My friends, many times as we age and continue to engage with our world, and its people—family, friends, and others we come in contact with, we often can find “gratitude,” in all that life brings—even while some things and people are taken from us. To the simple question, “How are you doing?”—many responses might come… “Well, I’m upright!” or, “I’m doing good.”
I tend to be, for the most part, at least in public, a fairly positive person. Lately, I have been dealing with “a knee” that isn’t behaving properly. I was out, in public several times this week for needed errands and appointments and to that customary question of, “How are you doing?” my response has been, “I’m OK—a step down from, “I’m good.”
Lately, I have been hearing from others who have been experiencing changes in their health or that of a family member, and I must comment on the faith and strength that they are showing in the face of more serious conditions.
When speaking of gratitude, I was reminded in my prep for this homily, that three years ago, we experienced our first Sunday of closing due to COVID 19. I marvel now to think that at that time, I had said, “We will close for 2 weeks to see where we are with “spread” after that. None of us thought that we would be shut down basically for a whole year and then only gradually, with outdoor Masses, liturgies on Zoom, and messages over email, and then with the precious vaccines, would we, in limited ways, be able to gather once again. So, we found ourselves being grateful for each change and step-up that could help us come together once again as a community.
This weekend finds us at the 4th week of Lent and the Scriptures continue to remind, in almost a steady stream since Christmas—“to be light in our world.” We can’t just be “status quo” folks, satisfied to do the bare minimum. Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, our 2nd reading today, affirms this challenge—“Live as children of the light.” So what does that actually mean? The other two readings for today, from Samuel and from John show us a bit of the way.
The 1st reading from Samuel gives us the wonderful story of how God chose David to be the new ruler for the Israelite people. We see that, in the words of Scripture, “God does not see as people see.” And additionally, [God looks at] “the heart.”
In the gospel of John, we see the furthering of this idea in Jesus’ challenging, to some, yet, comforting to others, words, “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” This was his response after giving physical sight to the blind man. As he engages the temple authorities, in their” spiritual blindness,” we see, as in all of Jesus’ words, and actions, that there is always a deeper message, one that unites his words of so long ago, to our present time.
It is of course, through Jesus’ Spirit that his human words become timeless—that make them as meaningful and challenging for us today, as when they were first spoken. The 1st reading today from Samuel says as much. When the youngest of Jesse’s 8 sons finally appears as God’s choice to lead the people, Scripture says, “The Spirit of God came mightily upon David from that day on”[!]
My friends, we should be encouraged by the above words—we should know and believe that once we too say, “Yes” to our brother Jesus’ call, “to walk in the light,” we will never have to do it alone.
Again, in John’s gospel, we see that Jesus instructs the blind man whose eyes he had rubbed mud on, to go to the pool of Siloam and wash. In the Greek, “siloam” means, “sent.” If we were to take one word or message from this gospel, it should be this one, “sent.” By the nature of our baptisms and confirmations, as followers too, of the “Chosen One,” Jesus, our brother, we are sent to make a difference in our world.
This past Monday, I had the privilege of speaking via Zoom to a group of Rochester, Minnesota Franciscan Sisters and Cojourners (lay, non-vowed women and men following Franciscan values in their lives) on my call to priesthood. I was joined by Marianne Niesen, a former Franciscan Sister who likewise followed a call to ordained ministry.
As you all know my story, I would like to share here a bit about Marianne as her journey was different from mine. She followed her call in the early 1990’s well before there was any way to do this within the Catholic church. I share her journey because I want to lift up all that was asked of her to say, “Yes” to God.
She had been a Religious for 18 years, was established within her order of Franciscan Sisters, and had many friends. Following her call meant leaving all this behind, including in some ways, her Catholic faith and its rituals, as she pursued ordained ministry within the Methodist denomination.
If you asked her, I believe she would tell you that she has always remained “Catholic” at heart, but in order to minister in the way that she felt God was calling her, meant that she would have to give up the Catholic “practice” that she knew. As a result, Marianne continues today in retirement, after more than 25 years leading Methodist congregations, to advocate for denomination-less communities, where, much like our All Are One community, “all are welcome at the table,” because we are more alike that we are different.
Marianne, I believe, like me, knew that her call was stronger and more important than the law that said that she couldn’t do what God was asking, so proceeded with faith and trust, knowing that if this was of God, she would not fail.
So, my friends, for each of us, we can’t use excuses, “that we are not worthy, or capable, or any other excuse. David, in today’s 1st reading, is our witness and model, as is my friend, Marianne and others who have listened to their hearts, above their heads.
Today’s readings call us to be “grown-ups” in our faith—I believe, Joan Chittister said this. In the same way that Jesus asked the then, cured, blind man if he believed in the Chosen One, we are being asked that same question today. The cured man wanted to be sure, so his follow-up question was, “Who is he that I might believe?” Jesus’ response, “It is he who is speaking to you” [!] Upon recognition, the cured man gave his answer, “I believe.”
My friends, each time we learn that someone needs help, our brother Jesus is inquiring of us, if we too believe. We must earnestly try and see Jesus in all who come our way—we may not always be able to physically help, but we must not fail to recognize the needy among us, and perhaps help at another time. This won’t leave us feeling comfortable, nor should it. Someone once said, the suffering we experience is sometimes the “very door” where God will enter—to draw us closer.
We continue our Lenten journey toward Easter—spring, and new life. I began this homily reminding us where we were 3 years ago as we learned of a deadly virus among us. We are most grateful to have come through that time and look forward to continued faith and strength as we become more open to one another again.