Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Good Shepherd Sunday: The Center Holds

(Fourth Sunday of Easter-Year A; This homily was given on May 6, 2017 at St. Joseph Church in Pascoag, RI and May 7 at St. Joseph Church in Pascoag, RI, St. Patrick Church in Harrissville, R.I. and Portsmouth Abbey in Portsmouth, R.I.; See John 10:1-10)

A number of years ago I was visiting a priest friend who lives in the region of Italy called Puglia.  If you are looking at a map of Italy, Puglia is located in the heel of the boot.  It is the southern-most region of the country.  At one point, we were able to drive to the coast and visit the Basilica named “St. Mary at the End of the Earth” (Santa Maria de Finibus Terrae).  The basilica commemorates St. Peter’s apostolic journey from Jerusalem to Italy, and his fulfillment of Jesus’ command to bear witness to Him “to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).  Before he suffered martyrdom in Rome, it is believed that St. Peter went to the “end of the earth” as he knew it, and proclaimed the Good News.

As we were making our way back to the monastery, traveling on a small, country road, we suddenly saw a shepherd in a nearby field. A small flock of about twenty sheep trailed behind him.  I thought, “Here is a shepherd literally guiding his flock at the end of the earth!”  That is, in fact, the very image that we get of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, in the Gospels.  Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd who would go to the end of the earth to find us and bring us home.  He goes to the very end of Himself, offering all that He has on the cross, to bring us into eternal life with God.  He is indeed the Good Shepherd!

But is it possible for us, of our own volition, to go beyond the reach of the Good Shepherd?  Could we possibly find ourselves, by our own misused freedom, in a place where we can no longer hear the voice of the Good Shepherd?  St. John the Evangelist, in the Gospel this weekend, indicates that such a thing is, in fact, possible.  He relates to us Jesus’ teaching about the Good Shepherd:

The sheep hear his voice, as the shepherd calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.  When he has driven out all his own, he walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice.
—John 10:3-4

They follow the voice of the Good Shepherd, Jesus explains, but they will not follow the voice of a stranger.  Then, tragically, St. John relates how the Pharisees were not able to receive this beautiful teaching about the Good Shepherd.  He explains:

Although Jesus used this figure of speech, the Pharisees did not realize what he was trying to tell them.
—John 10:6

They could not hear the voice of the Good Shepherd. 

They were unable to realize what Jesus was saying to them, because they had grown accustomed to not listening to Him, not hearing Him. 

Time and again, in the synagogue and in the Temple, they had determined not to listen to what Jesus had to say.  Now that He was trying to teach them about Himself, to call them, they “did not realize what he was trying to tell them.”

There is every indication that, in the world we live in, many are not hearing the Good Shepherd.  In the laws that are passed, which violate the gift of human life for the vulnerable, the sick and the elderly, the unborn, the voice of the Good Shepherd is not being listened to.  In a culture where crimes are committed and live-streamed on Facebook, the voice of the Good Shepherd is not being listened to.  Many baptized Christians today, people that we know and love, are growing more and more accustomed to not hearing the voice of the Good Shepherd.

In the late 18th century, European civilization and culture began to grow in leaps and bounds during the period known as the Enlightenment.  Scientific advancements were opening up new avenues of knowledge; discoveries were being made that went beyond what could have been imagined centuries before.  Many at that time began to speculate how poverty, crime and other social ills could be eliminated completely.  An “Age of Reason,” would finally replace an age of religion and superstition, where such things as faith in God were useless, at best.  But then something unexpected happened.  The knowledge that was aimed at progress was used to coordinate and facilitate the First World War.  Progress was replaced by destruction of human life on a scale unprecedented, and the Enlightenment project gave way to a broken world.

In 1920, immediately after World War I, Ireland’s William Butler Yeats wrote his famous poem “The Second Coming.”  It is a dark and ominous poem that begins:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold . . .

Yeats communicated the desperate plight of a culture come loose from its moorings.  Under the guise of freedom, they had drifted so far from the “falconer” that they were unable to come back.  They could no longer hear the call to come home.

Things fall apart . . . the center cannot hold . . .
There was an article in the Wall Street Journal last August that focused on the intense current preoccupation with Yeats’ poem.  It explained that, in the first 7 months of 2016, “The Second Coming” had been cited by journalists and commentators more times than in the 30 years preceding it!  Referring to world terrorism, Brexit, and the U.S. elections, the message was one of apocalyptic despair:  Things are falling apart; the center cannot hold; we have drifted too far away to bring things back together.

It is crucial for us, as people of faith, to recognize that this is NOT the message of Jesus Christ in the Gospel this weekend! 

On the contrary, Jesus Christ cries out to us as the Good Shepherd, with every indication that we can, in fact, hear Him.  We can listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd, calling out to us with a message of hope, a message of peace, and the promise of redemption.  As St. Paul proclaims, “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17).

Jesus Christ promises us this weekend that “Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture . . . I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly” (John 10: 9-10).  We thank God that there are several ways our faith teaches us to listen to that voice of the Good Shepherd. 

Firstly, we can hear the voice of the Good Shepherd when He calls out to us in the sacramental life of the Church.  The moment we are baptized, we enter into the very life of Jesus Christ.  The Holy Spirit lives and moves in us, calling out to our hearts that we belong to God.  On the altar, the Good Shepherd comes to us, seeking us out, to give Himself to us in His body and blood.  The Eucharist strengthens us to live the Christian life and to consistently hear the voice of God in a world replete with distractions.  The sacraments allow us to tune in to the voice of Jesus Christ.  Can we hear Him?

Secondly, we hear the voice of the Good Shepherd when we listen to the reading of Sacred Scripture in the Mass.  The Church teaches us that, when the word of God is read in the Sacred Liturgy, it is Jesus Christ that speaks to us.  We listen to the readings and Christ speaks to our hearts.  We hear the words of Psalm 23 this weekend, and it is the Good Shepherd that says to us, “I am your shepherd, there is nothing you shall want; I make you to lie down in green pastures, I lead you beside the still waters; I restore your soul.”  Are we listening to Him when He speaks to us in the Mass?

And finally, we hear the voice of the Good Shepherd when we take the time, each day, to be alone and silent before Him.  We take some amount of set time each day to be still with God, to listen to Him and to communicate our thoughts, desires, fears, hopes and joys.  We pray.  God is so eager to speak to us, to encourage and to console us, if only we will open our hearts, trust and believe.  Faith is a gift from God, no doubt; but it is also a response to the one who is calling out to us.  Can we hear that voice, that call of the Good Shepherd?

Because it is absolutely true that God would seek us out anywhere, and bring us home with great love.  If we were to fall away from God and drift thousands of miles away, He would seek us out and find us!  He most certainly is the Good Shepherd that goes to the end of the earth to save us. 

But He would much rather speak to us here.  Now. 

Today, and all throughout this coming week, we ask for the grace to listen well to the voice of Jesus Christ, our Good Shepherd, who constantly calls us to new and abundant life.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Proof For God: Divine Mercy

The Incredulity of St. Thomas
-Caravaggio (1571-1610)

(Divine Mercy Sunday-Year A; This homily was given on April 22 & 23, 2017 at St. Adalbert Church in Providence, RI and April 23 at Our Lady of Consolation Church in Pawtucket, RI; See 1 Peter 1:3-9 and John 20:19-31)

Science is very much in the spotlight these days.  The “March for Science” took place in Washington, DC on April 22, and many satellite “marches” were organized around the globe to coincide with Earth Day.  Does science present challenges to our faith?  Back in 2011, I was able to participate in an international conference on the vegetative state.  Gathering in the City of Munich with 15 other researchers across Europe, we spent a week together learning about brain injury and how society responds to this challenging issue.  Naturally, several of the participants wanted to know why a Catholic priest was interested in this subject.  I explained how I was there to present the Catholic perspective on caring for patients in the vegetative state, particularly the teachings of the late Pope John Paul II (later to be St. John Paul II).  

After several days together, we had a great opportunity to share a traditional Bavarian dinner.  In the middle of the meal, one of my colleagues asked me a question that surprised me.  Being a professed atheist, she asked, “How can you study all the things we are learning about here, and still believe in God?”  I asked her what she meant, and she explained how the findings of science can be verified by experiments; that is truth.  So how can someone believe in things that cannot be proven?  I said that belief in God, and the things He has revealed, are no less true than a scientific experiment.  She disagreed.

I suddenly remembered that she had spoken often that week about her two sons.  She absolutely adored those boys.  After a brief pause, I asked her, “Do you love your sons?”  She was somewhat taken aback by the question.  “Of course, I do,” she retorted.  “Oh,” I said, and then cautiously added, “Do you think that they love you?”  She flushed for a moment, and then added, with certainty, “Yes, I do.”  Then I said: “Prove it.”

