Laetare, Jerusalem: et conventum facite, omnes qui diligitis eam: gaudete cum lætitia, qui in tristitia fuistis…”
“Be glad Jerusalem: gather together all you that love her: rejoice and be glad, you that were in sadness…” Isaiah 66:10.
Pope Francis in Rose Vestments, the Traditional Color for Laetare Sunday.
“Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.” Ephesians 5:14.
The Latin verse at the top is the traditional Entrance Antiphon for this Sunday (which may or may not be recited at Mass today, if there is a Mass!) It is deliberately cheery and even happy, and for a good reason: today is the midpoint in Lent as we move towards Easter, the preparation for which is the goal and whole purpose of Lent. So some celebration is called for, hence the (optional) rose vestments for the celebrant at today’s Mass. The rose color is supposedly half-purple, the Lenten color. In the old days, this day saw the blessing of the golden rose which the Pope would send to Catholic monarchs in Europe:
Golden Rose sent by the Pope to Rudolph III of Nidau, 14th Century, Cluny Museum of the Middle Ages, Paris, France.
Also in the old days, servants were permitted to go home to visit their mothers, hence “Mothering Sunday” in the UK, which is celebrated today. Let us pray in these dark days of coronavirus we may all soon be able to return to such a tradition.
So, that being said, what lessons do we learn from today’s readings? Today has a very long gospel (with a shorter alternative possible) taken from John, which gives a full report of one of Jesus’ miracles. A man blind from birth was spotted by the Lord. Presumably taking pity on the man, Jesus spat on the ground, made clay with the wet earth, smeared it on the man’s eyes and told him to go and wash in the Pool of Siloam, just outside the old city of Jerusalem (its ruins are still there). He did so, and he was given sight for the first time. But that precipitated a huge controversy with the Pharisees, the guardians, as it were, of God’s law. That stated, and still does, that the Lord’s Day is to be kept holy. That had been interpreted as meaning no work. Well, Jesus had made a sort of mud paste to put on the man’s eyes – work, in their opinion – and this was on the Sabbath Day! Hence they declared of Jesus, “This man is not from God”. Well, OK, but how on earth in that case could he have worked a stunning and obvious miracle which clearly came from the hand of God? They wriggled, trying to see if the once-blind man was lying, but everyone knew him as someone who had always been blind. How could Jesus, who was clearly evil, godless in their eyes, be capable of doing such a thing? They were incapable of seeing that such a selfless, charitable and generous action could only be of God. It was not “work” as defined by them. Instead, it was “work” for another, a neighbor, a brother in need, done utterly without thought of reward or praise. It was the God of love in action, just for the delight of healing another person. The once-blind man clearly saw this, returning to Jesus and saying, as the gospel states, “I do believe [in you as Messiah], Lord,” and he worshiped him.
Additionally, the longer gospel passage alludes to an ancient Jewish tradition which was also debunked by this miracle. Jesus’ disciples asked whether it was the blind man or his parents who were the sinners which had caused his blindness. That was a very common belief at that time. Any great disability, any failure, had to be the result of sinfulness. Conversely, any great success in life was God’s reward for being a good person, which often led rich and successful people at that time to look down their noses at the less fortunate who were clearly sinners. All that was probably the result of the belief in Sheol, a condition everyone entered of shadows after death, no matter how good or bad you had been in life. So any reward or punishment for good or bad behavior in life was believed to be seen while you were alive, not after death. In today’s long version of the gospel, Jesus states categorically, “Neither he nor his parents sinned…” effectively ending that belief for all Christians. This also explains that line in the Apostles’ Creed “He descended into hell…” namely, Sheol. Jesus did that to release all the righteous souls there to allow them at last into God’s presence, namely, heaven, a radically new teaching for Jesus’ followers.
The second reading picks upon the idea of light, with St. Paul telling us that we are to “Live as children of light, for light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth”. The trouble with that is that we are the ones sometimes shielding ourselves from the light! We can refuse to incorporate Jesus’ teaching and example into our own lives, act as he would act, speak as he would, and so on. Being his disciple is not easy; often it demands of us actions and words which we might find almost impossible to do. But this is Lent, a time when we can confess that, seek divine strength and actually begin to do what Jesus demands of us. And remember we are not alone in that, for he promised to be with us – in prayer, in each other and above all in the Eucharist – each moment even until the end of time. It is always time to believe that, trust in that and do it.
“…he went his way and washed, and came back seeing”, Kirt Harmon, 2020.
Reflections on the following Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.
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