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Contents: Volume 2 - Fourth Sunday of Lent - A - March 26, 2017


 

The 4th

Sunday of

LENT

2017

1. -- Lanie LeBlanc OP

2. -- Barbara Cooper, OP

3. -- Carol & Dennis Keller

4. -- Brian Gleeson CP

5. --

6. – (Your reflection can be here!)

 

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Lent 4 A

Our readings today make it quite clear that God and people "see" /judge things quite differently. Our first reading from the Book of Samuel tells us, "Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance but the LORD looks into the heart." In the Gospel selection from John, we read/hear of, and "see" the difficulties the man born blind had with the Pharisees and even his own parents once Jesus healed him.

The thought/belief that good things show favor from God as well as the opposite is as old as history. The truth of this assumption has been questioned since at least just after someone swallowed that yummy looking fruit in the Garden of Eden! The tension between being made in God's image and likeness vs. how terribly judgmental people can be at times often astounds me. It is just plain difficult for people to "see the light" and step out of their own darkness through encounters with God and other people.

Most of us are guilty of falling into the judgment trap. We know the commandments and then figuratively shake our fingers or heads at those who seemingly don't follow them, often giving ourselves a free pass. The political scene in the US is a prime example. True dialogue would go a LONG way!

I recently was asked advice about what to say when someone is hurtfully judgmental. A girl of about 7 told a single mom of someone she sees about once a month that having a baby when you aren't married is a sin. The young woman (who might be a war hero's widow, a rape victim, or divorced for all the young girl and her family knew) apparently stood with her mouth open as the girl hurried away. How sad that whoever was instructing the girl hadn't taught her that Jesus said "Judge not ..." This was a missed opportunity for kindness rather than unintentionally inflicting pain on someone who was already faced with the 24/7 job of being a single parent.

Jesus's examples of welcoming, forgiveness, and gentleness seem all but lost in today's society. Pope Francis's non-judgmental words and actions are a welcomed balm amid the mine (and mind) fields of others' acts of carelessness, self-righteousness, harshness, and vindictiveness. We just don't know someone else's story; only God does. Perhaps a gentle reminder of that needs to re-work itself into the fabric of all our encounters.

Where do we start to rid ourselves of this human tendency toward being judgmental? One place to start might be to stop gossiping "cold turkey"! (If you can't say something nice....) If we strive to accentuate the positive to eliminate the negative in our speech, then our actions might actually be helpful. (The girl's parents could have offered to carpool, a blessing to a single parent who is, by definition, already time challenged.) Another way might be to speak up when we hear "jokes" about others that aren't really funny but demeaning. (It is uncomfortable to ask "why do you find that funny?" but it does usually get a thoughtful reply.) Also, genuinely listening to someone else's story when it is offered, really listening with full attention without commenting until the end, might be very eye-opening (no pun intended) and rewarding to both people.

Every one of us has a burden to bear, some hidden and some visible. We each have a story, known or unknown, that got us to the place we are. Fortunately, there is just one God of all who willingly gives each of us many chances to "see" better when our hearts don't reflect our Maker very accurately.

May the Maker of us all help us to walk with each other on the journey of life without being judgmental. May we learn to encourage responsible words and actions and offer kindness. May our God continually open our eyes so we learn to see beyond the blind spots we now have.

Blessings,

Dr. Lanie LeBlanc OP

Southern Dominican Laity

lanie@leblanc.one

 

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Fourth Sunday of Lent - A - March 26, 2017

Most of us can only imagine what it is like to be born blind. To never have seen the face of a loved one. To not know what the colours red or yellow or green actually look like. How does someone imagine a sunrise or sunset who has never seen the colours and movement in the sky?

In addition to this hardship, to have people gossip about who sinned - you or your parents - to bring this "punishment" upon you. We still blame the victim, even today. "He shouldn't have been walking alone in that neighbourhood" or "She shouldn't have worn that dress if she didn't want to invite rape". There are different kinds of blindness.

The "hero" in today's gospel reading suffered such things all his life. Living without sight, enduring the shaming of others, being dependent on hand-outs. Then, the one who reveals himself in last weeks reading as living water uses the saliva from his own body to make a poultice from the earth. Did your mother ever use spit to clean or heal? It was good for removing food from dirty faces, blood from minor scratches, and taming unruly hair. Jesus uses it and the waters of Siloam to heal.

The man born blind is sent

he goes

he washes

and he is able to see.

If Mark was telling this story it would likely end here. But John has more to tell us. Having new sight can lead to all sorts of trouble. The neighbours are in an uproar. They knew this man, he was familiar as a blind begger they would help when possible. Now here he is, walking about without assistance, seeing things for the first time, being "strange" and "different".

Why would a man everyone "knew" was being punished for sin, be healed by this Jesus? Perhaps we don't know as much about God as we imagine we do?

So the people brought the man to the "experts", those who know the Law. Some of them were concerned that Jesus had made mud, "working" on the Sabbath, while others wondered at the healing and how we judge what is "sin". Making adjustments in what we have believed is no easy task - especially in religion. John tells us the religious leaders had already put on their blindfolds and decided that "anyone who acknowledged Jesus as the Christ would be expelled from the synagogue". I wonder what blindfolds I wear, what areas of belief I am unwilling to examine and where am I brave enough to consider new insights? When those in authority question my view, where do I turn for confirmation? When someone differs from me in what they perceive am I willing to respect and consider their perspective? Or do I simply "cast them out of my circle" while assaulting them with my "righteousness", and close my eyes and ears?

Our hero has endured. He has remained true to his experience with Jesus in spite of upheaval, abandonment by family, condemnation of authorities. Once again, Jesus finds him and reveals more of himself.

What do you see?

Barbara Cooper, OP

Vancouver Island, BC Canada

bcoop60@yahoo.com

 

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Fourth Sunday of Lent, March 26, 2017

1st Samuel 16: 1 & 6-7 & 10-13; Responsorial Psalm 23; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9: 1-41

Many decades ago there were small cultural behaviors peculiar to various Christian denominations by which they were known. For Catholics sixty years ago it was abstaining from meat on Fridays. We were also outed on Ash Wednesday when we reported to work, or classes, or in the store with a dab of ash on our foreheads. In the Catholic southern half of Mercer County, Ohio you could tell which farmers were Catholic by how their barns were painted. Most barns were red with white trim. Catholics painted white the triangle where the roof formed a triangle, symbolizing the family’s faith in the Trinity. Some may think this a form of superstition and perhaps for some it was. For the farmers in my extended family it was a proud symbol of faith.

For Jews under the domination of Rome at the time of Jesus, Sabbath observance was such a symbol. The occupying Romans thought it a total waste, this setting aside one day a week to honor God. Roman writers of the time claimed this observance indicated laziness inherent in Jewish culture. Yet, for the Jew, even one who may have violated dietary laws or failed to celebrate high holy days, this was a matter of pride, a matter of heritage, a statement of national and religious identity. So when Jesus returned sight to the blind man in this Sunday’s gospel on a Sabbath, Jesus violated a national religious practice. He appeared to not only violating religious rules but also to be in league with the hated occupying Romans. His work making a mud plaster and applying it to the eyes of this nameless blind man on a Sabbath made Jesus unholy, a Roman sympathizer, and an enemy of the people of Judah.

John’s gospel is filled with detail including not only religious customs and rules but also references to the book of Genesis. In second of two stories of creation of humanity, God takes moldable clay – clay moistened by the waters of the earth he divided into the waters in the firmament, in the seas, in lakes, and in rivers and streams – and from that wet clay, God molds the shape of man. This shape is just a lump of formed clay. Unlike the rest of the living beings also created on the sixth day, this lump of clay does not become living from the fruitful (watered earth) earth. God stoops down and breathes into the nostrils of this lifeless mass of wet clay. Humanity in that moment lives with the breath, the spirit, of God. In the gospel, Jesus spits into the dust, a dry and fruitless clay. He makes a little mud plaster and applies it to this blind man’s eyes. John wants us to understand this scene as a new creation of humanity, a new set of eyes for a new way of seeing. The man washes in the pool of Siloam: the name carries the meaning of "sent". Jesus, according to John, is sent to open eyes. It is clearly as well a reference to Baptism by which the faithful see and live life different from the way of the world.

The first reading tells us God sees in a different way than the world. God has wearied of King Saul’s failures. God sends Samuel to the house of Jesse to select a successor. Samuel sees seven of Jesse’s sons, each with different physical and mental strengths. But God sees into their hearts and rejects each. Jesse has one more son, a mere youth shepherding Jesse’s flocks. He is the youngest with strengths and talents yet undeveloped. Jesse didn’t think son David had talent for kingship. But, as the reading tells us, God sees differently. We are like Jesse. We judge by appearances; we judge using the measures the world tells us are right and true. What or who God chooses for his work receives the Spirit of God. That Spirit enlightens and strengthens us to live according to the Word of God. Our faith grows through God’s gift.

