4th week in Lent

March 6th 2016
Father Shawn Hughes

Disclaimer:Homilies are never the creative act of one person. So as we begin to post these homilies on our website I would like to state first and foremost that there will be nothing original in the following. My homilies are a result of my prayer, reading and study as it pertains to the particular gospel of the week. Thus, I beg, borrow and steal from the wisdom of those who have gone before me and together with the Holy Spirit acting in my own prayer considering the needs of our particular parish community here at St. Mary’s, a homily appears by the weekend. If there is something that edifies you I can take no credit for it. ‘Tis the result of the work of the Holy Spirit and those from whom I have gleaned wisdom over time. If there is something that you might wish to discuss I am always available and would welcome any opportunity to speak about the Scriptures.
God bless you.
Father Shawn

This gospel reminds me so much of John Newton, the story of the author of the well-known hymn Amazing Grace. Especially that first verse that was sung for our opening hymn.
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me….
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now, I see.
John Newton was one of the most of the notorious of slave trade ship captains in the middle of the 18th C. He was raised steeped in the Church of England by a very devout Christian mother who died when he was 7. At the age of 10 he joined his father on the high seas. As he became a young man he lived a very depraved life and tried to draw anyone he met into that life…eventually he lost his faith completely.
For years he would sail back and forth from America to Sierra Leone where he would trade in the sale of human beings. In 1748 he was travelling as a passenger on a ship sailing from America back to England. They were just off the coast of Newfoundland. He had been reading the only book he could find on the ship “The Imitation of Christ” by Thomas a Kempis when they encountered a severe storm. Everyone was enlisted to help but it soon became apparent that the ship was going to sink.
The captain cried out: “We are going down…And Newton found himself exclaiming: “If that is the case: Lord have mercy on us all.” Reflecting on this later it shocked him that he…an atheist…would call upon God. Obviously he wasn’t an atheist and his slow conversion began. He continued being a captain in the slave trade…but, progressively began treating the slaves more humanely on the rough crossings of the Atlantic….
years passed…he suffered a stroke from which he eventually completely recovered but he had to give up his sailing…
God kept pulling on him and after many years of study, teaching himself, Latin, Hebrew and Greek, he became a minister in the Church of England. He would often talk about himself being the worst of sinners and that God’s mercy had saved him from all of that…eventually he began to speak out strongly against the slave trade and became very involved, together with William Wilberforce and Sir William Pitt, the prime minister at the time, in the movement to abolish the slave trade…he would tell the Parliament, from his firsthand experience… of the inhuman way that the slaves were treated…so inhumanly that usually 20% of them died on the trip from Africa to America…The Abolitionist movement succeeded in 1807.
He wrote the hymn Amazing Grace to praise God for the great gift of his conversion…a conversion that did not happen all at once but, as his heart grew able to receive God’s love, that love changed him completely:
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me….
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now, I see.
John Newton’s gradual conversion is very similar to the gospel we have just heard of the man born blind. It’s like most of our stories… we are all on a journey of conversion.. not fully completed until we meet the Lord Himself.
God’s Glory, God’s light, God’s grace is found in the most unlikely places, the most unlikely people…In the selection of the shepherd boy who would eventually become the great King David…In the man blind from birth that everyone assumed in the Jewish thinking of the time that he was blind because he, or his parents, must have been a great sinners…
The first time someone asked the man born blind, how he was able to see he responded, “”The man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes and told me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’” But as the man’s faith grew, his second response went from “The man called Jesus” to the response, “”He is a prophet.”” As people questioned him further on the miracle of seeing, the man had become a disciple of Jesus asking others to join him, “Do you want to become his disciples, too?” The man was even going so far as to claim that Jesus was from God, “If this man were not from God, he would not be able to do anything.”
The Pharisees and the elders could not tolerate this man’s story any more and so the Gospel continues, “Then they threw him out. When Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, he found him and said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered and said, “Who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, the one speaking with you is he. “He said, “I do believe, Lord,” and he worshiped him.”
The man born blind’s journey of faith went from coming to know and to believe that Jesus is not just a man, not just a prophet but He is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, and ends up worshipping Him.
At this midpoint of Lent we are called to look at our own faith journey? Do we stand with the man born blind, or with his parents, or with the crowd, or with the Pharisees? Notice that all those groups were so blinded by their own agendas that they couldn’t even see the great miracle Jesus performed for what it was…… a revelation of the healing mercy of God.
The man’s parents were afraid of getting kicked out of the synagogue, of losing their social status. The Pharisees were upset about transgressions of the law and maintaining the status quo. They all missed the great miracle and gift that was before their eyes. A man that was born blind was now able to see!!!! They, themselves, were so totally blind to the fact that this was a great and miraculous occurrence that they continued to worry about following the patterns of society. And when the man born blind continued to draw their attention to the fact that he was born blind but now could see through the power of Jesus. The Pharisees started attacking the man personally, rather than his arguments or the facts.
They were so hung up on their viewpoint, their agenda, their opinions… that they were completely blind to the great gift God had obviously given them in the person of Jesus.
This gospel forces us to ask the key questions…in my relationships here…in my family, in my friends…where have I written someone off…where am I blind to their ability to change…where have I held the past over someone…refusing to move forward? This gospel also forces us to ask a second key question…
in my relationship with God…where have I been blind to the great opportunities of graces offered to us in the exercise of our baptismal vocation: in our daily prayer, in all the sacraments but, especially in the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We need to ask: am I like the Pharisees stuck in their spiritual practice that is hollow…refusing to see the great opportunities of grace being offered to them in Jesus…or am I like the man born blind…like John Newton…open to God’s grace in my life…and therefore receiving the great gift of God’s loving mercy and forgiveness that are ours for the asking in the sacraments.
At this midway point of Lent we should ask ourselves…Are we blind to the great gifts that God gives to us?
There are still three more weeks of Lent for us to search our hearts and figure out whether we are like the blind man on a journey of faith or stuck and afraid like his parents and the Pharisees who willfully remain in their spiritual blindness. Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see, might see, and those who do see, might become blind.”
St. Ignatius of Loyola’s great insight was that at the pivotal point of his life he realized that he was a “loved sinner.” That realization turned his entire life around. A sinner, yes, we all have faults. You do, I do…we all do…but we are not just sinners…We are loved sinners…and it is through the grace of the sacraments that bit by bit, like John Newton, like the man born blind, we come to see and to know the depth of the Father’s love for us.
Imagine how deeply loved by Jesus that man who could not see and his sight was restored must have felt. Imagine how deeply loved John Newton must have felt when he came to the end of his what had been a very sinful life and penned such a beautiful, honest piece of music.
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me…
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now, I see.
It is that grace, that love and strength of God, that we call the Holy Spirit that we receive in each and every sacrament.
God’s Glory, God’s light, God’s grace is found in the most unlikely places, the most unlikely people…In the shepherd boy who would eventually become the great King David…In the man blind from birth, even in you…Even in me…
Slowly, when we work and cooperate with that grace, our blindness slowly lifts as well and we can say even though we walk in the valley of darkness, no evil will we fear…Because the Lord is My shepherd…I shall want for nothing !!!

The Chief medical Health Officer of Kingston has ordered that Masks must be worn at all places we gather indoors. That includes us here at the cathedral. We can’t supply everyone with a mask so please come with one. We would have a limited supply available for a loonie at the entrance of the cathedral.
Please read and observe the six key principles outlined below.

1) The key principle is that we come to Mass to worship God. Out of justice and exercising the virtue of religion we must give God what is God’s due. That quite simply is worship, adoration and praise. Thus, the absolute essentials of Mass will be included so that the Sacramental praise of God will take place and we will be exposed to one another for as brief a time as possible.

2) The second key principle is that the health and safety of parishioners, staff and clergy here at St. Mary’s are essential and require our utmost concern and attention. Therefore, the dispensation from the obligation to come to Sunday Mass by Archbishop Mulhall continues to be in effect. Those who are sick, elderly or have other critical health concerns should not come at this time. However, that is left to your discretion. Should you make the choice to come, knowing the risks, you are most welcome.

3) The underlying principle of all of our restrictions in isolating, physically distancing, wearing masks etc. is the common good as we live out the Lord’s commission to “love one another.” We are to care for each other and at this time we are called to be as prudent and careful as we can to protect the health of everyone else and ourselves.
4) The principle for the next few weeks will be brevity. The received scientific wisdom is that the virus spreads within groups who spend a prolonged period of time together. Therefore, we will be reducing the Mass to the bare essentials.
5) Singing is considered more dangerous than speaking so you are asked to please not sing at all throughout the Mass. I will not be singing either.
6) If you have any sickness, are elderly or have a critical illness you should remain at home. The dispensation from the obligation to come to Mass continues through this time of 30% capacity. Of course, if you choose to come you will not be turned away. We will continue to live- stream the Masses until we are back to a more normal arrangement.

The Chief medical Health Officer has ordered that Masks must be worn at all places we gather indoors. That includes us here at the cathedral. We can’t supply everyone with a mask so please come with one. We would have a limited supply available for a loonie at the entrance of the cathedral.
We will pray a shorter Penitential Rite.
The Gloria will be said not sung. There is to be no singing by the congregation during the Mass. Only by a cantor or as we have today a physically distanced choir in the choir loft…3 metres apart.
We will only have one reading followed by the Psalm
The second reading will be omitted.
The choir will sing the Alleluia on Sundays. During the week it will be omitted. Please do not join in.
The Gospel.
A very brief (3-4 minute) homily will follow.
The Creed will not be prayed.
There will be no petitions. Please prepare your own petitions and offer them in your heart during the Mass.
There will be no procession of the gifts.
There will be no regular collections at this time in the Masses. It will happen later. Ushers will be at the doors to receive your offering as you leave.
The Eucharistic Prayer will be prayed. This is the Most Important Part of the Mass.
The Our Father
Sign of Peace. This is a time when we won’t shake hands. Please do not wave to each other or give the two finger sign of peace. Neither of these reflect what is the intention here…You are recognizing the presence of God in the other person and praying they know God’s peace. The most appropriate gesture is a slight bow or nod of the head to the other person. You have seen me do this at the sign of peace to all of you at every Sunday Liturgy.
Please be seated.
Then the ushers will direct you to the place where you will receive Holy Communion. Please do not leave your pew until an usher has indicated you should do so.
Another usher will be close to the Communion Station to receive your Sunday Offering.
When it is your turn to receive Holy Communion. You will stand 6 feet away on the red line. The person distributing Holy Communion will say “The Body of Christ”. You will say “Amen”. Then move forward within arms length and receive the Host. Once you have received go straight out the nearest exit and make your Thanksgiving on your way home.
Aisles 1 & 5 will come forward to receive Holy Communion and leave by the side doors.
Aisles 2, 3 & 4 will go to the back to receive Holy Communion.
Aisle 2 will exit by the exit closest to the rectory.
Aisle 3 will exit out the centre door which you came in
Aisle 4 will exit out the door by the washrooms.
You are strongly encouraged to receive Holy Communion in the hand. Receiving on the tongue endangers the person giving Holy Communion and yourself, the person receiving Holy Communion. If you wish to insist on receiving on the tongue please wait until the very end as the person giving Holy Communion should sanitize their hands after each communicant. The usher will pass you by and will come back to you after everyone else has received. Please don’t leave your pew until that has taken place.