We both began to smile when she realized the reason I asked her those questions.  I explained how my faith and love for God are true, and no less so than a scientific experiment.  “The way that God loves me, and you,” I explained, “is true, as true as your love for your children, and their love for you.”  Some things cannot be proven in a laboratory, but that does not mean they are not true.  

In our Gospel for this Divine Mercy Sunday, the disciples are gathered together in a locked room in Jerusalem, filled with fear and disbelief.  They were incredulous, and for good reason.  The man that they loved most—Jesus of Nazareth, whom they were convinced was the Messiah—was arrested before them, scourged and crucified.  They stood by in stark disbelief as Jesus’ dead body was taken down from the cross and then laid in the tomb.  Truly, they experienced a crisis of faith if there ever was one.  

Suddenly Christ walks into the room, through the locked door, and announces, “Peace be with you” (John 2:19).  He was alive!  They saw Him.  To make sure that they understood precisely what they were seeing, St. John relates how “he showed them his hands and his side” (John 20:20).  These were eyewitnesses to the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  This was an historical event that was witnessed by credible people, who testified to it and later wrote it down.  

But Thomas the Apostle was not with them.

Thomas would not believe what the other disciples told him.  He defiantly declared, Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25).  

One week later Thomas gets his opportunity.  Once again, Jesus walks into the locked room and announces, “Peace with you.”  And then He invites Thomas to inspect the nail marks, to place his hand into His wounded side.  Astounded, Thomas exclaims, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28).   Thomas, along with the other disciples, believed in the resurrection because they had seen the risen Lord.  They believed in Jesus because they had proof, and there was no denying it.  They saw the wounds with their own eyes.  But they also believed, and perhaps even more so, because of what those wounds represented. 

The wounds of Jesus Christ are the marks of love and the proof that God loved us enough to die for us on the cross.  The marks in His body are a sure sign for those first disciples, and for us, that God’s love is present, that His love remains for us, and that He desires us to enter into eternal life with Him.  St. Paul, in his Letter to the Romans, phrases it this way:

God PROVES his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.
—Romans 5:8

The Divine Mercy is proof for the existence of God; it is all the proof we could ever need to remind us that we are loved, called, forgiven, healed, wanted, and waited for by God.  God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.

The immediate question, however, that we are confronted with in the second reading this weekend, is whether or not we can prove our love for God.  St. Peter, who was a witness to the sufferings of Jesus Christ, addresses this very challenge of suffering in the early Church.  He encourages them:

In this you rejoice, although now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire, may PROVE to be for praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
—1 Peter 1:6-7

The reality of the cross should not surprise any one of us as followers of Christ.  Our Lord was betrayed by the very ones He trusted and loved; when we experience betrayal, we do well to remember that.  Christ was rejected.  Often.  We need not be surprised when we are not accepted or loved by the people around us.  The experience of the cross is not a sign that something has gone wrong in our spiritual journey with Christ.  In fact, He assured us that it would be a reality for us, even as it was with Him (see Luke 9:23 and Luke 14:27).  St. Peter reminds us, as well: 

Although now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith . . . may PROVE to be for praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

The image of the Divine Mercy that Jesus entrusted to St. Faustina is marked by the powerful phrase: “Jesus, I Trust in You.”  That is faith.  When we experience betrayal, rejection, suffering, sorrow, we entrust ourselves to Jesus Christ.  We make an act of faith and commit ourselves to following Him, even and especially when the road is dark and there seems like there is little hope.  We place our hope in the promises of God, and not the shaky foundations of useless promises abundant in our culture today.  Our love for God is proven in the fires of adversity, but it is a love that flows from His own generous cross and the Divine Mercy that first captivated us.  “We love, because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19), and that love is constant.

Friends in Christ, the question of God’s existence and whether or not He loves us has already been answered definitively by Jesus Christ.  God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.  But the question that remains for us to answer in this coming week is whether or not we will love Him, whether or not we will place our trust in His mercy.  Are you and I willing to answer, “Yes,” to that question?  Prove it.

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Passion for Communion

(Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord-Year A; This homily was given on April 9, 2017 at St. John's Chapel in Meriden, CT.; See Matthew 26:14-27:66)

“Jesus, may your Divine Blood enter my veins, to make me live the generosity of the cross at every moment.”
—St. Josemaría Escrivá, The Forge, #780

Those beautiful words, from St. Josemaría Escrivá, are not intended to be received metaphorically; they are no mere figure of speech.  Those words are the literal reality of the sacramental life and the power of God in our daily lives.  The cross is intimidating, exhausting, overwhelming.  Each of us bears some cross as true disciples of the Lord.  I know that some people here this morning bear several of them.  Yet it is the Blood of Jesus Christ, poured out for us here in the Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist, that allows us to live out the “generosity of the cross at every moment.”  

Yet in the Gospel we just listened to, the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, we hear about the first disciples who received that Divine Gift, and hours later they failed our Lord utterly and completely.  The Blood of Jesus Christ was coursing through their veins, and they did not remain faithful to Him.

St. Peter, we know, will deny Jesus three times.  All of them will abandon Him and flee.  But in the Garden of Gethsemane they were not even able to do that much!  St. Matthew relates how they were drowsy and eventually fell asleep.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, in his book, Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week, indicates how this call for vigilance “also points ahead to the later history of Christianity.”  He explains how the drowsiness of the disciples is what allows the power of the Evil One to cause so much harm down through the centuries.  He writes:

“Such drowsiness deadens the soul, so that it remains undisturbed by the power of the Evil One at work in the world and by all the injustice and suffering ravaging the earth.  In its state of numbness, the soul prefers not to see all this; it is easily persuaded that things cannot be so bad, so as to continue in the self-satisfaction of its own comfortable existence.”
—Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI 
Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week, pp. 153

One of the most violent and dangerous places in the world today is Syria.  The images of the atrocities committed in that place, and across the Middle East, reveal to the entire world the gravity of this desperate situation.  Is it any wonder, then, that the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem has struggled internally to find unity and fruitfulness in these days?  A strong and vital Church in that region of the world would have the power to stave off the evil that threatens so many.  Is it any wonder, then, that the Evil One would work so very hard to divide the Church in that place?  Is it any surprise to us, however, that Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa should suffer so much to bring unity and stability to that historic diocese?  Or think about the great evil of abortion in our own part of the world.  Are we not also lulled into complacency, preferring “not to see all this,” and “persuaded that things cannot be so bad”?

You have heard the expression before: “all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”  Those words are often attributed to the Irish philosopher, Edmund Burke.  But if you read the works of Edmund Burke, you will not find those words anywhere.  What Burke actually wrote was:

“When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.” 

We cannot defeat evil simply by “doing something.”  We associate.  We gather together.  We are brought together in communion, or we perish.  We associate in communion with Jesus Christ and each other, or we die.  There is no other path for human flourishing and the victory of God.

What a tremendous inspiration then, to read the words of Archbishop Pizzaballa in his letter to his diocese at the beginning of the Lenten Season: “I decided to convene a gathering of all the diocesan priests of the Latin Patriarchate.”  He chose, at that time, to offer insights and to listen to their own suggestions and opinions.  He shared the great joy in seeing “that those gathered were committed to working through these problems, willing to face honestly the reality and ready to engage whole heartedly in the necessary steps to set us back on the right path.”  This is the association and communion that allows “the divine power to destroy strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:4).  

This association and communion, of course, goes back to the very foundations of the Church.  The disciples, in the Passion narrative this morning, have totally failed our Lord and flagged in the generosity God called them to.  Yet show me these men in fifty days plus three, gathered together in the Upper Room with Our Lady, when the fire of the Holy Spirit falls upon them and sends them out as witnesses to the ends of the earth!  These are the same men that will gather together, day by day, united in the breaking of the bread “with glad and generous hearts” (see Acts 2:43-47).  Daily did our Lord add to the number and the vitality of those who gathered in His name!  They were united together in the Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist, and that is what enabled them to transform the world as they knew it.  

As we enter into this, the most holy of all weeks of the Liturgical Year, we are invited to share in that same source of strength, power and love.  Our Lord comes to us here, to this altar, and pours out His Body and His Blood for us, to bring us together and allow us to accomplish His great work in whatever corner of His Kingdom He sends us to.  This morning, we pray:

Lord Jesus Christ, may your Divine Blood course through our veins, and flow deeply into every dimension of our lives, so that we may live the generosity of the cross at every moment of this Holy Week.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Animated, Awoken, Alive!

Pulpit in St. Bavo's Cathedral, in the City of Ghent, Belgium

(4th Sunday of Lent-Year A; This homily was given on March 25, 2017 at St. Eugene's Church in Chepachet, R.I. and March 26, 2017 at St. Peter's Church in Warwick, R.I.  See 1 Samuel 16:1-13, Ephesians 5:8-14 and John 9:1-41)

Most of us are familiar with the name, Helen Keller.  Unlike the man in the gospel this weekend, Helen Keller was born with the faculty of sight.  It was at the age of two that, struck by an unknown illness, she began to lose both sight and hearing.  Before she even realized what was taking place, her young life was locked into a world or darkness and silence.  The last word that she held on to was, "water," and that, also, was soon forgotten.

