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 !!!