Fourth Sunday of Lent – Year A

Screen Shot 2020-03-12 at 9.39.28 AM.png

Paul F. Morrissey, O.S.A. 
Church of St. Augustine
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

1 Sm 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a
Ps 23: 1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6
Eph 5:8-14
Jn 9:1-41

Have you ever heard Andrea Bocelli, the blind Italian man, sing? Have you noticed his closed eyes? In his blindness, he must see God in the darkness as he shares this experience through his angelic voice. Can you imagine his faith and his parents’ faith (they were advised by their doctor to abort him because he had serious disabilities in the womb).

What if the “blind man” and “blindness” in today’s Gospel reading were more about “seeing or not seeing” in terms of faith, not simply visual sight? Jesus said to the Pharisees, “I came into the world for judgement, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind.” The Pharisees were blind because they said, “We see,” even as they refused to acknowledge Jesus as the Christ. How can we “see” Jesus with eyes of faith? Perhaps we need actual physical darkness to experience this need.

What if our Church’s (and the Gospel’s) custom of referring to Jesus as “the Light “ (vs darkness), causes darkness to be equated with badness, the devil and sin? This can split us off from realizing the goodness and necessity of darkness in our lives, particularly physical darkness as in night. In a recent article in the New York Times (2/3/20), “In Search of the Vanishing Dark,” the author writes, “All these memories (of the dark) are from my rural childhood 50 years ago, when darkness was much more abundant, when it took over the world each night and artificial lights were so scarce they barely registered in the black expanse. We’ve mostly lost the darkness now.”

Suppose this Lent we were to become friends with darkness so that we could be more balanced from our frenetic and constantly lit up cities and world? As a contrast to this physical light, we might try to be less driven to know everything through 24/7 news cycles, to be less afraid of not being connected all the time. We might discover room for God and prayer and faith; even be able to see more clearly than through our constantly connected computers and I-phones.

The author of the above article, writing from White Bluff, Tennessee, continues, “I crave the night so much, miss it so much. This feeling grows in me with every year that passes, and not only because the lights have become increasingly hard to escape. Something in me is changing, and it’s not just the lights that have become intolerable but the driven, narcissistic mode of life they accompany. Something deep within me recoils from it all and longs to turn toward darkness. Night is when the body goes to ground and the soul comes forth.”

Night is when the body goes to ground and the soul comes forth… In his famous spiritual canticle, “One Dark Night,” St. John of the Cross invites us to be with him as he experiences this encounter with Christ, his Beloved in the darkness:

On that glad night,
In secret, for no one saw me,
Nor did I look at anything,
With no other light or guide,
Than the one that burned in my heart (verse 3)

We need to let our souls come forth this Lent in physical darkness, even to acknowledge our spiritual darkness and need for a savior. A few ways we might experiment with this are:

1. Turn off your computer and phone for a period each morning or night. Just sit in the
darkness for 10-15 minutes. Invite God’s presence by your silence.

2. Go outside in the evening or early morning. Look up at the sky, the moon, the stars.
Listen for what they are trying to say to you and the world as the daylight begins to
recede or shrink them from sight. Imagine Abraham and Sarah beside you and say with
them, “Show me/us the way, Lord.”

3. Whatever feels “dark” in you – or in the world – hold it up to God and say, “For You,
Lord, darkness itself is not dark, and night shines like the day.” (Psalm 138: 12)

We need darkness to see the light. We need to make friends with the night again.

We need to acknowledge our blindness in order to see Christ through the light of faith.

[A recommended book on this theme: Learning to Walk in the Dark, Barbara Brown Taylor, HarperOne, 2014]