4th Sunday Lent, Year A
To experience darkness is a strange thing. How do we talk about it? Is the night the end of the day, or is it the beginning of a new day, a whole new world? I remember reading someone say that the world seems deeper, more profound at night. I am not sure whether I agree or not, but I do remember the excitement of preparing to go out at night. Also, people seem to have longer, more serious conversations at night: the clichéd “deep and meaningfuls”. But then for every deep and meaningful, there is a shallow and meaningless night, a night of intoxication or escape into delusion. So, what are we to make of darkness?
Our faith also seems to have a strange relationship with darkness. We know that Christ is the light of the world, and light seems to be preferred to darkness throughout scripture. However, from John’s Gospel, we know that the light shines in the darkness. So, where should we look for the light? In the darkness. And indeed Christ tells us to find him among the poor and the suffering, those who are forgotten, those who live in the shadows of our society. We hear the same paradox in our Easter vigil, when we talk of a luminous night. And many mystics have described their experience of God in similar terms: the darkness of being blinded by light.
Our gospel today has something of the same character. We can hear people talking of the darkness of the man born blind as some kind of judgment. The people see it as an ending. They think that someone must have done something wrong, and God’s judgment is darkness. But Jesus reverses this. Jesus sees it as a beginning. He says that the darkness of the man born blind becomes the means for God to act. His blindness, when brought into the presence of Christ, becomes a source of light in the world. We can see all over again the mystery of creation which we hear in the first chapters of Genesis: the Holy Spirit hovering over the void bringing forth new life.
We might bring this to bear on our current situation. There have been plenty of stories about the darkness. People turning into locusts in supermarkets. The future as unknown, as dark. But then there have also been stories of light. People singing to each other across government flats. People taking care of each other and their needs. Going that extra step to ensure that people are looked aTer and not forgotten. People shedding light on the humanity of each other. On the God-given dignity of our neighbour, especially our neighbour in his or her need.
And there is another part of our gospel worth thinking about: the gain in confidence of the man born blind as he sticks to what he knows is true. We hear that he is healed of his blindness, but he remains blind as to the reality of what has happened to him. He is forced to struggle with its meaning. Each time, he meets other people he is challenged and each time he has to decide whether the challenge is an end or a beginning. But each time he decides in favour of Christ, in favour of beginnings, he gains in confidence. You can hear it in the story. He personifies our second reading.
There, St Paul says that if we expose darkness to light, it becomes visible. He also says that everything that is visible will itself become light. The first part is pretty obvious. If you shine light on something, it becomes visible. In the spiritual life, this means bringing something into the presence of Christ. If we light up our actions with those of Christ and the teachings of the Church, then we begin to understand their reality. They take shape. They become visible.
But it is the second part of what St Paul says that is a bit strange: that what is visible itself must become light. But once we start thinking about it, it makes sense. When something is brought into the presence of Christ, it cannot help but be transformed. It begins to be of Christ; and so it participates in the light of Christ. It, through its participation in the life of Jesus, sheds light on what is around it. We see this in the structure of Mass.
It is similar to what we said last week. That if we bring our heart to Christ he will turn it into a spring of living water. If we turn our lives over to Christ, if we live with him in sincerity of heart, if we follow his commands, then our lives become luminous and every aspect of our lives will share in this luminosity. We can see this when we use our fears as insights into the fears of others, and as spurs to help. Fear turns into charity which becomes light for the world.
Then, let us hold onto our faith all the more. Let’s bring any darkness we feel to the Lord, confident that he will make what seems like an end into a beginning. We know he lives, and is with us always.