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For Sunday March 26, 2017
Fourth Sunday in Lent

Lectionary Readings (Revised Common Lectionary, Year A)


1 Samuel 16 :1–13
Psalm 23
Ephesians 5:8–14
John 9:1–41

A guest essay by Sr. Nancy Usselmann, FSP.  Sr. Nancy is the Director of the Pauline Center for Media Studies and a Media Literacy Education Specialist. She has degrees in Communications Arts and a Masters in Theology and the Arts from Fuller Theological Seminary.

Every time I read the story of the Man Born Blind from John’s Gospel, I always consider the nuanced meanings of blindness that Jesus speaks about, and it gives me pause to contemplate its repercussions. What does it really mean to be blind? What is inner blindness? How does one open oneself to receive the inner light of grace?

 Samuel anoints David, Dura Europos, Syria, 3rd century, wood panel.
Samuel anoints David, Dura Europos, Syria, 3rd century, wood panel.

So much of life is growing through the ups and downs of human living. Feeling that shot of enthusiasm when creativity is abounding and circumstances are aligning in our favor is when we feel gratitude to God for all his many gifts. But then the next moment is filled with unspeakable challenges and heartbreaks that change our inner emotions instantly from the previous elations. In the midst of such emotional and life-changing ups and downs, how do we find inner peace and balance? It has to do with handling our blindness.

Blindness of Sin

Sin, even the seemingly insignificant selfish choices we make, blocks our vision from the light. We become more and more unable to see with the light of faith, in trust and serene abandonment. Instead, the sin focuses us on ourselves, what we want, what we desire, what are our needs, how these must be fulfilled, and myriads of others human longings that are manifested through self-centeredness.

We become angry at the choices that others make that affect our life and mission. We frantically try to fix the problems that plague us and those we love. We let our emotions take control instead of reflecting on God’s mercy and goodness to us.

What Jesus addresses when he speaks to the Pharisees about their blindness and guilt is precisely this egocentrism. This is the dark prison that holds us captive. We cannot be free until we move out of our own selfishness to a place of other-centeredness.

 Anointing of David, Paris Psalter, 10th-century, Bibliothéque Nationale, Paris.
Anointing of David, Paris Psalter, 10th-century, Bibliothéque Nationale, Paris.

The great twentieth century theologian Karl Rahner said that one is truly free only in the act of self-giving love. That is the opposite of our culture’s understanding of freedom — doing what I want, whenever I want, and with whom I want. Freedom is an interior disposition that comes when we live in complete trust and surrender to Love Itself. Serenity only comes when this inner disposition of the light of grace is manifested and brought forth by our willingness to throw ourselves at the foot of the Master and say as the blind man, “Lord, I believe” (9:38).

Living in the Light

Seeing Jesus is to see the Face of God. Seeing Jesus is to recognize the power at work in and through him, a transformative power, as Bishop Robert Barron would say. Faith in the Son of God who leads us, transforms us, enlightens us, and loves us into new life is our response to the grace he offers us. It is the gift of Himself. How can we not trust that?

Paul never minces words for us who seek to be disciples of Christ. In his letter to the Ephesians this week he says, “You were in darkness once, but now you are light in the Lord; behave as children of the light.” (5:8).  Not only does he exhort Christians to behave as children of light, but he says that it is done in “complete goodness, uprightness and truth” (5:9). Sin does not allow us to see the goodness and truth of others. It sees only judgment, malice, and revenge, while assuming arrogance, heartlessness and indifference on the part of the other.

The Anointing of David by Samuel, Breviary of Martin d'Aragon, 14th Century.
The Anointing of David by Samuel, Breviary of Martin d'Aragon, 14th Century.

Sin blinds. Sin throws shades over our hearts and minds, covering us in the shadows of bitterness and anger. Paul reminds us, “take no part in the futile works of darkness” (5:11). They are poison to the soul. And how many of us have not experienced that poison? The question is: Can we return to the light that is grace? Paul repeats, “Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will be your light” (5:14).  We can make that choice to move away from the darkness of sin to turn purposefully with all our interior strength to Christ, the light of our beings.

Choosing God’s Will

Sometimes it can be so clichéd to hear, “God’s ways are not our ways.” Yet, this is so true. Look down deep and ask yourself if what you truly want is what God wants.

The prophet Samuel thought he knew who the Lord wanted as king after Saul. Following God’s directive to go to Jesse and anoint one of the sons as king, Samuel eyed the eldest and the strongest. Yet, God’s ways are not our ways. The youngest son of Jesse, David, was chosen to be the Lord’s anointed.

Samuel anoints David as Jesse watches, c. 1414-1422, illuminated manuscript, British Library
Samuel anoints David as Jesse watches, c. 1414-1422, illuminated manuscript, British Library

It requires a surrendering to grace to understand God’s ways, to see through our blindness to the mystery of God’s plan for us and all humanity.

If you are like me, I want to see far ahead into the future and see the direction my life will take. A wonderful adage by Blessed James Alberione, Founder of the Pauline Family, puts this desire into proper perspective. He wrote, “As we travel, the Lord lights the way ahead of us. He turns on the lamps as we need them. He does not light them all at once at the start when they are not yet needed. He does not waste light, but bestows it at the proper time.”

I believe this is what grace does for us. It lights the way a little at a time. Christ is that light, as he says in John 9:5, “I am the light of the world.” This light comes from trust and a serene heart. It comes when we let go of our intense control over life, our inner blindness. Only by turning in surrender to the Light that is Christ will we truly be healed of this blindness. Only then will we see the light that is the One who knows us and loves us into authentic freedom.

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