Sunday Sermon for April 3, 2011, the Fourth Sunday of Lent, Year A

Readings: 1Sam 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13aEph 5:8-14; Jn 9:1-41

The readings today are all about light and sight. On the natural level it is light which allows us to see. We might think it is eyesight alone that allows this, but even with 20/20 vision we would not be able to see a thing if we were in a room that was completely dark. So we need both the use of our eyes and light to be able to see.

Our Lord tells us that He is the light of the world; St. Paul tells us that we are light in the Lord. This provides us with the understanding of the means by which we can have spiritual sight or insight. Just as on the natural level we must have both eyesight and light, so on the spiritual level we need to have the ability to see with the eyes of our soul and the light of Christ to enlighten us and give us deeper insight into the events in our lives and in the world.

On the natural level, if we have weak eyes we cannot see clearly even if the day is bright and sunny, although the sight is better when the light is brighter than when the light is dim. So, too, on the spiritual level, if our souls are not purified enough we will not be able to see clearly in a spiritual manner. Also, the more our souls are united and conformed to Jesus, the brighter the spiritual light will be. When we have this light, even if we are not fully purified we will still have some insight, although things might still seem somewhat fuzzy.

We have an example of this in the first reading. Samuel is sent by God to Bethlehem to anoint one of the sons of Jesse. Not knowing beforehand which of Jesse’s sons he will anoint, Samuel arrives and sees Jesse’s first born who is tall, strong and handsome. Samuel beholds an impressive sight on the natural level, but he took his eyes off of God, was without the spiritual light necessary to have insight into the will of God, and assumed that this is the one he was to anoint. God intervenes and Samuel begins to look at things spiritually rather than naturally and he is granted clearer vision by the Lord to recognize that none of the young men Jesse had presented was the one God had chosen.

In the Gospel we are shown, once again, how people make judgments based on appearances. There is a man who was born blind; the disciples of Jesus, as well as the Pharisees, think that this blindness is due to sin. The disciples wonder if it was the man’s sin or that of the parents that caused the blindness; the Pharisees simply state that the man was born “totally in sin.” Jesus, using the occasion for a play on words, tells His disciples that the man’s blindness was so that the works of God might be made visible.

The Pharisees, who fancy themselves as being holy, state that they know that Jesus is a sinner; they also get angry at the man who was healed because he not only had sight, but insight, and they took umbrage at the fact that the man was lecturing them about matters of faith. Later our Lord speaks to this man about Himself, and the man makes an act of faith in Jesus. Our Lord says that He came into the world for judgment, that those who do not see might see and that those who do see might become blind.

What is interesting is that when the Pharisees claim to be insulted by this the Lord works a 180 degree turn on what they themselves had been claiming earlier. Jesus told them that if they were blind they would have no sin but since they claimed to be able to see, their sin remained. So, not only is a person’s blindness not caused by sin, but when we lack spiritual insight, this blindness is caused by sin.

This being the case, we need to work toward obtaining clearer spiritual insight. We live in a world where people think they can see, so they readily ridicule those trying to serve the Lord. They are blinded by their pride, all the while thinking they have clear insight. Their ignorance not only demonstrates their blindness, but reminds us that human wisdom is foolishness in the eyes of God while divine wisdom is foolishness in the eyes of man.

We need to live as children of the light, striving to grow in holiness and divine wisdom so that the Lord will enlighten us more profoundly and our spiritual insight may become more crisp. This spiritual insight will help us not to make judgments based on appearances, but according to the light of Christ.

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit