Saturday, March 21, 2020

Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Lent, 2020

"Whose fault is it?"

There is the old story of the guys who played a prank on a friend. While he was sleeping they came in quietly and placed a small dab of limburger cheese on his upper lip (in case you are unaware: limburger smells awful!). When he woke up he said "this room smells bad", and went into the living room. There he said, "this room smells bad too", and went outside. When outside he said, "the whole world smells bad!"

Blame is a hard thing to accept; we all know that. Like the man in the story, we will usually look for someone else to blame before accepting the blame ourselves. Yet, sometimes there is actually no one to blame. In this week's gospel reading, the Apostles asked Jesus "who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" In that instance Jesus makes it clear that the blindness did not happen because of any one particular sin. Of course, we all know that blindness (like any other physical ailment) is only a part of this fallen world; so in one sense, blindness is a result of sin in general, but not of any one instance of sin for the man in the gospel.

What our Lord also makes clear, however, is that the blindness was not merely haphazard, as though it had no purpose whatsoever. Rather Jesus says that it happened so "that the works of God might be made visible through him". In other words, the healing of the blind man in that instance was what was really on display. God wanted to show the wonderful work that He can do in the midst of pain and suffering. God often works in this exact manner. He allows a suffering to occur precisely so that He can show His grace in the midst of it. Do we all see that grace? Sadly, we do not. That is why we need to open ourselves up to the work of God so that it "might be made visible" to us.

In the midst of the pain and suffering of the world today (sickness, economic worry, the loss of public Mass, etc.), I can guarantee that God is wanting to do a wonderful work. He always does. The blind man in the gospel was not suffering for his own sin specifically, and what we are suffering is not necessarily for any particular sin of ours. Yet, as the Apostles asked the question, we should as well. It is a perfect (personal) question for Lent: "Lord, is there a sin that I am suffering for that I need to repent of?" That is one of the primary reasons why He allows us to suffer: to make us turn to Him in our time of need.

As we all struggle with the spread of a terrible virus throughout the whole world, we may be tempted to look for someone to blame. Ultimately, we will likely never know who to "blame" for this (and presuming that we do know, is prideful), so we should leave the "blame game" alone. Instead we need to ask "am I to blame?" This helps us keep the right focus, and it helps us to make sure that we are maintaining the virtues of faith, hope and charity. We need to be a good example of holiness in these days, and the only way that we can do that is by working, diligently, on the spiritual disciplines. When this pandemic is all over (and it will end someday), it is possible that the world will look different than it does now. Will Catholics be ready to step into the gap and encourage penitence and holiness in those around them? What we are doing now will make all the difference then. ✠