Monday, April 4, 2011

Don't be a Pharisee, go to confession this Lent. Sermon of April 3rd

4th Sunday of Lent, Year A
April 3rd, 2011
John 9:1-41

If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you are saying, “We see,” so your sin remains.

In seminary training, beyond the many hours of academic courses focused on theological formation, the young men training to be priests receive also some classes in more practical matters of priestly ministry. Among these courses directed towards pastoral work, homiletics – the instruction in how to write and deliver a good homily or sermon – certainly has a central place.
Now, in these homiletics courses, the professors tell the seminarians of what may be termed the “golden rule” of successful sermons. This essential axiom goes something like this: A long Gospel means a short homily. J
Indeed, there is much truth to this statement: The Church, in giving us this extremely long Gospel (which is surpassed in length only by the Passion accounts), desires that we should meditate upon this passage throughout the week. The task of the homilist, then, is simply to point out a few key themes – the Holy Spirit will do the rest as we ponder over these words in our hearts through the next several days.

I want to focus specifically on these Pharisees: These men who were so wise and lerned in the Scriptures, the religious leaders of the day; who yet find themselves, at the end of the passage, in utter blindness. What was it that led these men to reject the Christ, only to cast themselves out into the darkness?
The root of their error is in their approach to sin. These Pharisees did not deny that sin exists, but rather chose to point out the sins of others, instead of admitting their own brokenness. It is not so much that they claimed to be perfect – I am quite sure that the Pharisees would have all admitted that they had at least some little things to work on – rather, they chose to direct attention away from their “small” imperfections by pointing out what they considered to be the grave sins of others.

“Sure,” the Pharisees tell us, “we are not perfect. But at least we are not so bad as the rest, at least we aren’t so great of sinners as that blind man is! Look, he was blind from birth, he was born in sin, he is steeped entirely in sin! We may not be perfect, but we are not that bad – at least not compared to him!”
Sometimes, we also do this. When we say to ourselves, “Well, I know I’m not perfect, but I’m not nearly so bad as Hitler or the Nazis, or Stalin.” As though our measure were genocide and mass murder!
Or again, without referring to history but sticking with our own day, we might try to deflect attention from our personal sins by pointing out the sins and weaknesses of politicians or businessmen – “They are all just a bunch of greedy, self-centered scoundrels! I’m so glad that I’m not a sinner like them!”
Finally, when all else fails and we are really under pressure, we may stoop so low as to say… “True, maybe I do have some small faults, but at least I’m not as bad as Charlie Sheen!” J

This is a very dangerous path, however. We recall that Jesus came not for the righteous, but for sinners. If we are set on pointing out how other people are so much worse than us, we are actually removing ourselves from the redemption accomplished in Christ. If we are not sinners, we have no need of a Savior. If think that we are basically good, then we have cast ourselves out from the Church – because, the Church on earth is made up of sinners who look to the Savior for healing, mercy and forgiveness.
This was the error of the Pharisees: They were “basically good people” and they knew it! They didn’t think of themselves as sinners, so they balked at the idea of redemption – “What need have we of redemption? We are doing just fine. We can see!” Thus, they became utterly blind; and, lost in their spiritual blindness, they lose all hope of heaven.

Let’s be clear: The Pharisees are the type of people who don’t go to confession. The blind Pharisees of today are those Catholics who don’t even go to confession during Lent!  How could anyone neglect confession during Lent?!
If we are honest with ourselves and honest to God, we will get to the sacrament of Reconciliation, and we will frequent it often. We know we are sinners, and God certainly knows we are sinners – why remain in that blindness? Why remain in that sin? Christ has given us the sacrament so that we may be forgiven. The Savior gives us confession so that we might be more joyful!

Notice, in the Gospel, the Lord makes use of a very strange ritual in order to heal the blind man. Certainly, Jesus could have healed the man immediately, simply by a word or the slightest movement of his will. However, Christ doesn’t do it that way – instead, he spits on the ground and makes mud. Then he puts this mud on the man’s eyes and tells him to go and wash in the pool of Siloam.
Now the blind man could have said, “This is crazy! Don’t put that spittle on my eyes!” It is a very strange ritual indeed. But, if the blind man had resisted or refused the ritual, he would not have been healed. So, he does not complain – moreover, we mention that this little ritual is a small price to pay for the miraculous healing!

We also have a somewhat strange ritual. We line up outside a box, then (when our turn comes) we go in and tell our sins to a man who has been ordained a priest. Let’s be honest, it is quite strange. But it’s the ritual Christ has given us.
Certainly, the Lord could just forgive our sins immediately and without the ritual – but he chose to give us the sacrament, just as he chose to use the mud for the man born blind. How could we resist? What a small price to pay for the forgiveness of our sins!
Indeed, I admit that, when we look at these two rituals, we might prefer the mud-option (given the choice)! J But that’s not what Christ gave us. He gave us the sacrament. He gave us confession.

Why remain in the darkness? Why remain blind? Christ wants us to see. Through a return to the healing sacrament, the light of the Savior will illumine our hearts and lead us into the great joy of life everlasting.