Fourth Sunday of Lent
March 22, 2020
Saint Patrick’s Cathedral
Fort Worth, Texas
1 Samuel 16:1B, 6-7, 10-13A
Psalm 23:1-3A 3B-4, 5-6
The etymology of the word “quarantine” tells us that the word comes to us from the 14th century Venetian dialect of Italian. The word is “quarantena.” It means 40 days. This period of 40 days was utilized as a protective measure for the city in that ships coming from other places were required to spend 40 days in harbor before they could come into port. This was done to ensure that the ships and their cargo did not carry the bubonic plague. In many ways we can see Lent as a quarantine in which we are isolated from the circumstances that lead us to sin, that is, from the occasions of sin, to receive ever more deeply the healing grace from God for us to grow in a healthy life of faith preparing us for Easter joy.
One of the ways in which this usually is done during Lent, besides fasting and almsgiving, is through a more frequent reception of the sacraments of Penance and of Holy Communion. The current circumstances make that to be an impossibility for so many of us. Yet, this is not a cause for despair because even though we may not have access to the sacraments in the usual way — we must recall that while the sacraments are the ordinary means of God’s grace — we also have the extraordinary means by which God gives us His grace in the quarantine of reflection and meditation on Revelation through the Scriptures and Sacred Tradition, considering the experience of suffering that we are having and with that of our loved ones. God is merciful and this time of quarantine leads us to a greater sense of gratitude for the sacraments that we can otherwise too readily take for granted.
The story of the man born blind offers lessons to us about how an honest person can, over time and through repetition, progress from a new faith to a mature faith. We see in the Gospel how gradual growth and maturity in faith come to the man born blind through his encounter with Jesus. Yet, we also see that there is a cost to the man as he lets go of his blindness and willingly decides to accept Jesus’ loving offer to cure him. As he grows in faith and sees more, he suffers more — to the point of rejection by his loved ones. His experience then is united with Christ’s rejection and suffering and he is converted.
The disciples question Jesus about who is responsible for the man’s blindness since he was not responsible for it himself. Powerlessness, unless it’s met with faith and right reason, can lead us to fear and blaming and looking for scapegoats in times of crisis. In times of pain and distress, looking for someone to blame does not free us from our pain. Likewise, looking for someone to blame does not help a sinner achieve deliverance from sin; only authentic and honest confession of our sins before God can do that.
Grace is as real as nature. The soul is as real as the body. Christ heals both soul and body and we who are healed through grace become ministers of Christ’s healing love of soul and body of our neighbor in need. This healing is the mission of the Church, soul and body, despite contemporary narratives that attempt to separate the soul from the body as if it weren’t essential to a human being.
For the blind man, gaining sight has unexpected costs. He is rejected by his family, the religious leadership of the day, and others. The more he moves from awareness of Jesus, to knowledge of Jesus and finally to faith in Jesus, the more intensely he experiences rejection by those who refuse to see and to accept the truth set out before them through the example of God healing the blind man. This reveals to us all the real cost that is exacted upon us for authentic discipleship of Jesus.
These days in which we find ourselves quarantined in one form or another are more than merely coincidental. They are more than a matter of fate. In God’s providence, they provide us with opportunities — at once costly and valuable. Our faith brings us to the realization that God has placed us here in these times for ministry and service to those affected by the bitter fruits of sin, including sickness, suffering, alienation, and death. Our isolating in self-quarantine is not estrangement from, nor abandonment of our neighbor, when we accept quarantine in faith and employ it with right reason as a means to love our neighbor with due regard for his spiritual and bodily healing. The Church has always responded to the bitter effects of sin through confidence born of faith, and ministry guided by right reason and sound, prudential judgment. We must do the same today.
As we pass through these following hours, days, and weeks, we can draw from the same confidence that we are courageously following the example and call of Jesus Christ and share in His suffering even to the point of rejection and blame by others. Grace liberates us from the virus of irrational fear and the contagion of sin. Grace heals. Grace also awakens us to our responsibilities of mercy and service to our neighbor in need. Grace recasts our suffering caused by sin to become a means for us to love when we unite our suffering with the Passion and death of Jesus Christ.
In today’s Gospel passage, we see that the light is welcomed only by those who know that they are incomplete, who know that life offers more than this present darkness, and who know that we are called to be heralds of the divine light that heals and liberates. According to our circumstances, by work of prayer, prudence, and consultation, each one of us can act as a witness to Christ’s saving light. In this time of various quarantines, we can and should find ways that we can still perform the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, loving our neighbor for the love of God — mindful of the spiritual needs of our soul and prudent with such protective requirements as social distancing and hygienic hand washing for the protection of our bodies and the protection of our neighbor’s health. If we do that, then I believe—firmly—that lives will be saved, and souls will be saved, and, best of all, God will be glorified.