Notes From Father Tom
4th Sunday of Lent
March 22, 2020
"A" St. Mary's-Sam. 16: lb, 6-7,I0-13a, Eph. 5:8-14, JN 9:1-41
In the past I have told you in my homily about my trip to the Holy Land in 1997. I would again today like to tell
you a little about that trip. It was Good Friday and we were in our first full day in Jerusalem. Having finished the Stations of the Cross in the courtyard of the Holy Sepulchre, we were free to go into this Holiest of Holy sites. Now to be honest with you, as we entered, it was much darker inside than it had been outside, so our eyes had to adjust. The first thing I remember really seeing is all the other people who were there to pray at both Golgatha and the tomb that Jesus was laid in. To get to the Golgatha Chapel you have to go up this long staircase and then wait in line to kneel at the altar of the crucifixion. There is a hole in the floor under the altar that you are allowed to put your hand into to touch the actual ground where the cross had stood. Besides still being very dark there were so many people at this site that you could not see much of the building around this chapel. When we went down to the tomb it did get lighter but the crowds were just as heavy so we still could not see much.
Later that night at 7 p.m. I, along with three other seminarians, was able to participate in a procession within the Holy Sepulchre. This was a very solemn procession going up to Golgatha to take the body down off the cross then wrap it in a linen cloth and carry it to the tomb where it was laid.
It was during this procession that I was able to see more clearly the building around me. I began to realize how dirty this Holy place was, now I'm not just talking dirt that pilgrims have brought in on their shoes or smudge prints on the wall from dirty hands. I'm talking filthy dirty from lack of care. It was after this that I began to understand all I had heard about the struggles between the Roman Catholics and the Orthodox Church. Now I grant you both Churches have their rights to praise and worship here but they work against each other instead of with each other. They both take the stance that they are there to praise and worship God and the glorious sacrifice Jesus gave to us at this site, but they both want the other party to do the work in keeping this Holy Shrine open. And yet it does not end there - if the Catholics want to do something to improve this building the Orthodox feel they have to approve what ever work is to be done before it happens. This problem also works in reverse with the Catholics approving what ever work the Orthodox want to pursue. Therefore very little up keep ever gets done.
Now the reason I tell you this story is because here at the Holiest of Holy sites in the world, these two Churches are unable to see the presence of God in the other. They carry on as though they are the truly holy people called by God and the others are of no account. They carry on to be honest with you as the Pharisees in today's Gospel. They are both blind to the fact that at this holy site Jesus Christ died for all of our sins, and defeated death by rising from the tomb on the third day. We were all washed in the blood of the lamb at Golgatha, not just the Orthodox, and not just the Catholics - all of us. Salvation is for all those who believe and follow in the teachings of Jesus Christ.
This is what today's Gospel is all about true faith and belief in Jesus Christ. It is not about a blind man who is given his sight. It IS about a man who comes to believe and worships the Son of Man as the Messiah. In the Gospel of St. John there is really only one sin, but what a fatal sin it is - the sin of unbelief. If you have faith, nothing can harm you, and no element of your life can take away your claim to salvation. Faith is the cure-all for the human condition, because it is the lack of faith in God that got us into the sin business in the first place.
The religious leaders in the Gospel clearly do not know this. Even though Jesus dismisses the idea that the man born blind bears the legacy of someone else's sin, the leaders insist that the man is "steeped in sin since birth" as they throw him out. In their blindness, they "see" sin everywhere: in the man's initial blindness, in his later cure on the Sabbath, and in Jesus most of all for performing the miracle in the first place. These morality police chase all the wrong demons, never recognizing the real danger in their own hearts, the refusal to believe in the goodness of God.
It is sad to say that the morality police are stil1 with us, but we can see it at the Holy Sepulchre. The impulse to point the finger at others and to condemn what God may well find good and holy resides securely in our own hearts. If we
put our trust in the goodness of God, much of what we fear and find fault with might reveal itself to be different
than we think.
You know my brothers and sisters, the exciting thing about Jesus Christ is that the more we learn about Him, the greater He becomes. In other relationships such as the Catholics and Orthodox of the Holy Sepulchre, it is a sad fact that the more we learn about another person, the more we become aware of their shortcomings. This however is not true in the case of Jesus. The more we grow in our knowledge of Him, the more spectacular and glorious He becomes.
We have heard today about one of the many miracles that Jesus performed during his life. But it is the man's gift of faith, or spiritual sight, that is even more miraculous than his gift of physical sight. The man born blind can be said to see more than the Pharisees do because he has received from our Lord not only the gift of physical sight - the vision of the sense perception - but also the gift of faith - the vision of true understanding. Lacking this faith, the Pharisees are blind in their understanding. But, possessed of this understanding, the man born blind sees himself and the world around him in a completely new light. He knows that Jesus is the Messiah who brings the word and reality of the love, grace, and communion of the Father, Son, and Ho1y Spirit to the whole human race.
What else can this mean for us who, in the grace of Baptism, have received the gift of faith but that we must now look at the human reality with eyes of faith in order to understand it truly? The message that Christ brings to us and to the world involves not suppression of human nature and of the human good but their total consummation. Only with the faith that the man born blind and we receive from Christ can we see the full truth about the human person and about human society, for we learn to look upon these realities in the way that God looks upon them... So my brothers and sisters we like the man born blind, must be ready and knowledgeable witnesses to our faith in whatever circumstances we find ourselves.