When I was actively involved in parish faith formation, the Third, Fourth, and Fifth Sundays of Lent were, in many ways, among the most important celebrations of the entire year. These are the Sundays of the Scrutinies. The Scrutinies are those ancient and meaningful rituals that are an essential part of the RCIA (the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults). As the Elect look forward to being received into the Church at the Easter Vigil, these Sundays provide the rest of us with a perspective on what the Season of Lent is really all about: preparing to renew our baptismal vows at Easter. Unfortunately, many of us have not been appropriately formed to see preparation for baptism and the renewal of our baptismal commitments as being the ultimate goal of our Lenten penance and good works.
The liturgies for these Sundays are all oriented to this end. The prayers, the readings at Mass (especially the Gospels), and the rites of the Scrutinites all teach (or at least remind us) that conversion is an ongoing process. These days aren't only about the Elect and the Candidates for Full Communion, these are the celebrations of the entire Church.
On the Fourth Sunday of Lent, or Laetare Sunday, with its rose-colored vestments and joyful tones, we hear the story of the “man born blind” from the Gospel of John (9:1-41). This story is about being enlightened. Jesus gives the gift of sight to a man who was blind from birth, empowering and enabling him to see, for the first time, his parents, the people of his community, the wonders of creation, and, most especially, the face of the Savior he was standing right before him.
John sets up an interesting parallel in this story. On the one hand, we have the blind man who, without any action on his part, is healed by Jesus. On the other, we have the crowd, including the righteous, believing observers who, it turns out, can’t see the wonder and the truth of the One who stands before them. The physical blindness of the man born blind is not the real disability in this story. Instead, it is the emotional, intellectual, and spiritual blindness of those who condemn Jesus and refuse to open their minds and hearts to the truth of his message.
As I reflected on this story, I was struck by Jesus’ words at the end of the passage. Responding to the Pharisees who ask, “Surely we are not also blind, are we?” Jesus replies, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you are saying, ‘We see,’ so your sin remains.”
|Jesus Healing the Blind Man by El Greco|
The rose colors of this Sunday remind us that we are now more than halfway through the Season of Lent. We might ask ourselves how our Lenten penances and good works are helping us have a right perspective and to prepare to renew our baptismal promises at Easter? Are we allowing God’s grace to be at work in us to open our minds and hearts? Or, are we choosing blindness by continuing to trust in our own resources and knowledge?
A Prayer for the Fourth Sunday of Lent +
O God, who enlighten everyone who comes into this world,
illuminate our hearts, we pray,
with the splendor of your grace,
that we may always ponder
what is worthy and pleasing to your majesty
and love you in all sincerity.
Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
(The Prayer after Communion for the Fourth Sunday of Lent from The Roman Missal)