In this lovely homily for 4th Sunday of Lent, Year A, Father Hanly looks at the story of the man who was blind from birth, and then he tells the story of Florette.
Readings for Mass
First Reading: First Samuel 16:1, 6-7, 10-13
Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 23:1-3, 3-4, 5, 6
Second Reading: Ephesians 5:8-14
Gospel: John 9:1-41 or 9:1, 6-9, 13-17, 34-38
Recording of Homily
Transcript of Homily
This is a very simple story of Jesus and the beggar born blind. In fact, the summary of today’s doctrine could be in one sentence: walk as children of the light.
Jesus sees the blind man on the road. He stops. Jesus makes the first move. His disciples ask, “Who has sinned, he or his parents?”
Because it was quite common in those days, as it is today, in fact, last week I was reading in the newspaper, the terrible tragedies that have happened in certain countries were considered punishment for evil things done well before. This kind of nonsense has been perpetuated for centuries and centuries.
The disciples were no exception. They asked, his parents must have committed some terrible sin, because if you behave yourself, if you’re good little boys and girls, you will never feel anything happening to you that might be terrible or hard to bear or give you suffering.
It’s a terrible thing to carry this around with us, because you have to meet the people who are suffering to understand their great heroism, their great patience. They don’t scream to heaven to solve every little problem for them. They don’t reach out and say it’s fair or unfair that I should have this kind of life when others walk around so wealthy.
It’s just a bad habit really and it should never be spoken among us. Because if the good were rewarded here and now with only good things, how about the one good, the so good person who walked as a human being among us ends on a cross screaming and, at the same time, forgiving us, because we’re stupid, we don’t know what we’re doing.
So when it comes to sin, we should be very clear. Sin is a refusal to love. Sin is a failure and missing the mark when we know that we should have hit the mark dead centre. We know in our hearts that God (inaudible) to the good. He himself suffers that all those who suffer may find someone they can relate to and they do not have to be angry at heaven and God, saying, “How could you do this to me, because I’ve been well behaved?”
To be a human being is to rejoice and to be happy, and it also to be sad and sorrowful, because that’s what a human being is. That’s the stuff of humanity. This is no exceptional thing. We do not have to do terrible, naughty things to incur punishment.
What then is to be said for this poor, little blind man? Jesus says, because he knows what he’s going to do, he says, “This man is standing here so that once and for all, I will tell you how God loves.”
And he says to the little man, “Arise.” He takes clay. Clay, if you remember from the book of Genesis, clay is what God forms first before He breathes into this clay a human spirit. He brings life where there was only death.
And so he tells the man, and it’s almost like a play being acted out, he tells the man, “Now you go to the Pool of Siloam.” The Pool of Siloam is close by to where Jesus is, which is just outside the temple area, it’s a short walk. It’s a sacred pool. The name of it is “One who is sent.” And the great story was that, some day, when the angels enter, they are sent by God and, when the water moves, the first one of the cripples laying around the side will be healed.
The man goes. Very simple. And the way John tells it is very simple. He goes, washes, comes home and sees. So simple, so simple.
Sometimes you would all say the word “miracle.” And that’s the right word. But miracle has had a lot of meanings today. But, basically, miracle was all those who loved him, who were watching, and, all of a sudden, they saw this blind from birth man was walking around and laughing and dancing and talking to people. And they would say, “Miracula! Isn’t it wonderful!” And it was wonderful.
But there was more at stake in the story. But what you already know now is the story is not about the blind man, it’s about all of us.
For the blind man, it’s a moment of enlightenment. Suddenly, out of the darkness of his heart and his life, there comes a bright and shining light that takes him out of his sorrow and pain, or whatever it happens to be, and lifts him up so that he can walk freely and become a full person and love and care and reach out.
That is what Jesus is trying to teach the disciples. God does not come to punish. God comes to heal and to save. And that is why we approach the steps one by one to the Easter joy. But there’s no stopping and turning away from the Calvary that we also, when we suffer, we walk, but never alone, for we know that it is Jesus who walks with us, Jesus who understands. And it is this great light that pierces all the darkness and pain and leads us safely into the arms of our Father.
That is the meaning of this story. Jesus is saying to us we are all blind, very limited judgments, “But do not be afraid, because I have come to bring you glad tidings. And those glad tiding are I am the light of the world and he who walks with me will never, never, never stumble and fall.”
A beautiful story, a short story, and I’ll end it with another story that shows what this story perhaps really means at its heart.
When I was about… I was in the seminary and I was home for vacation. And when I came home on a vacation, I tried to get enough money to pay my tuition at the school, so I used to work on a tanker. I was only seventeen years old, working on a tanker with all these tough guys. But they took good care of me. I came home. The tankers, when they pull into port, only stay for maybe one or two days, because they’re all small tankers.