The second reading from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians adds yet more emphasis to the message. The Ephesians once lived in darkness. Paul insists the Ephesians should live as children of the light; for it is light that produces goodness, right relationships, and truth. Things done in secret -- plotting, misleading information, manipulation of citizens’ judgment -- are exposed when they are seen in the light of the Word of God. In the last sentence of this reading, Paul quotes from a liturgical song: "Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light." In the light of Christ we see and live the truth of creation and discover our place in it.

For the second week in a row there is a lengthy gospel. John speaks of light as well. But John writes about how we come to the light of truth. John implies the light is among us. We are blind, like this man born blind. We do see the things in the light of the world’s wisdom. We are like Samuel in the first reading. We judge strength, comeliness, and intellects according to the world’s standards. But we are in fact blind to God among us. This man born blind is us. Jesus returns to the moist clay of the Genesis story in the creation of humanity. John wants us to see this is a new creation. We are born blind to the truth of God. It is Jesus who opens our eyes, opens and expands our consciousness of God with us.

This blind man’s neighbors and acquaintances recognize him as the blind beggar and wonder how he can see. They begin the questioning. In the end they ask if he’s the same as the blind one. He tells his story. When asked where the person who gave him sight might be found, the former blind man doesn’t know. When we insert ourselves into this gospel message, we should think of when we were moved by the love of one for us. Or perhaps it was a homily or a piece from the Scriptures that moved us. Or maybe it was when helping another we discovered a wonderful peace and happiness. In any case, if we were asked when we first began to change how we saw and discovered meaning and purpose, we’d need to say, "We don’t know." Like the song, we’d need to testify it was an "amazing grace" that first causes our hearts to change. If we were taken to those who judge these things we’d also deny efforts to prove this was something natural. Those who judge us may say it was a psychological movement in our minds; or maybe it was that we were inspired by some social movement. Some might even laugh and say it was just acid indigestion or a bad case of gas arising out of bad food. The Pharisees declared the healer must be a sinner and should be avoided. The healer didn’t fit their legal standards: don’t believe in him! The man says he doesn’t know his benefactor or where he may be found. Then, asked his opinion, he says the healer must be a prophet. The Jews don’t want such an answer so they went to the man’s parents to find out if he is truly their son. The gospel says the reason the parents were so skittish was that the Jews had already agreed to eject anyone from the synagogue who said Jesus was the Messiah.

The Jews return to the man born blind. Did they want to become this healer’s disciples? That really upset them. They are the blind ones and in clinging to their blindness they refused faith. The man is thrown out. Jesus looks for him. Jesus asks for his faith. "Do you believe in the Son of Man?" The expression of his faith is clear and moving.

When we live our faith, our lives change and we see life in a different light. Our faith changes us. The little things we do, the customs we follow in our families, in our faith assembly, and in our work and civic life demonstrate that. Simple things – grace before and after meals; meals as a family around a table without electronic screens to distract; greeting friends, strangers, and even adversaries; looking out for the unfortunate, the uninformed, the homeless, the hungry, the alien among us – these are the signs that our sight has been re-created.

Just as the blind man in John gospel needs to practice and grow in his faith, so also we need to practice our faith; so too we need to keep asking questions; so too we need to respond to criticism about our faith.

By the way: why is it John doesn’t name this blind man? When John fails to name someone he wants us to be that person and SEE ourselves in those circumstances. Where do we see the work of God within ourselves? How do we respond to the criticisms and doubts of the world around us? Do we see? Do we hear? We should listen intently to the reaction of Jesus. The gospel says he heard the Jews had thrown this man out. He searched for the man then. In the rejection by the Jews, the man was led to SEE the Son of Man, the Christ.

The Responsorial Psalm, the Scripture proclaimed by and for the People of God, tells us more about this faith. The 23rd psalm is a favorite of everyone, most often the chosen Responsorial for funerals. It is our prayer and song of faith in God’s presence. For we know; "The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want." The verses are a statement of faith that God is always with us. It is not only the good times, in verdant pastures where we rest and are protected, but also in the dark valleys and on the slippery mountain paths. This psalm-prayer proclaims our faith that our life’s journey brings us to the House of the Lord where a bountiful table is spread before us, in the company of the faithful. There we celebrate with eyes wide open, with hearts overflowing with peace and joy, with minds filled to capacity with understanding and wonder.

