Sunday, March 26, 2017

Light and Laetare

4th Sun Lent, Year A March 26, 2017
Fr. Albert
St. Peter Catholic Church, New Iberia

Isn’t Jesus being a bigot!? He assumes that blindness is something bad. But, that man’s blindness is part of who he is… it’s not a disorder, it’s an identity! Just because other people can see, it doesn’t mean that not seeing, that being blind is something unnatural or wrong. Isn’t it judgmental to say otherwise?

But Jesus does heal this man, and he does it in a rather strange way. Using spit and dirt to make clay and smear it on his eyes. It seems a bit unhygienic, especially since Jesus did plenty of other miracles with no spit involved. Why do it this way? Because Jesus is not just a miracle worker or prophet, he is also Lord and creator...  something the man born blind eventually recognizes and proclaims.

In Jewish tradition, God used his spittle to turn the dust into clay to form Adam at the beginning of Genesis. By doing this, Jesus is basically saying that this man wasn’t fully formed, that he needed a touch more divine spit and dirt to make him complete, to make his eyes work. Jesus is re-creating this man to give him something that he is missing. The disciples and the Pharisees both assume that this man is blind because of some sin. They are close to the truth, but they missed it. This man is not blind because of his personal sin or some personal sin of his parents. He is blind because of Original Sin.

When God crated Adam and Eve, they were fully formed and lacked nothing. They were not blind and would not have to suffer. But, when they sinned, all of creation fell and they lost some of the beautiful craftsmanship of the divine sculptor. This man’s blindness is a sign of all humankind’s fallenness, a sign of the darkness we are all born into. This odd moment of spit and dirt is a sign of Baptism. Notice especially that he must wash in the pool of Siloam, which means “sent.” Not only is this man recreated by Jesus’ own touch, he is washed by water whose very name tells us that we are sent. Baptism recreates us as children of God and it co-missions us, it sends us as witnesses to Jesus Christ. It doesn’t just give us what Original Sin took away, it gives us an identity.

But, so often we much rather put our identity somewhere else: our sexual desires, our height or weight, our skill in sports or business, our faults and failings and weaknesses. Worst of all, we tend to let our sin become our identity. But the message of Jesus Christ, the mystical signs we see in the Gospel right here, tell us that our only identity is a child of God. Everything else, everything else comes after that. We have these things, but we are not them. To say I am my sins, I am my desires, I am what I do… that is to be blind and to live in darkness. Sadly, what we choose to do does begin to shape who we are. If we insist on choosing to act like we are these things we will become them. Eventually, we will forfeit the identity, and the inheritance, that God gives to his children.

No, the good news is that Jesus Christ refashions us in Baptism and every time we go to Confession. He washes us clean and anoints us as kings with him. He opens our eyes to see God and to see ourselves as we really are. Then, we can act like it.

But what if the blind man didn’t want to be able to see? He knows human beings aren’t supposed to be blind, but being blind meant no one expected him to work. All those years, other people provided for him. The very moment that this man gets his sight back, he is tossed into a massive controversy and accused of lying. Even his parents get dragged into the fight. Life was easier while blind; why not stay that way?

The same is true with us. We’ve all had that moment when we were afraid that something was true. Afraid it was true because, if it was, we would have to change… we would have to act… we would have to suffer. It is a great gift that Baptism and Confession allow us to see what we really are, but learning to act like a child of God? That’s not easy! It takes work, especially if you’re surrounded by people who are still blind.

St. Paul teaches us, “You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light, for light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth.” But, if you’ve ever had someone suddenly turn the lights on in a dark room, you know what that transition can do. Our eyes, like our hearts, are used to the darkness and the light stings. If you start living as a child of the light, if you “try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord,” people will not like the light you’re shining.

The Pharisees are angry that this man can see again. They are actually mad about a real miracle! How dare he regain his sight and start having what we’ve always had! They’re angry because, if this miracle is real, then they have to start accepting Jesus as the Messiah; They do not like what that means. It means they were wrong. It means they don’t have the power they like. It means they have to change.

On top of that, Paul tells us to “take no part in the fruitless works of darkness.” “Fruitless works” sounds abstract enough that maybe it doesn’t scare us, but those works are everywhere. Anything that leads us to sin, anything that just wastes time and energy. Think about how many of our relationships with other people are entirely based on television, sports, video games, or even gossip. If we start to get away from these things because they are wasteful or filled with temptation, people get offended that we’re changing. But, a relationship based on sin must change or end. Often, we are not willing to do that because it hurts us and it feels like it hurts others.

Then, there are “charity organizations” dedicated to sterilizing the populations of the third world. There are “social justice” groups that want us to defy nature itself. There are “Christians” who want us to reject what Christ himself taught us. We cannot cooperate with these people and their fruitless works. Rather, we have to expose those works for the evil that they are. People will cry out “why are you being so judgmental?” But, we are not the one’s doing the judging, we are simply following the Light of the World. That light is named Jesus and he says “I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind.” They will not like that. They will persecute us as the Pharisees persecuted the man born blind and the Apostles.

But, if what Jesus says is true, then that shouldn’t stop us. We are baptized, catechized, and go to Mass, so we really don’t have an excuse to stay blind. When Christ asks us along with the blind man “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” What will we say? If we say yes, then… we will know suffering and persecution, but we will also be able to see. We will see who we are as children of God, anointed like King David so that we can reign with Christ. We can expose the lies of the world and of the devil. We will see that we are not our sin, we are not our faults and weaknesses. We can live as children of the light. It is then that we can say “even though I walk in the dark valley (of the shadow of death), I fear no evil; for you are at my side… you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” And what is it that fills that cup now brimming over? True and lasting joy.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Monday, March 20, 2017

Horror or Humility?

Solemnity of Joseph, Husband of Mary March 20, 2017
Fr. Albert
St. Peter Catholic Church, New Iberia

Mary “was found with child through the Holy Spirit. Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly.” We have much to learn from St. Joseph as a model man, husband, and Christian, but what exactly does this verse mean? How is he just, why does he make that decision?

Joseph is righteous, meaning he knows and follows the law of God given to Moses and the Jews. The law required that a woman who committed adultery should be stoned. At the same time, however, the Jewish faith greatly extolled the example of God’s mercy. The word “yet” leads us to make some assumptions about what Joseph was thinking. Really, that word could just as easily be translated as “and” Joseph was “righteous and unwilling to expose her to shame.”

The real question is this “what did Joseph really think about Mary’s situation?” Did Mary not explain her situation to him? Did he believe her or not? If he really believed she had committed adultery, and then lied to him on top of that, why was he so eager to protect her?

There are two opinions on this. Some believe that Mary either didn’t tell Joseph or he didn’t believe her – they assume Joseph thought she had committed adultery. These would say Joseph was righteous “yet unwilling to expose her.” On the other hand, there are saints like Jerome and Aquinas who seem to think that Mary told Joseph about that angel and that Joseph believed her. They argue that he wanted to divorce her quietly in order distance himself from something so miraculous – that his righteousness was also a great humility. These would say that Joseph was righteous “and unwilling to expose her” because he didn’t want to give others the wrong impression.

In a sense, could it not be both? Surely Joseph and Mary would have talked and Mary would have explained. It seems unlikely that Joseph would assume Mary was lying. So, he probably did respond out of humility. At the same time, however, Joseph was human and there may well have been some doubt. He may have been hedging his bets. All human beings experience mixed motivations and uncertain opinions. By divorcing her quietly, he was in the clear either way and didn’t risk hurting her either.

If you look at the Angel’s message, this makes sense. The first thing the angel says is “Joseph, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home” as if to address his concerns about being so close to this miracle. But, the Angel also puts any of his doubts to rest by assuring him that “it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her.”

Like Joseph, when we are faced with mixed motivations, when we are unsure of what to believe, we still have to make a decision. We should learn from Joseph’s approach. He is righteous, he is just, and he is careful to avoid bringing harm to another from this decision. He makes his plan and acts with a trust in God. With good will and good intentions, Joseph is also fundamentally open to God’s guidance. Seeing this, God sends his angel to correct his decision. If we are unsure, but we act to the best of our ability and maintain openness, God will nudge us back onto the right path.

The real trick is what Joseph does then. As soon as Joseph learns that his plan is wrong, he drops it. He hears God’s will, then he gets up and does it.