So I ran home and I walked in and my mother met me at the door and she says, “Now, Denis, I’m going to introduce you to a very lovely lady. She’s sitting in the living room. She’s just a little different.”
I said, “That’s okay.” So I walked in and, there on the couch, straight as a ballerina, with heavy eye glasses on and a hat pulled half-way over her face and dressed in simple clothes, was an ordinary Brooklyn girl and she was an Afro-American. And in those days, the relationships between blacks and whites and yellows and greens or whatever we, being silly, make these distinctions, so she was a bit of a surprise, but not in our house, everybody was welcome in our house.
Anyhow my mother says, “Florette, this is my son Denis.” And I said, “Hello Florette.” And then my mother starts. She says, “Now Denis is about 5 foot 11, and he’s got brown hair, and he’s got a nice smile, and he’s wearing blue, and he works on a tanker.” And she’s explaining all these and Florette is smiling.
And then she brings me over and she says, “Now Florette, touch his nose, he’s got a funny nose. And he’s got this, and put your hand and… this is Denis.”
And Florette is kind of reaching out, and I finally realised this lady’s blind, she can’t see. But she seems so full of cheer.
Florette and I got to be fairly good friends in the short time I was home, and she herself told me her story.
I said to her when we were quietly at some point, I said, “How did you become blind? Were you born blind?’
She said, “No, I was living in Harlem, and it was a tough neighbourhood, and I got into a little difficulty. But it wasn’t my fault, it was the lady I lived with. And one day I walked out of my house and this man took acid, a little vial of acid, and threw it in my eyes and, from that time, I was blind.”
And I said, “That’s terrible.”
And she said, “Yes, it is. Because I took it and I was so angry. And I wouldn’t leave the house, I just stayed in the house. But my friends got me to go to the home for the blind just to visit the mini hospital for the blind people. And they had everything, so they would take me there.
“And then they told me that I had to become a little bit more independent. What I really had to do is make my own way from my house to the little clinic.
“And I said, ‘I can’t do it. I can’t do it.’
“And all of them said, ‘We’re not going to come and get you anymore. You have to go out. You know you’ve got your little stick.’”
So she said, “Well, I knew the subway fairly well, so I got on the subway.” She was in Harlem and she came all the way to Brooklyn, almost next door to the house we were living in.
Anyhow, she went and she would walk along the street with her cane and then she’d get to the corner and she was frightened, because she could hear the cars, but she couldn’t see them. And she said to a man next to her, she could feel his presence (you get very sensitive) and she said, “Sir, could you help me?”
And the man was very sweet. He said, “Yes, of course. What do you want me to do?”
She said, “I’m trying to get to the place for the blind and I have to cross these two streets.”
He said, “Oh, no worry. I’ll take you.”
So he walked her across the street and they start chatting and then he walks her across the second street and they’re still chatting.
And then he says, “Well, we’re here now. Come on up.” And he leads her up.
And she says, “No, no it’s okay. I can get up.”
He says, “No, no it’s alright. I’m coming here.”
And she said, “Why are you coming here?”
And he said, “I’m blind.”
And she said, “From that moment on I knew I had a new life. It was an enlightenment. And I said to myself, ‘Thank God I’ve found a new way.’”
And then we would talk and I said, “How do you feel now?”
And she said, “I have never been happier, never been happier. And it’s the grace of God. And I feel close to Jesus and I feel close to people. And I realise that I was kind of going in another direction and it wasn’t good for me or my family or anything.”
So she says, “I’ll tell you a secret.”
And I said, “What is it?”
And she said, “God had to make me blind so that I could see the whole world.”
That’s what being blind means (inaudible).
And now, what Jesus is saying to all of us, you don’t have to be blind in the eyes. And that’s the Pharisees. The Pharisees were continually not believing this and not believing that, and they blinded themselves, Jesus says. And you blind yourself to the truth and the love and the goodness and everything in the world.
And it’s true. We blind ourselves so that we can all say, “Yes, I have eyes to see, but I do not see. I have a heart to love, but I do not love.”
And then what do you do?
You think of the blind man and you think of his (inaudible). And you think of Jesus who came to heal us, to give us eyes to see as he sees, and a heart to love as he loves.
And that is the heart of the matter and that is the reason why Jesus, the Son of God, is sent to us.
We all wash our eyes after being anointed with clay and, finally, wash our eyes in the Pool of Siloam, because the Pool of Siloam means Jesus has been sent. And when we pass through the waters of baptism, we are one with him forever.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
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This homily was delivered on 3rd April 2011.
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