Monday, 3 March 2008

4th Sunday of Lent Year A

We all live with too much light. Even our occasional darkness caused by blackouts is not really an experience of real darkness because we have the power of halogen torches. Once I was in the south of the Philippines in a hamlet where the only source of electricity came from a generator used to mill rice and the electric grid/network connects three places: the rice mill, the owner’s house and the uncompleted priest's house. [A rectory would be too grand a word for that place--one side of the room had no wall]. The generator is turned off at 8pm and the entire hamlet is plunged into total darkness. The only illumination they had came from the flickering kerosene lamps. That was an experience of near total darkness [1]. An experience of total darkness helps us to appreciate the light of faith the Gospel is pointing to.

Today’s Gospel is a straightforward lesson on the growth in faith symbolised by the movement from total darkness to light—a movement that marks a journey from unbelief to belief. Even though the Gospel is designed for the Rite of Scrutiny of the Elect bound for baptism this Easter, they are actually a challenge to us also who were baptised to reflect on our faith in an adult way.

The journey of the man is centred on the growth of knowledge. Hear him tell the religious leaders that he doesn’t even know where Jesus is. But he knows that he was blind and now he sees. At first he calls Jesus a man, then a prophet and finally addresses Jesus as “Lord”—a title reserved for God. On the contrary, the religious leaders never made the journey of knowledge because they were so certain in their opinion that they couldn’t see beyond appearances.

According to the first reading, things are not what they always seem. Plato has a story or allegory that parallels the Blind Man. In “The Myth of the Cave”, we find prisoners chained in a darkened cave. All that these prisoners could see are flickering images on the wall. Since that was the only thing they ever saw, they took these shadows to be reality. But, one prisoner though managed to escape and made his way to the world outside the cave. He saw the sun for the first time and he returned to tell his fellow prisoners of what he had seen but they all thought him crazy. Such an experience is akin to the rejection of the “prophet who is not accepted in his own country”.

In the case of the Blind Man, the religious authorities did not think him crazy. They only abused him and expelled him. What is relevant for us is that blind man’s experience of Jesus can be interpreted according to Plato’s Myth of the Cave as a journey of intellectual assent of the soul to truth; an acceptance of the truth that leads to freedom. St Paul in the 2nd Reading tells us once we were in darkness but through baptism have been brought into the light of the Lord. So, we are to live as children of the light. The freedom that comes from the intellectual assent to the truth is that we should live as children of the light. But, just because we are baptised Catholics brought into the light is no guarantee that we cannot walk back into the darkness of sin. In fact, there are really more Catholics living in darkness than there are Catholics living in light.

The other night, I was going to hear confession in the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe. [One of the blessings of a priest is I don’t need to battle the morning or evening rush-hour traffic]. The traffic after the toll was heavy but the cars were moving. I was talking on the mobile (using hands-free, of course). The traffic was inching haltingly and a car came in from my left and tried to force its way in but I purposefully refused to allow him to cut into my lane and we ended up with both our cars rubbing and scraping against each other. Earlier in the week, I had just repaired a dent and some scratches on the left front side of my car and that night, the dent and scratches came back. The thing is I can’t explain what possessed me to behave in that manner.
That I had acted out of character didn’t surprise me. That I could sin didn’t surprise me either. But what saddened me was the fact that I chose to act in that manner. There I was going to hear confessions yet I ended up behaving in a manner which did not reflect my status as someone brought into the light. After some reflection, I came to the embarrassing conclusion that my action only revealed that the light of Christ may not have penetrated deep enough in me. Often we live in a manner that is characterised by “OK”, more or less, give or take we sin a bit. Here a white lie, there a white lie... That’s where the danger is for we think that we’re doing OK but the truth is, it could mean that Christ's light has not really penetrated the depth of our being. It explains why I behaved so uncharitably. Such an experience proves that baptism does not guarantee us that we will not sin. What baptism does promise is the availability of grace should we consciously choose to live its consequence.

The blind man’s progressive enlightening is also a deepening in the knowledge of Christ as he first thought of him as a man, later a prophet and finally acknowledged him as Lord. This acknowledgement has an implication—that we come to live as the children of the Light.

Christ is the light that draws us to walk out of the shadow of our sins. But, this walk is made possible when we grow in the knowledge of who He is for us. And the depth of our knowledge of Christ is measured in terms of our familiarity with Scripture [how much do we read, know and pray the Bible?], acceptance of his teaching [does his teaching make impact in our life?] and the devotion to the sacraments [what place do the sacraments have in the way I worship God?]. A few minutes spent before the Blessed Sacrament is always a good way to get to know Him who remains forever the only Light that leads to Salvation. Whether we are preparing for baptism or struggling to live up to the challenges of baptism, the important thing is to have faith in Jesus Christ and to believe in the light and life he brings.
[1] I suspect that explains the reason why there were so many children in the hamlet.