Saturday, March 21, 2020

HOMILY – Fourth Sunday of Lent – Blind Spots

1 Samuel 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a
Ephesians 5:8-14
John 9:1-41

It’s how funny some of us are blind to our actions, not seeing our words and deeds the way Jesus sees them. Today’s Gospel is designed to help us all open our eyes to this darkness -- these blind spots -- in all of our lives.
I’m sure many of you have met our auxiliary Bishop Daniel Mueggenborg. He’s taking the lead on the Church’s response to the novel coronavirus COVID-19.
Bishop Daniel shared with me an interesting story once about his time in Italy serving as Vice Rector of the North American College. This is where many of the priests from our Archdiocese are formed in Rome.

His story was about the seedier side of our human nature when met with the light of Christ.  And how we can sometimes be blind to our own sinfulness.
The Vice Rector’s role is similar to a Chief Operating Officer at a corporation. The CEO is the Rector, his boss.
One day around Christmastime, Bishop Daniel was invited to lunch by one of the contractors doing construction work on campus. It was a thank you lunch for the opportunity to do business with the college. The two went to a fancy restaurant and had a nice meal and conversation.
As they were saying their goodbyes, the man told the now Bishop how he looked forward to working with him more in the future, then handed the Vice Rector what he thought was a Christmas card as they parted.
When Bishop Daniel later opened the envelope, he found 5-thousand dollars in cash inside.

Bishop Daniel didn’t hesitate. He immediately reported what had happened to his boss, the Rector, who pulled out stationary to write a thank you note to the man for his very generous public donation.
What was meant to be something done in the shadows (a bribe) was brought into the light of Christ. 
The contrasts of light and darkness in human thought and actions can also be seen day and night, good and evil, knowledge and ignorance, divine and demonic.  
Shouldn’t all our thoughts and actions come into the light of Christ, never ever remaining solely in the shadows of our own human hearts? 

How many of us feel convicted when all our thoughts and actions are held up to the light of Christ?  
The time we got angry in traffic and raged against the motorist who cut us off? The time we scolded a teenage waitress for getting our order wrong? The time we said or did something hurtful or rude to someone we love, or a colleague, or even a total stranger? The time we loaded our carts with dozens of roles of toilet paper?  (What’s that all about anyway?)
In many ways, we humans can at times act as if we are blind to the teachings of Jesus. And we need Jesus to help open our eyes to our own sinfulness – our fear-driven actions, our anger, our lust, our pride, our self-reliance instead of a reliance on God for everything.
This is what St. Paul is talking about to the people of Ephesus today: “you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of the light.”

When we live as children of the light, we are no longer blind to our own sinfulness. We become self-aware and understand our need for redemption and forgiveness.  Thank goodness for Lent and especially the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
People in Jesus’ day saw the blind man as being sinful because he was blind. An act of nature like blindness was seen as the sinfulness of the person’s parents or even the sinfulness of the blind person him or herself.
Jesus turns this logic on its head.
Jesus reminds us that the light of the world came to help us see ourselves better and call us to seek repentance.
We live in a world where many run around pointing their fingers at the sins of other. This is what the Scribes and Pharisees did in Jesus’ day. Jesus wants us to not do that, but instead take ownership of our own sinfulness. And ask him to help open our eyes to this reality.

Nothing should be done in darkness. “Everything exposed to the light becomes visible.”  Bishop Mueggenborg understood that.
My sisters and brothers, we are all called to live as children of the light.
During these weeks in Lent when we focus on the scrutinies we are hearing from the Gospel of John.
Here’s something interesting to ponder: The words “faith” and “belief” never appear as nouns in John’s Gospel. These words always appear as verbs. Our faith and our belief in the Son of God must always be put into action.
In his letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul’s uses the word to “walk as children of the light,”  
I read something recently that hits on this point.
Here’s what it said,
“Being rude is easy. It does not take any effort and is a sign of weakness and insecurity. Kindness shows great self-discipline and strong self-esteem. Being kind is not always easy when dealing with rude people. Kindness is a sign of a person who has done a lot of personal work and has come to a great self-understanding and wisdom.”
So, who do we choose to be? 
When I think of this quote I’m always reminded of the actor Tom Hanks. Talk to anyone who knows him and they will tell you Tom Hanks is one of the kindest, most considerate human beings you’ll ever encounter. It’s why he rarely plays a bad guy in the movies. The shoe wouldn’t fit.
Many of you may have heard, Tom Hanks and his wife have tested positive for the Coronavirus, COVID-19. He and his wife are doing fine while in quarantine in Australia.
But his contagion of the virus got me to thinking. Perhaps what the world needs most is a contagion to kindness, a contagion to consideration, a contagion to honorable actions done in the light of Christ.
Christians who remain in the Light of Christ always shine brightest in the darkest moments of history.
On this Laetare Sunday, let us reflect on our relationship with Jesus. Let us work toward right relationships with God and with others. And let us rejoice and thank God for God’s abundant Mercy in our lives when we fail to live as children of the light.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Homily–2nd Sunday of Lent–Blinded By The Light

Genesis 12:1-4a
2 Timothy 1:8b-10
Matthew 17:1-9
Remember that popular 70s song, “Blinded By The Light?”  The rest of the song’s refrain was almost unintelligible -- until the advent of internet-based lyrics websites.

            “Blinded By The Light.” This is what’s going on here in today’s Gospel message. Jesus is transfigured and radiated light, blinding his disciples to the reality before them.  The three disciples are just as bewildered about the experience as we were about those song lyrics.
In the transfiguration, we have proof Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. He’s the new Moses. He’s also the Suffering Servant; a person we should listen to.