After several, painful years of trying to communicate with their dear daughter, a ray of hope dawned for Helen's parents.  There was a woman, they were told, who had a special gift for working with the blind and the deaf.  Her name was Anne Sullivan, and she was considered to be a "miracle worker."  You might remember the movie about Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan by that same name.  Anne had remarkable success with "word associations," a technique in which she would place an object in the person's hand, and then tap out syllables or letters on the palm of the other hand, signifying the name of the object.

Anne Sullivan's initial efforts were met with complete failure.  Nothing seemed to work and a defiant young Helen became almost impossible to manage.  Then one day Sullivan poured cold water into Helen Keller's hand and tapped in the word "water."  Suddenly the last word that two-year-old Helen had forgotten became the first one she remembered. Along with it, a flood of memories came pouring through.  By the end of the day she had learned thirty more words!  Before she died, Helen Keller had spoken to presidents and heads of state, written an autobiography and books of poetry, and had literally connected to hundreds of thousands of people all over the world.  All of it began with just a handful of water.

That would surprise a lot of people, but it should not surprise us.  God, who is the original Miracle Worker, does that all the time!  In the Sacrament of Baptism, with words and just a handful of water, God reconnects us to spiritual life, opening the door to heaven itself and a world beyond our wildest imaginations.  In Baptism, Christ connects us to an entire web of relationships and friendships within His Church here on earth, and in the life to come.  Our lives are literally transformed by God in the Sacrament of Baptism, through faith and a handful of water.

The readings for this Laetare Sunday help us to see the remarkable vitality and resilience of the Catholic faith and the sacraments given to us by Christ.  Our First Reading relates the story of David, chosen by God and anointed as king of Israel.  The description found in 1 Samuel is vivid and provocative.  God chooses the most unlikely of instruments and the anointing of this future king takes place before his brothers; they are an impressive lot, though not chosen.  The oil of God's favor falls upon the youngest, the shepherd, "and from that day on, the spirit of the Lord rushed upon David" (1 Samuel 16:13).

The spirit of the Lord rushed upon David.  The Holy Spirit continued to favor David.  God's Spirit was persistent in helping him and guiding him in his life and mission for the people of Israel.  David would be one of the most charismatic and successful leaders in that nation's history . . . and also, at times, one of its greatest disappointments.  David, of course, as we read in Scripture itself, would commit the sin of adultery with Bathsheba, and the sin of murder to cover it up.  He would totally and completely fail God and the people.  And yet, as soon as David is confronted with that failure, he comes back to God with a depth of devotion second to none. The spirit of the Lord rushed upon David.   God never gave up on David, even when he failed.  The Holy Spirit never stopped pursuing David and seeking to draw him ever closer to Himself.  The spirit of the Lord rushed upon David.

Even so, in the Sacrament of Baptism, does God pursue us and persistently press upon us to draw us into a deeper communion with Christ and the Church.  Baptism is one of several sacraments in the Church that can never be repeated.  If we were to commit apostasy, deny the faith or denounce God Himself; if we were to fall into a lifetime of grave and serious sin and live very far from all that God had created us for; we could return to God and to the Church but could never be re-baptized.  The reason is that the waters of grace that we encountered on the day of our baptism are perennial and God's grace is persistent.

We need only to return to the Lord with an open heart and a spirit of repentance and He begins immediately to draw us back into communion with Himself and the Church.  The spirit of the Lord rushed upon us the day we were baptized!  In truth, the Spirit of the Lord rushes upon us here, even now, drawing us ever closer to Christ.  The Holy Spirit rushes upon us when we receive the sacramental grace of forgiveness and absolution in the Sacrament of Penance.  The sacraments of the Church have the power to reanimate our spiritual lives and renew us once again, restoring us to the goodness we were created for. How awesome and powerful are the Sacraments of Baptism and Reconciliation!

Of course, for the baptized Christian, the very presence and person of Christ is Himself the source of great awakening and life-giving renewal. In our Second Reading for this weekend, St. Paul tells us that Jesus Christ has the power to illumine our hearts and produce in us "every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth" (Ephesians 5:9).  Christ is the light that shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never overcome it (John 1:5).  St. Paul relates, in fact, that the light of Christ has the power to wake us up in the spiritual life and raise our souls from the dead:

Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.
—Ephesians 5:14

St. Paul would be the first to tell us that this amazing transformation happens, in a preeminent way, when we listen to the Word of God in Sacred Scripture (see 2 Timothy 3:16).  We also find that same lesson in the history of the Church.  In the years following the Protestant Reformation, many of those who had left the Catholic Church began to claim that they alone had a firm grasp on the meaning of Sacred Scripture.  They claimed fidelity to the word of God while they caricatured Catholics as believing only in the pope and the sacraments. In response to this claim, the Catholic Churches throughout Europe began to construct enormous, wood-carved pulpits as high as twenty feet, ornamented with various sculptures and vibrant biblical scenes. The message being sent was that the word of God, just as much as the sacraments and fidelity to the Vicar of Christ, mattered and made a difference in the lives of the Catholic faithful.

In the Flemish City of Ghent, in St. Bavo’s Cathedral, there is a magnificent wooden pulpit that is as ornate as it is enormous. There is a sculpture of an old man set into the base of that pulpit, with a blanket being pulled off from over his head; he appears almost to be holding onto it desperately as angels blow their trumpets and other heavenly beings lift high the cross of Christ. At the base of that sculpture are the words of St. Paul, which we find in our second reading this morning:

Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.
—Ephesians 5:14

The word of God, like the waters of baptism and the grace of sacramental absolution, has the power to reanimate our spiritual lives and shed the light of Jesus Christ forth into our hearts.  When we hear the word of God proclaimed in the Liturgy, or when we take the time to meditate on the Psalms or some passage from the Bible, we allow the light of Christ to shine into our darkness and illumine the path before us.  Do we take seriously this power of God's word to transform the spiritual life we have received from Him?  Do we allow the Sacred Scriptures to direct and guide our baptismal call to sanctity?  Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will give YOU light!

Finally, in our Gospel this weekend, we see in the man born blind the path that Jesus traces out for all the baptized.  He was desperate for healing and cried out in his need.  Suddenly Christ heals him, but in the strangest of ways.  Jesus spat on the ground!  The Son of God "spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva, and smeared the clay on his eyes" (John 9:6).  How odd is that?  Then Jesus tells him to go and wash in the Pool of Siloam.  Now, certainly Christ does not need to make clay with spittle and rub it into this man's eyes; the man born blind does not need to wash his face in a pool to be healed.  Christ could have simply spoken to this man and it would have been enough.  But we are physical, not simply spiritual.  We need to feel Christ, physically, to hear His voice, to be touched by Him and to experience with our entire being the healing power of the living God.  Christ, who was incarnate of the Virgin Mary for the very purpose of revealing the fullness of redemptive love, institutes the sacraments of the Church to meet this very need we have to experience God physically and spiritually:

In baptism water is poured over our heads and we are cleansed from sin; new life in the Holy Spirit comes to us as the doorway to eternal life is thrown wide open.

In the Eucharist bread and wine become the very body and blood of Christ, nourishing us and strengthening us for the journey of faith and the path of holiness.

In the Sacrament of Reconciliation we hear Jesus' words spoken out loud, setting us free by His generous gift of love on Calvary: "I absolve you of your sins."

And so it is with all the sacraments, beginning with the amazing gift of baptism.  But, of course, the sacraments are not magic.  They require our response if they are to bear fruit sufficient for the life that God desires.  The man born blind was healed, but he had to continue in that healing gift by responding to the God who gave him sight.  He persevered through the doubt and even discouragement of those around him, and eventually came face-to-face with Christ once again.  Jesus invites him to a life of faith, belief in the Son of Man.  When the man goes on to question who this Son of Man is, Christ appeals to the man's senses, seeking to engage him completely in his spiritual and physical nature: "You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he" (John 9:37).  John relates, then, how the man believed in Christ, and worshiped Him.

Friends in Christ, we live in a world that has grown increasingly blind and deaf to the things of God.  God is seeking to bring healing to a broken world and sight for the spiritually blind.  Christ has come to bring light to those who dwell in darkness.  But that will only happen when we are willing to live out our baptismal call to holiness and to be the light of Jesus Christ in this world.  God is counting on us, this week, to live the Gospel and to be fully engaged in the sacramental life of the Church.  Christ is seeking to shine His light into the lives of all those who sleep, awakening them with His life-giving word.  How are we called to be the Christians capable of making Him known in a world desperately in need of renewal and new life?  God can transform the entire world with words, faith and a handful of water, but He humbly chooses to do so through His body, the Church.