Today is Laetare Sunday, one of two Sundays when the vestments for Mass can be rose colored. It is so named because the opening Scripture verse for this Sunday is “Laetare, Jerusalem,” (Rejoice, Jerusalem!) from Isaiah 66. The cause of our joy is the fact that the solemn celebration of the Paschal Mystery is ordinarily upon us at this time. However, because of the order to “shelter in place” because of the spread of the deadly coronavirus, rejoicing may be the furthest thing from our minds. Even though I am preparing a homily for today, I know that there won’t be any opportunity to share it with a live congregation. So I am using modern technology to share my thoughts with you this morning.
St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians aptly and ably fulfills the role of the second reading for a Lenten liturgy; namely, to set forth our participation in the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus through our baptism. Using several sets of contrasts, St. Paul illustrates the effects of baptism in our lives:
Once you were in darkness; now you are in the light.
Live in the light; do not participate in the fruitless works of darkness.
The works of darkness are shameful; light produces goodness, righteousness and truth.
The reading closes with a quotation from an early Christian baptismal hymn which urges the newly baptized: “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light." Through baptism we have died with the Lord Jesus and have received the gift of eternal life.
I enjoy watching detective dramas in which the police try to expose the person responsible for a particular crime. There are many such programs available. The most recent rely heavily on “forensic” clues from the crime scene. I have often wondered why the police all seem to use flashlights (or “torches” if the production is British) when searching the crime scene. Why not simply turn on the lights? Of course, I am sure that a darkened crime scene heightens the drama and is simply a tool used by the director to draw in his audience. At the same time, looking for clues in the dark simply seems to be less than productive. As St. Paul aptly points out, “everything exposed by the light becomes visible.”
Living in the light means producing the fruits of baptism; namely, goodness, righteousness and truth. Light is inimical to secrets. So if we wish to call ourselves children of the light, we must act in such a way that our deeds can be seen by all.
The Gospel for this Sunday also centers on the issue of light and darkness using the sign of the man born blind who is rejected by the Pharisees for the testimony that he gives about the man named Jesus. Throughout their interrogation of the man, the Pharisees maintain that Jesus is a sinner because he “worked” on the Sabbath. Though the man maintains that a sinner would not be able to do the works that Jesus performs, the Pharisees refuse to budge in their argument and throw the man out of the synagogue, an action which makes him a pariah among other Jews. When Jesus finds him, the man professes his faith and is accepted by Jesus. This later encounter is witnessed by the Pharisees who ironically condemn themselves by asking Jesus a question; “Surely we are not also blind, are we?” They are, in fact, so blind that they cannot discern the Light of the World, Jesus.
At our baptism, our godparents were presented with a lit candle and told to keep the light of faith burning in the child who has just been baptized. As adult Christians, the task in now ours. The light we have received through baptism is now to be used to illuminate the deeds of goodness and truth in our lives of faith.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator