overcame my blindness;
You surrounded me with your fragrance
And I breathed it in,
So that now I yearn for more of you;
I tasted you
And now I am hungry and thirsty for you;
You touched me,
And now I burn with longing for your peace. (X.27.)
But nowhere are these words more significant than in to-day's Gospel reading. John has placed this episode at a crucial time in Our Lord's ministry. In the previous section John has presented the bitter conflict between Christ and the religious leaders as He challenges their closed and narrow minds, which make any kind of illumination impossible. He confronts them that He is "the light of the world", which allows truth to flourish and darkness to dissipate. For this reason he informed then that He was sent into the world by the Father, and "if God was their Father, you would love me". They dismiss this, as they regard themselves as true sons of the Law of Moses. The die is cast. So Christ challenges the Pharisees through his healing of the man born blind, that unless they do something about their attitude "they will die in their sins", as their eyes at present do not perceive light.
In narrating this healing of the blind man from birth, John is presenting a miniature Gospel or Gospel within the Gospel. Our Lord in the prologue informs his disciples that this particular healing is being effected "so that the works of God might be made visible through him." It also manifests the rite of initiation which is appropriate for those to be baptised this Paschal Vigil.
Jesus approaches a man who has been blind from birth and has never known light, only a world of darkness; so he has never experienced the wonder of God in nature in all its magnificence and beauty. He represents each one of us, as we are all born blind through original sin, until our eyes are opened by Him who takes away the sin of the world. Our Lord's act is both creative and sacramental. He makes clay, a creative act to give light from darkness, whereby He is re-enacting that first act of the Trinitarian God in creating light out of darkness (Gen. 1.3). It is also sacramental as this visible sign leads to healing grace. Christ anoints the blind man's eyes with this clay, just as the catechumen is exorcised before baptism, and sends him to wash in the pool of Siloam, just as the catechumen is led to the baptismal waters. John deliberately informs us, that the meaning of Siloam is "Sent". The man is sent; he goes without hesitation, the same as Christ did when He came to earth when sent by the Father. "Lo I come to do your will, O God." Fit me a Body, for I resolve to be made Flesh." (Heb. 10.9,5). After washing as commanded, the man found that no longer did he live in darkness but now could see, he was a new person, just as the washing in baptism makes the catechumen a new person, the child of God and a member of Christ, and an inheritor of the kingdom of God.
When the man's neighbours ask him, 'how were your eyes opened' he confesses that he did exactly what Jesus instructed him to do, the equivalent of our promise to Christ in baptism. The man is already showing grace at work, just as grace given at our baptism does.
The man then makes the same confession to the Pharisees, but they only hear that the healer had made clay, and it was the Sabbath. Instantly for these religious leaders this meant one thing he is a sinner as he performs a manual act on the Sabbath, forbidden by the Law. However to the man 'he is a prophet', as only such a man could heal. When questioned the second time by the Pharisees, how one who had been blind could suddenly see, the man retorts "All I know is this: I was blind and now I see." In other words he gives them the reason for Christ being in the world. In effect he is preaching the Good News after his enlightenment, and he challenges the Pharisees' view of Jesus. How could a sinner perform such a deed, he confronted them? This is too much for the Pharisees who draw the distinction between Christ's disciples and their own discipleship to Moses. Still clutching their closed mind on the Law, the man informs them that he is amazed that they cannot recognise the work of God, as only someone from God, the God also of Moses, could perform such a healing. The man is driven out, just as many others have been then and over the centuries, when the enemy of any kind is confronted with truth.
The next step for the man is commitment to Christ, but what joy it must have been for him to behold Our Lord. Understanding that such a healing could only come from God, he wants to believe in the Son of Man. What he felt perhaps is expressed in those words of Augustine: "Kindle your fire in [me] and carry [me] away. Let [me] scent your fragrance and taste your sweetness. Let [me] love you and hasten to your side."
When confronted with Jesus, the son of David, he falls down before Him as His Lord and Saviour. His response to Christ as 'the Light of the world' is to seek truth, which contrasts to the spiritual blindness of the Jewish authority as they reject the Light. Hence he unhesitatingly utters those wonderful words of commitment, "I do believe, Lord."
May I seek you, O Lord, as I call upon you,
And call on you as I believe in you, Because at last [I] have heard the good news of you. My faith calls to you O Lord, The faith that you have given me (Confessions 1.1)
The man born blinds clearly illustrates love working, not only visibly but also inwardly, as it opens his spiritual eye to gaze upon Jesus as His Lord.
The significant feature of the last part of this healing episode is that Jesus deliberately sought the man after his rejection by the religious leaders. Jesus challenged him in the same way as the catechumen is in his baptism. 'Do you believe in the Son of Man?' And in a similar way we are challenged in our belief of Jesus Christ each time we recite the Creed at Mass, and in the renewal of our baptismal vows at the Paschal Vigil. To-day's gospel reading demands us to ask ourselves how Pharisaic are we? Do we acknowledge and accept the person I really am to myself? Can our actions and thoughts stand up to the scrutiny of Christ's light? Can we say with the blind man, "All I know is this: I was blind and now I can see." Or do we keep our eyes half-open and live by half the light? But that kind of sight only holds us to our sins, and our sin to us. Those words of St. Paul come readily to mind: 'let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light' and 'walk honestly, as in the day.'
After this whole episode, Christ declares, "It is for judgment that I come into this world - to give sight to the sightless and to make blind those who see."(Jn.9:39) Of course strictly speaking judgment was not the purpose of His coming but was the inevitable result. As that Light enables us to see our deeds, know our thoughts and perceive right from wrong, we are consequently being judged by it. Judgment is thus continually before all who seek the light rather than darkness, peace rather than violence, love rather than hatred and forgiveness rather than revenge.
What we are to be once the darkness of sin has been washed from our eyes, and with eyes wide opened is clearly revealed in the second reading, a reading, which gives us the earliest evidence of the baptismal rite.
'Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.'
The writer to the Ephesians emphasises once we are children of the light, then our lives should only produce 'every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth.' We must spurn all those activities and pleasures, which would shun the penetration of the light of Christ. This is what we promise at our baptism. This is living the Christian life afterwards.
O Christ, you the spiritual sun of righteousness
Who by your immaculate touch did bestow a two-fold enlightenment upon him
who from his mother's womb was deprived of sight;
illumine you the eyes of our souls also
and prove us to be sons of the day,
that we may cry to you with faith
O great and ineffable is your compassion towards us,
O friends of Man. (Vespers for the Man born blind 6th Sunday of Pascha)
I would also like to share with you something about this particular Sunday in Lent. It has been known by four different names: Mid-Lent Sunday, Refreshment Sunday, Laetare Sunday and Mothering Sunday. The first is obvious as it falls halfway in the Lenten season. The second derives its name from the Gospel reading for that Sunday prior Vatican II the feeding of the five thousand, and the relaxation at Mid-Lent for Christians to be refreshed in order to continue the Lenten journey. Accordingly a Simnel cake (rich fruit cake) was and is consumed on this day. The third takes its name from the opening words of the Introit for the day "Rejoice you with Jerusalem; and be glad for her: exult and sing for joy with her." Hence it is customary for the priest to wear pink vestments on this day to mark this Sunday as different from the other Sundays in Lent with their penitential themes. The last, is the observance, especially in England, as Mothering Sunday, harking back to Mediæval times when the appointed epistle spoke of "Jerusalem, which is above, is free, which is the mother of us all" (Gal. 4.26). Since then it has been a day on which we give thanks not only for our earthly Mother, but also for Mother Church and our Lady, our spiritual Mother. On this day it is thus customary for children to give their mothers a bouquet of sweet violets, and in Rome the Pope blesses the golden rose.
Pray for us O Holy mother of God.
If it were not the fourth Sunday in Lent to-day, we would actually be keeping Lady Day, Mary's Day, that is the Feast of Annunciation of our Lord to the Blessed Virgin, instead it will be observed to-morrow (Monday). So I would like to share a few thoughts with you about this lovely feast, especially as it ties in so well with the theme of to-day's old testament and Gospel readings. The reading from Samuel tells us of the youngest son of Jesse, David being anointed as God's chosen one for Israel. David, the anointed one is the forefather of Joseph. The emphasis in the Gospel reading has been the purpose of the Incarnation and why the Son was sent: "to bring healing in his wings". But the actuality of that depended on a peasant girl, betrothed to Joseph, a carpenter, living in a village called Nazareth, on whether she would heed Gabriel's words. The Archangel Gabriel is also sent by God to bid the Father's pleasure to announce to the maid, that she who is truly blessed will bear a son who, in turn, will inherit the throne of his father David. Mary is obedient to the angel's message just as the blind man was to Christ. Mary's 'yes' is the premise for fulfilling the plan which had been prepared for the salvation of mankind. Thus Mary is Theotokos as she gave human nature to the Word of God.
We hail you, Mary, the God bearer, sacred treasure of all the universe, the star which never sets, the crown of virginity, the sceptre of true law, a temple which cannot be destroyed, the dwelling place of one who cannot be contained.
O Mother and Virgin, we hail you for the sake of the one whom the holy Gospels call 'blessed', the one who 'comes in the name of the Lord'.
Perhaps no other event has been more lovingly portrayed in literature and art as the Annunciation. One has only to recall those delicate porcelain paintings of Filippo Lippi, Fra. Angelico, and Leonardi da Vinci portraying the maiden and messenger. Bringing us bliss now, the birds are all singing; Branches sprout leaves and the grasses are springing. Of one that is matchless my utterance sings, Chosen as mother by the King of Kings. Taintless she is and unspotted by sin, Descended from Jesse, of kingly kin. The Lord of mankind from her womb was born To save us from sin, who would else be forlorn. 'Hail Mary, full of grace! And may Our Lord
Be with you!' was the angel Gabriel's word.
'The fruit of your womb, I declare, shall be blest:
You shall carry a child beneath your breast.'
This greeting and word which the angel had brought,
Mary considered and pondered in thought.
She said to the angel, 'How could such thing be?
Of knowledge of man my body is free.'
She was virgin with child and virgin before,
And still virgin yet when her Babe she bore.
Never was a maiden a mother but she;
Well might she the bearer of God's Son be! (Anon.)
The child-bearing of Mary is foretold in the Old Testament. The Annunciation is the fulfilment of God's promise, given after the sin of Adam and Eve. The sin which causes our blindness springs from Adam's disobedience, what Augustine called 'original sin', and consequently severed his union with God. But before God cast Adam and Eve out of the Garden, He promised that 'the seed of the woman will crush the head of the serpent', that is the evil of sin. So as the 2nd Vatican Council pronounced, 'she is already prophetically foreshadowed in that promise made to our first parents after their fall into sin'. The prophets also foretell of her coming as "the Virgin who is to conceive and bear a son, whose name will be called Emmanuel". Then in the fullness of time, God sent forth his son, made of a woman, made under the law (Gal. 4.4). The fullness of time also denotes that blessed moment when the Word that 'was with God became flesh and dwelt amongst us' (Jn.1.1,14). 'It marks the moment when the Holy Spirit infused grace into Mary, [and] formed in her virginal womb the human nature of Christ.' So wrote John Paul II in (Redemptoris Mater1). Eve shared in Adam's sin of disobedience, which is negated by the obedience and submission of Mary, who becomes the second Eve. By opening the shut gates of Eden, she becomes the source of life rather than perdition and guides mankind towards the life of heaven. Lumen gentium contrasts Eve's behaviour with that of Mary as written by St. Irenaeus 'Just as Eve was seduced by the words of an angel so that she turned away from God by disobeying his word, so Mary received the good news from an angel's announcement in such a way as to give birth to God by obeying his word; and as the former was seduced so that she disobeyed God, the latter let herself be convinced to obey God, and so the Virgin Mary became the advocate of the virgin Eve. And as the human race was subjected to death by a virgin, it was liberated by a Virgin, a virgin's disobedience was thus counterbalanced by a Virgin's obedience (Adv. Haer. V.19.1). Mary is a true daughter of Abraham who lived by faith in his wanderings and in his willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac. She too says 'yes' before she understands what really is to happen, and to trust in her fiat 'I am the handmaid of the Lord. "At the Annunciation Mary entrusted herself to God completely, with the 'full submission of intellect and will,' manifesting 'the obedience of faith' to him who spoke through Gabriel.' By her faith Mary is perfectly united with Christ in his self-emptying (kenosis). However we must never see Mary as having some kind of film star image. God did not seek the rich or powerful, but a maid, a peasant, betrothed to a carpenter for His Son's conception. Mary would have spent much of her time milking the cow, washing, sweeping, and cooking, as well as at her prayers. In these moments after the Annunciation she pondered on what had happened to her, and gradually her role became clearer and clearer. Her self-revelation would make her the first disciple of her Son or as Dante expressed it, "the daughter of your son." During Christ's ministry Mary 'devoted herself totally, as a handmaid of the Lord, to the person and work of her Son, under and with him, serving the mystery of redemption, by the grace of almighty God.' (Lumen gentium )
Mary's acceptance of the angel's message, reminds all of us of our serious responsibility to accept God's plan for our lives. She becomes a model, and in a smaller way so does the man blind from birth. Her vocation belongs to every Christian, as well as to the Christian community. Through our willing obedience to the word of God, the Holy Spirit dwells within us, in the depths of our being, and there forms Christ in us. We bring him forth in our world, as we learn to let his mind inform ours, and as we put into practice the love of God, which was embodied in him and shed abroad in human hearts by the Holy Spirit. The Annunciation reminds us that we too are overshadowed by the power of the Most High, that Christ is to be formed in us, and that we are to be the means by which the love of God enters the world and to manifest his reconciling and renewing power. Mary you alone who was deemed worthy to receive the fullness of the Spirit did bear in your womb Him Who is the fountain of this gift. Mary you who are the embodiments of beauty and loveliness did become a wondrous tabernacle for the Saviour of the World. O flower of the field who brought forth the lily of the valley; O holy Mother, gracious Lady, help us to live in the light and truth of your Son. Be ever with us now, and at the hour of our death. Amen.