Lent is a great time for us to concentrate, to focus on our vision of reality and its truth, and to sharpen our eyesight through prayer, fasting and almsgiving. May it be so!

Carol & Dennis Keller dkeller002@nc.rr.com

 

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SEEING IN THE DARK: 4TH SUNDAY OF LENT A

You and I belong to a Christian community of stories and storytellers. In the telling of the stories of Jesus especially, our own stories are told. As we identify with the people in those stories, with their distress, anger, anxiety, hopes, fears, struggles, sadness and joy, we too are led to make living contact with our Saviour. We are challenged by his words, supported by his love, and healed by his touch.

Today's gospel reading is the story of Jesus ‘the Light of the World’. It’s the story too of the blind man. It’s our story too. Three stories, then, are interwoven and interconnected.

The blind man has lived in a world of darkness from the day he was born. He has never seen his room, his table, his chair, his bed, his door. He has never seen flowers, or trees, or children. He has never seen anyone or anything. Besides, with nothing like an invalid pension to ease his distress, his struggle to survive has been reduced to begging in the streets, a struggle aggravated by abuse, insults and contempt from passersby.

Leading lights in the town have been baiting him with their ignorant accusation: 'Your blindness was caused by your sins.' Even after his blindness is plainly cured they keep up their sneers: 'What you allege just didn't happen. This Jesus fellow is a sinner. Sinners can’t cure people. Anyway, you weren't blind in the first place.'

All through their bullying the patient sufferer never loses his cool, and replies to every accusation with the unvarnished truth. And through it all he grows in his appreciation of the greatness of the One who has so generously stepped into his life to help and heal.

At first he sees in Jesus a man with special powers, one who can smear mud on a blind person's eyes and make the sufferer see again. Next he comes to see that Jesus is a prophet, a messenger of God. Finally he recognises Jesus as his Lord and King, and bows down and worships him.

As the blind man's story unravels bit by bit, the story of the greatness of Jesus is also told. He speaks and acts as the light shining in the darkness, one which will never be put out. He repudiates the prejudice that physical blindness is caused by sin. He speaks of getting on with God's healing work while there is daylight left to do it. He sees the urgency of the blind man's plight and goes to his rescue immediately. He ignores the ignorant and foolish sneers of his enemies. And when the man he delivers from blindness is expelled from the synagogue, Jesus even seeks him out to empower him to develop a more lively faith, a surer hope and a deeper love.

Where do we find our own story in all this? For each of us - old, middle-aged, or young - the blind man's story is our story too. It tells the story of our becoming Christians through faith and baptism. In the early days of the Church, when people were baptised as adults rather than children, baptism had the name 'The Enlightenment'. At our own baptism our priest lit a candle from the Easter Candle, symbol of the Risen Lord, and handing it to our father or godfather for us, said these marvellous words: 'Receive the light of Christ.'

Even as the story of the blind man's enlightenment shows us the influence of Jesus on the blind man’s honesty, courage, determination, faith, hope and love, it also shows us what it means to ‘walk always as a child of the light' (Rite of Baptism). What that means is nothing less than always seeing, feeling, judging and acting, just as Jesus himself has done. It involves, then, asking that WWJD question over and over again: ‘What would Jesus do?’

The psychiatrist, In Peter Shaeffer's play Equus, remarks: 'I need a way of seeing in the dark.' In today's gospel reading, St John leaves us in no doubt that Jesus is that way. We remain hopelessly blind if we think that we've got life all figured out, that we've got it all together, and that we don't need Jesus Christ to show us a purer, a better, a more enlightened, genuine, and generous way of living.

In the light of our gospel today on Jesus ‘the Light of the World’, surely we would want to keep saying to him: 'Lord Jesus, how much blindness is there still left in me? How much selfishness do I still display? How much insensitivity remains in me, how much prejudice, how much snobbery, how much self-righteousness, how much hypocrisy, how much pride, and how much meanness and nastiness? Lord Jesus, just how many blind spots do I have?' And each of us would surely want to pray to him too, these three famous short prayers: - 1. 'Lord, that I may see, Lord, that I may see.’ 2. 'Lord Jesus, give us the grace to see ourselves as others see us.’ And 3. ‘Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word, and my soul shall be healed.’

"Brian Gleeson CP" <bgleesoncp@gmail.com>

 

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Volume 2 is for you. Your thoughts, reflections, and insights on the next Sundays readings can influence the preaching you hear. Send them to preacherexchange@att.net.  Deadline is Wednesday Noon. Include your Name, and Email Address.

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