I preached this homily last year, at the request of Bishop Slattery, in the Cathedral of the Holy Family in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Knowing that there are many churches in which the Gospel of the Man Born Blind (Year A in the reformed lectionary) will be read today, I am offering this homily again.
"Be glad, Jerusalem!
Hold an assembly, all you that love her:
rejoice and be glad, you that were in sadness:
that you may exult and be suckled plentifully
with the breasts of her consolations" (Is 66:10-11).
This morning the Church
opens the celebration of Holy Mass with a chant of rapturous joy.
The dark violet of her Lenten array has become a gentle rose,
the colour of the sky at dawn.
The rigorous Lenten prohibition of flowers in church
is lifted for this one day.
And the first few notes of today's Introit in Gregorian Chant
are a like a breath of spring.
The text cannot find words enough for its joy,
and the melody is even deeper in its rejoicing.
Once heard, today's Introit is unforgettable,
and anyone who knows the music of the liturgy knows why.
It rings with the sound of Easter!
Its first few notes are identical with the last few notes
of the great first Alleluia of the Paschal Vigil.
This no mere coincidence;
it reveals the underlying unity of the mystery.
The Church cannot wait until the Paschal Vigil,
so great is her joy already.
Today, through the wide-open eyes of the man born blind,
the Church looks into the dazzling Face of Christ,
"the light of the world" (Jn 9:5),
and cannot contain her gladness.
She already sings the paschal alleluia but,
for the moment, disguises it, wraps it in another word,
a single jubilant cry: Laetare!
Joy, then, is the first distinctive note of today's Mass.
The second word of the Entrance Antiphon is Jerusalem,
and this is the second distinctive note of today's Mass.
Jerusalem is, according to the psalmist,
"the dwelling of all joy" (cf. Ps 86:7).
Why? Because the temple is there:
God's dwelling in the midst of His people,
the one place on earth
where the God of Israel promised the abiding presence
of His Name, and of His Eyes and of His Heart.
He says to David's son Solomon:
"I have sanctified this house,
which thou hast built to put My Name there for ever,
and my Eyes and My Heart shall be there always" (1 K 9:3).
Today's Mass is a way of going "up to Jerusalem" without leaving Tulsa.
The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is, in a very real sense,
a going up to the joys of heaven,
a foretaste of the joy that lies beyond the gates of heaven
thrown open by Christ the Prince of Life.
The psalm that accompanies the Introit sings just that:
"O my joy when they said to me:
Let us go up to the house of the Lord" (Ps 121:1).
David, anointed king in the First Reading,
prizes Jerusalem "above all his joys" (cf. Ps 136:6).
To go up to Jerusalem is to go up to the highest joy.
The third distinctive note of today's Mass is Light.
I mentioned that the liturgical colour today is rose
like morning's first glimmers on the eastern horizon.
At Easter the sun will rise over us in all its brightness,
but for the moment, we are content to rejoice
in the rosy radiance of the dawn.
The heavenly Jerusalem is inseparable from today's Gospel
in which Our Lord says, "I am the light of the world" (Jn 9:5).
The New Jerusalem
that comes down out of heaven from God (cf. Apoc 21:2)
"has no need of sun or moon to shine upon it,
for the glory of God is its light,
and its lamp is the Lamb.
By its light shall the nations walk" (Apoc 21:22-24).
The same light that illumines the Jerusalem above
shines for us here and now in Mother Church,
in the proclamation of the Word,
in the sacraments given by her Bridegroom,
and, above all, in the adorable Sacrament of His Body and Blood.
"Enter His presence," she says, and be illumined" (Ps 33:6).
Week after week, we come to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass,
limited by our human blindness,
sometimes stumbling along in the blindness of sin.
Those who think they see clearly are the blindest people of all,
and those who admit their blindness,
or at least their very clouded vision,
are those to whom Our Lord promises light and sight.
What takes place in Baptism?
The victory of light over darkness.
What happens when a priest pronounces the words of absolution in confession? The renewal of that victory of light over darkness.
What changes when we approach the altar
to receive the Sacred Body and Precious Blood of the Light of the World?
Darkness is put to flight.
Today's Communion Antiphon
reveals what Our Lord would do for each one of us:
"The Lord made clay of spittle,
and spread it on my eyes:
and I went, and washed, and recovered my sight,
and I found faith in God" (Jn 9:11).
What the antiphon describes in the words of the man born blind,
Holy Communion makes happen, here and now.
with its water and blood from the wound in the side of the Crucified,
is infinitely more than the mysterious pool of Siloe.
None other than Saint Thomas Aquinas
saw Holy Communion as healing from blindness.
"I come to it," he says,
"a blind man to the radiance of eternal light"
(Prayer Before Mass, Roman Missal).
The fourth and last distinctive note of today's Mass
is that the Holy Catholic Church is our Mother.
She is our Mother because we were born of her womb in Baptism.
She is our Mother because, as the Entrance Antiphon sings,
she "suckles us abundantly with the breasts of her consolations" (Is 66:11).
She is our Mother because she cares for us in our weaknesses,
welcomes us home after every journey,
and never fails to provide for us a table laden with good things.
She is the merciful Mother of children who do not always see clearly.
She is the Mother of children whose vision is impaired by sin.
She is the Mother of those who stumble in the darkness.
She is the Mother of those who "sit in the shadowlands" (Lk 1:79),
waiting for the first glimmers of the rising sun.
She is the Mother of those who say with Blessed John Henry Newman,
"The night is dark and I am far from home."
There are in every life moments,
hours, and even long seasons,
when we cannot trust our own seeing,
when obscurity surrounds us on all sides.
Who has not said with the psalmist at one time or another,
"Friends and neighbours gone, a world of shadows is all my company" (Ps 87:19)?
In a world of shadows a Mother waits
for all who would come home to the light.
There are candles shining in all her windows.
There is a fire in her hearth,
and a blaze of light shining through her open door.
"She has sent out her maids to call from the highest places in the town, 'Whosoever is a little one, let him come to me'" (Pr 9:3-4).
For some, Laetare Sunday,
instead of being a day of rejoicing in the light,
may be one of weeping quietly in some dark corner,
of not seeing, not understanding, and not knowing why.
If your soul is not attuned to the jubilant notes of the Introit today,
cling to the experience of the man born blind related in the Gospel.
There is plenteous grace for all in the one as in the other.
Joy in the Heart of the Church
the Sunday of Joy,
the Sunday of the New Jerusalem,
the Sunday of Light,
the Sunday of Mother Church.
Holy Week will soon be upon us.
The mysteries of the Lord's Passion and Resurrection are fast approaching,
the mysteries of our joy,
the end of every sadness,
the victory of light over every darkness.
It is time to go up to Jerusalem,
time for Jerusalem to descend out of heaven to us.
The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is just that:
the assumption of the Church into heaven's joy,
the descent of heaven's joy into the heart of the Church.