4th Sunday of Lent A

Shameful even to mention

Shakespeare’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream” is a delicious fantasy. It involves three interacting groups: an engaged duke and queen and their courts, the king and queen of the fairies and their Sprites, especially the mischievous Puck; and a group of lower-class craftsmen who are rehearsing a play “Pyramus and Thisbe” to present at the duke’s wedding.

The craftsmen are: the play director, Quince, a carpenter; the “star”, Bottom, a weaver; Flute, a bellows-mender, Snout, a tinker, Snug, a joiner, and Starveling, a tailor. They have their human failings, broadly sketched. They also have their virtues: mutual respect; regard for their audience; and, especially, a nice innocence of conversation.

These virtues are illustrated in the following dialogue when they gather to rehearse. Quince: “Have you sent to Bottom’s house? Is he home yet?” Flute: “If he come not, then the play is marr’d. It goes not forward, doth it?” Quince: “It is not possible. You have not a man in all Athens able to discharge Pyramus but he.” Flute: “No, he hath simply the best wit of any handicraftsman in Athens.” Snout: “Yea, and the best person, too; and he is a very paramour for a sweet voice.” Flute: “You must say `paragon’; a paramour is, God bless us, a thing of naught.” Snout had innocently confused “paragon” (an ideal) with “paramour” (an unlawful lover) … Flute gently told him that paramours are something the decent Christian does not discuss.

In today’s second lesson St. Paul establishes this Christian principle of what is inappropriate for conversation.

“Take no part in vain deeds done in darkness; rather, condemn them. It is shameful even to mention the things these people do in secret.” A few lines above in his epistle Paul has said “as for lewd conduct or promiscuousness or lust of any sort, let them not even be mentioned among you; your holiness forbids this. Nor should there be any obscene, silly or suggestive talk, all that is out of place.”

Today sex is widely discussed and obscenity is widely used. The media are certainly to blame in large part for setting a bad example by their lack of restraint in this regard. They would be far more responsible if they heeded St. Paul’s admonition: Never let evil talk pass your lips; say only the good things men need to know that will really help them (Eph. 4:29).

I doubt we can quickly talk the media back into decency. But if we can ourselves respect our own holiness and the dignity of our neighbor, we will be careful to heed St. Paul’s rules of decent conversation, as well as the admirable example set by Shakespeare’s bellow-maker, Flute.

-Father Robert F. McNamara

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Q465: Why does God seem to make “politically incorrect” decisions by choosing the most unlikely candidate for important positions?

These readings are great lessons about who can really “see,” and how each one of us must trust in the light of Christ as we make our pilgrim’s progress back to our heavenly Father. We tend to judge others based on exterior qualities; but God looks into the heart of every person and knows the “real” identity of everyone.

The Prophet Samuel (1st Reading: 1 Samuel 16) makes that lesson explicit when he points to David, the youngest of Jesse’s eight sons, and identifies him as God’s choice to be king of Israel. “Primogeniture” was a legal concept in Old Testament law that gave privileged inheritance rights to the eldest son. But God is not bound by man’s way of looking at things. One might be the strongest, or the smartest, or the oldest, or the richest sibling. But those things don’t matter to God; he looks into our hearts, and “sees” our basic disposition and attitude towards both God and others. Only those qualities of love and justice matter in the eyes of God.

In the Gospel (John 9), it is the man who was blind from birth who is able to “see.” The leaders of the Pharisees, on the other hand, who knew the man had been blind but could now see, were unable to “see” the power of God at work in Jesus. So it was really those leaders who were “blind” all the time. But the formerly-blind man is now brought to belief in Jesus by stages, as he opens his heart to permit God to work his transforming power in his life. Is this not the story of our own lives?

There are two levels of “seeing” – the physical level and the spiritual level. Only the person whose heart is open to God can see the deeper meaning of his miracles and parables.

KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! Jesus was very clear: those who pretend not to need salvation are blind to their own sinfulness (CCC #588). Jesus worked this miracle on the Sabbath, the “day of the Lord of mercies” (CCC #2173). Jesus is God’s “anointed” in a way quite unique from that of David, since Jesus was anointed to be “Messiah” – God’s anointed (CCC #695).

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Lord, That I May See

Today’s gospel is a beautiful portrayal of Jesus’ wonderful power for good, proof of his divine mission. A closer look reveals much more. It also says something about faith and baptism. Seeing is a metaphor for faith. As today’s first reading puts it, “The Lord does not see as mortals see…” In this story the blind man came to see the light when Jesus anointed him with clay as the catechumens are anointed with oil. The blind man was sent to wash in the pool of Siloam; the catechumens are washed with the waters of baptism. The blind man gradually came to see the light baptism enables us to gradually see things as God sees them. But that was not the end of it. As the as the cured blind man was challenged by the Pharisees his faith grew from seeing Jesus as “this man” to seeing him, as “one sent by God,” “Son of Man” and “Lord.” For both the catechumens and cradle Catholics, preparing to renew their baptismal promises at Easter, it is well to remember that we often come to fuller faith as a result of being tested. That is when we come to know what it really means and costs to believe, to trust, to be committed.

Father, give us all the light that comes from your Spirit. Deepen our faith and trust in you this Lent. Lighten our darkness and in your mercy give us that faith which does not count the cost and does not draw back because it is rooted in you.

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