DARKNESS ONCE, BUT NOW LIGHT!

Catholic Homily/ Sunday Reflection
4th Sunday of Lent - Year A


Today’s liturgy smacks of contrasts: individuals being presented for office, but God choosing the least expected (1st reading); people wallowing once in darkness, but now being wrapped in light (2nd reading); and a blind man exposing people’s ultimate and real blindness far worse than the blind man’s own physical inability to see (Gospel).

We are once more back to the realm of reversals, the world of Christian paradox, the arena of faith that transcends the predictable flow of logic and linear, cause-and-effect mode of thinking. We are once more back to the realm of Christian mystery that is represented most fully by the mystery of the cross.

This mystery of the cross takes center place in our thoughts, in our prayers – in the liturgy all through the Lenten season. Of itself, Lent is one such big paradox, referred to by the liturgy as the “joyful season,” but a season during which we are told to think penance, prayer, almsgiving, fasting, and repentance.

We would do well to give a look at it once more, if for no other reason, than to remind ourselves that behind the veil of self-denial, behind the centrality of the cross, behind the cover of seeming “darkness,” lies a reality that we do well today to pray for – that we may “hasten toward Easter with the eagerness of faith and love,” as, indeed, we ask the Lord in today’s Opening Prayer.

A wise writer, I am told, once said, “If you can’t handle the violence in the psalms, you can’t come to terms with the violence in yourself.” Being face to face with Christian paradox is a little like struggling against the natural tendency to be myopic, to be near-sighted, to see nothing more beyond one’s immediate, material, personal, and superficial concerns. To be bothered by the here-and-now, to be so discouraged by what goes on in this godless and ethically blurred times, to wax so hopeless because of our repeated plaints as the Israelites did of old, “Is the Lord in our midst or not?” smacks of an inability to “handle the violence” both in the psalms, and in ourselves.

It means to be unable to handle darkness, to be so easily fazed by trials, by the so many existential pains that beset humanity, both natural and man-made. We humans, are “hard wired” to avoid pain, to question suffering, to flee from affliction, and to complain when touched by undeserved suffering. The cross never was, never is, and never will be automatically, and naturally equated with the soothing salve of consolation. On the contrary, the cross is a powerful testament to man’s inhumanity to man, to man’s cruelty, and to the human society’s misguided passion for revenge, and the propensity to right a wrong with another wrong deed.
There is no “light” attached to the “darkness” that is Christ’s ignominious death on the cross.

Or so we myopic creatures think!

For many years now, I have risen well before sunrise in order to walk, jog, or reflect in silence, or pray quietly. Just before dawn, this part of the world that was, and is home to me for most of my life, is enveloped in eerie darkness. Dead silence reigns supreme. Death and darkness mark the impatient waiting time for the world to stir back into life. It is always darkest just before dawn. It is always quietest, seemingly the most lifeless and the most hopeless time for miserable people who have to keep watch, who have to be awake, and who have to rouse from sleep for one unwanted reason or another.

But it is also the time of night that is fullest of promise! At a time when darkness straddles the coming of light, when nature’s lowest and worst is just about to give way to the bright promise of a new day, one’s deepest hopes and dreams arise with the first rays of a bright and warm sunshine of a new day, new life, a new beginning, and a new story to live by. Ironically, but true, it is only when one embraces the darkness, when one soaks in the temporary uncertainty, when one, in the words of the poet Rilke, “embraces the very questions themselves,” that one opens oneself to the possibility of enjoying to the full the meaning behind the pain, the darkness, and the seemingly endless waiting.

The writer Fleming Rutledge, commenting on the need to be at home with the violence of the psalms in order to be at home, too, with the violence in oneself, sees in this the equivalent need for us to look at the cross, to behold the wood of the cross, to see the cross for what it really and essentially is, to be at home with darkness, with paradox, with seeming contradictions that are part and parcel of our faith as Christian believers. “If we can’t look at the cross,” he writes, “we can’t look at ourselves either.” And if we can’t look at ourselves, I might venture to add, we can’t see the promise that is locked into our creaturehood, a hope that is plugged into our very personhood created in God’s image and likeness.

Hope does not thrive well in the hearts of people who have everything under control, for whom everything is predictable, for whom life is an unbroken series of logical steps that follow the linear law of cause-and-effect. In such a world of unbending laws, there is no room for mystery, for ambivalence, and therefore, no room for God who has come to reveal Himself in and through His Son become man like us. He showed us the height of paradox when salvation was wrought through his passion and death on the cross. Salvation was effected because the God-man Jesus Christ stared at darkness, suffering, pain, and the cross in the face.

In the first reading, we see no rhyme nor reason in the choice that fell on David. Seven older sons were presented. Culturally, the eighth would have been illogical, absurd, unheard of. But the choice of God fell on the insignificant eighth son, a number that stands outside the symbolic, meaningful seven. For “not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance, but the Lord looks into the heart.”

In Paul, writing to the Ephesians, we see someone who, like Christ his Master and Lord, also looked at the cross and saw meaning both for himself and for others: “You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.”

The great reversal, though, is portrayed in the beautiful account of John. A man born blind, not expected to be able to shed any light, nevertheless, became the most sought after informant about the one who brought light to his darkness. Envious and incredulous Pharisees, who saw everything but understood nothing, just couldn’t take it. With feigned affectation, they sought for “enlightenment,” the very enlightenment that eluded their blind eyes that refused to see the obvious and the true. In their self-righteousness, they were scandalized by the act of curing on the Sabbath, but they were unfazed by their crass inability to accept what stared them in the face. They even had the temerity to ask sarcastically (but prophetically): “Surely we are not also blind, are we?”

They were indeed blind. They were worse off than the man born blind. They couldn’t see themselves objectively, for they could not bring themselves to look at the reality that was Jesus, the “light of the world” right in their midst.

As I reflect on today’s liturgy, the hauntingly moving lines of a song from the musical Phantom of the Opera keep on surfacing to my consciousness. They are words that could as well have come direct from the pen of St. Paul writing to the Ephesians: “Awake O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light … Take no part in the fruitless works of darkness …”

“No more talk of darkness, forget your wide eyed fears …” Of all people, this was what the Phantom told Christine, These are words worth remembering even as we call to mind the more powerful words of the Lord to his disciples: “I am the light of the world, whoever follows me will have the light of life.” No more talk of darkness, indeed, for “[we] were once darkness, but now [we] are light in the Lord.”

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