Filled with good intentions, Peter proposes what could be a religiously significant idea, the creation of three tents for Jesus and his two famous friends (commemorating the Jewish Feast of Booths). 
How many of us try to take control of situations in our lives instead of just letting God be God? 
Perhaps we, too, are “blinded by the light.”  Or we need to do a few things before the light of God can shine through to our souls. 
Lent is a good time to reflect on our spiritual blindness, feelings of darkness, of fear, of abandonment, of our own sinfulness, and draw closer to the light of Christ.
This past week we’ve all been blinded by light of the novel coronavirus outbreak in the Puget Sound area. Our journey into the Lenten desert was made more real with the events this week.
In the spiritual world there is light and there is darkness. Darkness can be caused by objects blocking the light. This creates shadows. Lent is a time to work on removing these objects that block the light.
From the life of St. Teresa of Calcutta, we discovered there are two kinds of shadows. One form of shadow can be divine (as found in today’s Gospel reading and St. Teresa’s life). The other form of shadow is more sinister (like when we sin while operating in the shadows). 
Our prayer life can help us discern between the two shadow worlds as we search for the light of God.  But even the greats struggle with this.
Archbishop Emeritus Peter Sartain sent us a beautiful book about St. Teresa of Calcutta a few years back called, “I Loved Jesus in the Night.”

A Dominican priest from Ireland, Fr. Paul Murray, penned this beautiful, short and easy-to-read book.
On the cover the book claims “a secret revealed.” The secret is really no secret to most Catholics who’ve heard about Mother Teresa’s letters or read the book “Come Be My Light.”
Mother Teresa had a transfiguring encounter with Christ while on a train in India while headed on spiritual retreat in September 1946.  At the time she was head mistress at a private girl’s school.
Her encounter with Christ illumined her heart to the needs of the poorest of the poor in India; the people she saw each and every day, living in the streets, just outside her comfortable and cloistered community.
Jesus called Mother Teresa to go to the darkest place in the world and “be my light,” go into the slums of Calcutta, minister to untouchables and leave behind everything comfortable and safe.

It took her several years to convince her Bishop, Sisters of Loreto superiors, and the Vatican to let her do what Christ ordered this humble woman to do.  But eventually her persistence won out.
As she went about her new ministry and started recruiting young women to join her (many her former students), Mother Teresa began to experience a terrible darkness in her spirit.  She could no longer feel Christ or God’s presence in her prayer life.  This went on for the remainder of her life. The revelation surprised and shocked many when it came out years after her death.
How could this woman so filled with Christ that it radiated from her very being not feel Jesus or God in her prayer life?  Was it a mysterious paradox or a troubling contradiction?
This was the secret revealed in Fr. Paul’s book, and in the book “Come Be My Light.”
Fr. Murray believes Mother Teresa was experiencing the Dark Night of the Soul, referred to by Spanish mystic St. John of the Cross.
Fr. Murray says the darkness was not depression or despair. “Rather it was the shadow cast in her soul by the overwhelming light of God’s presence.”
God was “utterly present and yet utterly hidden” to Mother Teresa for most of her ministry leading the Missionaries of Charity.
As Fr. Murray put it, “His intimate, purifying love (was) experienced as a devastating absence and even, on some occasions, as a complete abandonment.”
Could it be Mother Teresa, too, was blinded by the light?
Maybe you’ve experienced similar feelings of abandonment by God?
Catholic author and priest Henri Nouwen wrote this about the overwhelming power of the light of Christ: 
"We only know that we're in darkness when we come into the light of God's love.  It is only in the light, in the fullness of the sun, that we know there is a shadow." 
Many times these shadows are places where we do things that are less than holy… like slander our neighbor, or post uncharitable messages on Facebook, or look at things we shouldn’t look at online, or bad mouth homeless people, immigrants, the poor or people who speak on their behalf, or cheat on a spouse? 
St. John of the Cross challenges us to see our souls as windows and our sins as smudges on those windows.

“A ray of sunlight shining on a smudgy window is unable to illumine the window completely and transform it into its own light. It could do this if the window were cleaned and polished.”
So, how do we clean and polish the smudges off the windows of our souls?
Through one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit -- especially the gift Counsel. Counsel is the gift of right judgment where we come to understand the difference between right and wrong, choose the right, avoid sin, and live out the values taught to us by Jesus.   
Counsel builds on both wisdom and understanding, other gifts from the Holy Spirit. And it comes mostly through prayer, reading sacred scripture or the catechism, or is found in the confessional. 
As St. John of the Cross reminds us, “A soul makes room for God by wiping away all the smudges and smears…, by uniting its will perfectly to God’s (will).  … When this is done the soul will be illumined and transformed in God.”
The Sacrament of Reconciliation and absolution are the best way to wipe away these smudges.
  Mother Teresa knew this perfectly well.  It’s why the only people who knew about her suffering in darkness all those years were her confessors and spiritual directors.
St. Teresa’s suffering united her with the suffering of the poor in their desolation, and the suffering of Jesus on the Cross.    
As we walk on our Lenten journey, may we each grab a bottle of Windex and start cleaning the smudges on the windows of our souls, and let Christ’s light shine through.  
May we discern if our darkness is a sign of our own closeness to Jesus or something else. May our spiritual sight be made pure by Christ.  Then, and only then, we will no longer by blinded by the light, but transformed by it.