Sunday, April 3, 2011

Fr. Matthias Neuman's Homily for the 4th Sunday in Lent

Readings: 1 Sam 16:1-13; Eph 5:8-14; Jn 9:1-41

Fr. Mark Massa SJ, in a recent insightful book entitled The American Catholic Revolution: How the Sixties changed the Church forever, states in several places that the only way one can explain many of the changes that happened after Vatican II is by reverting to an old law of history: the law of unintended consequences. In other words this law could be put positively: in a living, historical community of people things seldom go exactly as one plans them. There are simply too many factors to take into consideration when planning. No one individual, no committee can refer to all of them. Human life is too complex. How often governments have passed laws to control a situation....and wound up making it worse....because of something no one had ever thought of. Fr. Massa believes that there is no way the bishops at Vatican II could have imagined the change process they unleashed in the Church. Things seldom turn out exactly as we plan them.

There’s a similar kind of law that seems to emerge from today’s readings: people seldom are completely what they seem to be on the surface. In the first reading Jesse doesn’t even consider his youngest son, David, as a possible candidate to be the King of Israel. But in God’s eyes David is that king. In the gospel the man born blind is simply taken to be born in sin; his very blindness shows that. But Jesus says: "No, he was not born in sin." That has nothing to do with his blindness. People seldom are completely what they seem to be on the surface.

It would be good if we would take these two laws more seriously, especially the second. Lent is a good time to do a little purging of the presumptions and judgments we have about people, particularly those we closely live with. Presumptions and judgments can get so ingrained in us that it’s hard to see how far off they are from the reality. This gospel story today is just filled with biases and prejudices. The Pharisees have no qualms about their judgments on the man born blind or on Jesus; they are prejudiced. They can’t see past attitudes that they have come to accept as "set in concrete." Their opinion of themselves just drips with bias. Most of us would probably find it hard to admit that we are much more similar to them than we think we are.

Prejudices, especially inherited prejudices, are notoriously difficult to confront. I’m reminded of the early years of the ecumenical and interfaith dialogues—how much suspicion there was of each other. I remember once hearing Rabbi Marc Tannenbaum give an address about his entry into interfaith relations with Catholics. His own family had known nothing but hostility from Christians for generations. He spoke about the first time he was going to meet with a group of Catholic bishops and priests during the Second Vatican Council. His family had a deep-rooted prejudice towards Catholics and fear of them. He could hardly sleep the night before. He kept waking up and finding himself sweating heavily. The next morning he considered not showing up for the meeting at all. Even after the meeting went beautifully, he had a hard time accepting in his heart that these were really good people, good religious people. He had to tell himself that over and over again. It’s not easy to get at prejudices.

Lent is a good time for us to begin to erode some of the prejudices and biases in our lives.

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