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Accept the challenge

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The fourth Sunday of Lent is Laetare Sunday, the Sunday of “rejoicing.” (In Latin, “Laetare” means “to rejoice.”) We have reached the midpoint of Lent, and soon we will celebrate Easter. To show our joy, priests may wear rose vestments instead of violet, and altars may be decorated with flowers.

Nevertheless, this midpoint celebration is a check-up time to ask ourselves, “How well have I kept my Lenten resolutions? Have I prayed daily (reading sacred Scripture or praying the rosary), prayed the Stations of the Cross, been faithful to my sacrifices, performed the corporal and spiritual works of mercy?  More importantly, have I made a good confession?” With renewed resolve, we continue on to Easter. In all, we must ask, “Do I see Jesus more clearly in my life?”

Consider our Gospel passage for this Sunday: Jesus encounters Bartimaeus, who has been blind from birth. He makes a paste of mud and spit, perhaps because “dirt” reminds us of our mortality — God formed man from the earth and breathed life into him — and saliva was believed to have curative powers. Then, having washed in the Pool of Siloam as commanded, Bartimaeus received his sight. What a great gift. Now he could see his parents, friends and surroundings. 

Our Lord restores Bartimaeus’ sight to show, as with any miracle, that he is the divine Messiah, the Lord and savior, who is the light of the world (Jn 1:5) and who came to give sight to the blind (Is 29:18; Lk 5:18). The greater miracle, therefore, was that Bartimaeus received the vision of faith — he saw Jesus, first as a prophet, and finally as the Lord whom he worships.  

Immediately, we think of the miracle of our own baptism. By the pouring of water and the invocation of the Trinity, we were freed of original sin. The divine life and love of God — sanctifying grace — was infused into our souls. We were recreated as a child of God and incorporated into the church, the mystical body of Christ.

Through baptism, we receive the gift of faith, a supernatural virtue infused by God. When the godparent or catechumen is asked, “What do you ask of God’s church?” The response is, “Faith.” Then having professed faith and received baptism, we are among the “enlightened.” (Keep in mind, God first gives us actual grace, technically prevenient grace, to make this profession.)    

Nevertheless, “For all the baptized, children or adults, faith must grow after baptism,” the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches (No. 1254). Aided by God’s grace and the help of others (the church community), we need to nurture this faith through prayer, study, worship, the sacraments and living the faith daily. Just as Bartimaeus wanted to meet Jesus face to face, the true believer wants to know the Lord better, so as to enter into a divine intimacy with him. As such, faith illuminates every dimension of our human existence. Life becomes a walk with Our Lord, the Good Shepherd, who is the light who guides our journey whether through the verdant pastures or the dark valleys, but always along right paths. Finally, the light of faith also illuminates our future destiny, for the Lord has promised eternal life and has prepared a dwelling place in heaven for those who are faithful.

Yes, there will always be some mystery. Poor human beings locked in this time and space, we will never be able to fully understand the mysteries of God; but, as St. Anselm said, we do not understand so as to believe, we believe to understand. As we pray in the act of faith, “I believe these and all the teachings of the Catholic Church because you, who are eternal wisdom and truth, have revealed them, who can neither deceive nor be deceived.”     

Yes, we will be challenged, just as Bartimaeus was challenged by the Pharisees. “The disciple must not only keep the faith and live on it, but also profess it, confidently bear witness to it, and spread it,” teaches the Catechism (No. 1816). Consider: Bartimaeus was first questioned. Can we answer questions about our faith? Second, Jesus was called a “sinner”: Can we defend the faith to those who oppose it, deride it and attack it? Third, the Pharisees intimidated Bartimaeus with pressure (“Give God praise” and agree that Jesus is a “sinner”); with ridicule (“You were born in sin”); and physical expulsion. Are we willing to stand firm in such situations and be a real witness, i.e. martyr? With the help of the Holy Spirit, meeting such challenges makes us stronger. Moreover, through us, the Lord will be able to open the eyes of the spiritually blind.

So, rejoice on this Laetare Sunday. Accept the challenge. And continue on faithfully, not only to Easter but to the day when we pass from this life and enjoy, by God’s grace, the beatific vision, seeing God face to face, and standing with all of the saints clothed in white around the altar of the lamb in the heavenly Jerusalem (Rv 7:9).

Fr. Saunders is pastor of Our Lady of Hope Church in Potomac Falls and episcopal vicar for faith formation and director of the Office of Catechetics.

   

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020