This Gospel has been read on the fourth Sunday of Lent since ancient times to help instruct the catechumens as they prepare for initiation into the Church at Easter.
Between the fourth and eighth centuries in particular there were large numbers of adults being prepared for Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Communion at the Easter Vigil. The Church choose a series of Gospel readings designed specifically for them. The Church was accompanying the catechumens on their journey during Lent to the Sacraments of Initiation celebrated at the Easter Vigil. The Church is very aware of them during these weeks and according to ancient practice offers Scripture readings during Sundays of Lent provided specifically for them.
So it is useful to listen to the story of the healing of a blind man from the point of view of a catechumen. This story explained how Jesus daubed the eyes of the man born blind and commanded him to wash in the Pool of Siloam. As he washed his eyes he received his sight.
St Ambrose of Milan offered this comment on today’s Gospel to the catechumens. He said, “Consider the eyes of your heart. Formerly you saw only things that were physical, with physical eyes, but the things that pertain to the sacraments you were not yet able to see with the eyes of the heart”.
The catechumen could see this as an explanation of what will happen to them at their Baptism: the washing in the waters of Baptism will give them new sight. Of course, this has particular meaning for an adult who has lived without the Christian faith for many years and has come to discover the truth of Christianity. It also can speak to us who have been baptised from birth. This is what baptism has given to us. We often do not realise what we have through our Catholic faith. We so easily take it for granted.
The significance of the healing of the blind man is captured in the second reading where St Paul says, “You were darkness once, but now you are light in the Lord.” Again these are words that the catechumen could easily identify with.
St Ambrose continues in his address to catechumens to comment on the anointing of the eyes of the blind man. He says, “what does this mean?” And answers that you need to be able to see your sin and confess that you have sinned. Faith enables us to see our sins. Those with no faith ignore the reality of sin.
Faith provides us with the capacity to see, to see into the true reality of things, even to see sin. We speak about the “eyes of faith”. The human mind has a capacity to grasp truth. However, the mind is limited. In a way, we can say it is darkened. While the human mind can learn about so many things, it can manage to miss the essential truth about human life.
We can explore the creation and not identify the Creator. We can know so much about how the human body works, yet not grasp in the reality of the soul and the workings of the spiritual. Some can delve into the spiritual realm and adopt all sorts of fantastic beliefs yet not discover the presence of the living God. We are capable of amassing enormous amounts of knowledge, yet fail to grow in wisdom.
The human mind is a wondrous thing. Yet, like all aspects of our humanity, it is limited.
Faith – the gift of faith – enables us to see. Faith opens our minds to an enlightenment which comes from above. Divine light shines in our minds. Faith enables our minds to receive truth through the working of the Holy Spirit. Recall what the Lord taught – “But when the Spirit of truth comes, he will lead you into all the truth.” (Jn 16:13). What faith offers us is an enlightenment that moves beyond what we are capable of by ourselves. Faith enables us to transcend the limits of human thinking.
In the second reading St Paul added, “Be like children of the light, for the effects of the light are shown in complete goodness and right living and truth”. St Paul is urging the members of the Ephesian community to live according to the light. Being enlightened is not just a question of knowledge or insight, but a revelation of how we are to live. St Paul urges his Christian brethren to allow the light of truth to shine fully in their minds, and once seeing then living according to the truth.
In a similar fashion in his letter to the Romans he says, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect”. St Paul reminds us of the dangers of being conformed in our thinking to the patterns of thought from this world. This is a great danger for us today. We live in a media soaked environment. We are constantly being preached to by the world. We can indeed – without realising it – have a Christian heart, but a secular mind. It is so easy to adopt the thinking of a world where Christian truth has not penetrated.
We have received an enlightenment through our Baptism. Like the man born blind we have washed and now have sight. We have been brought out of darkness into a wonderful light. We are called to live as children of the light.
We are not to become conformed to the world, for we have the blessing of being enlightened and led into the light of truth.
Receive the light, live by the light. Let the light of Christ enlighten our minds.
Archbishop Julian Porteous
Sunday, 26 March 2017