Sunday, 19 March 2023 : Fourth Sunday of Lent, Laetare Sunday (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Rose or Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, this Sunday as we mark the Fourth Sunday in the season of Lent, all of us notice that today we have a somewhat more festive and joyful atmosphere in our celebration of the Holy Mass, as we mark the occasion of Laetare Sunday, one of the only two days in the whole liturgical year that the colour rose is used as the colour of the day. Together with Gaudete Sunday during the season of Advent, this Laetare Sunday marks the moment when amidst the more penitential and sombre nature of both Advent and Lent, we remind ourselves of the great joy and the exultation that we are expecting and looking ahead towards in Christmas and Easter respectively. Thus, as we continue to progress ever closer to the coming of the Holy Week and the Easter season, all of us ought to remember what we have been preparing ourselves for in this upcoming celebration and festivities, and remind ourselves of our penitential practices this Lent which are meant to prepare ourselves wholly for the great celebrations to come.

In our first reading this Sunday, we heard from the Book of the prophet Samuel regarding the story of the time when God told Samuel to visit Jesse the Bethlehemite, a man of Judah whom we know as the father of the then future King of Israel, the famous King David. Back then, Saul was the king of Israel, the first one to rule over the people of God, but he has fallen into disobedience and sin against God by not following the instructions and the commands that God had given him and instead following his own desires and whims. Thus, God chose David to be the new king to rule over His people, and sent the prophet Samuel to anoint him with the holy oil. We heard how Jesse presented his seven sons before Samuel, and none of them except David pleased the Lord. When Samuel saw the eldest son of Jesse and thought that he was good in appearance and stature, the Lord told Samuel that He did not judge by appearance but by what is in the heart of man.

David truly loved God, and was a righteous, good and faithful man, who led the people of God faithfully and with great wisdom in his reign as King over them, leading them down the path of faith in God. And despite him failing in some occasions later on throughout his reign, by far and large he remained firm in his faith in following God, and he was also a humble man at heart, who was always ready to humble himself before God and man alike. Compared to other kings and rulers who have been swayed by the temptations of worldly pride and glory, or by their own success and greatness, including that of David’s own son and successor, Solomon, the Lord’s choice of David as King of Israel was indeed reflective of how God chose the best not by their appearances or their outward facade, but by their interior disposition and real self, which God knows all about.

This sets the tone for what we have heard in our Scripture passages today, that is about our ability to see the truth and light of Christ, and seeing the path towards God’s salvation and grace, as well as being truly sincere and genuine in our faith and life. Today, as we remember the love of God and look forward to the joyful celebration of Easter, in our anticipation of that Joy to come, our Laetare Sunday celebration and Scripture passages remind us that each one of us are called to be truly filled by the light of God, His truth and His love. We are reminded that each and every one of us are the children of God, and as the children and people of His light. Therefore, it is important that all of us truly embody in all things, in our whole lives and existence, the true values and beliefs of the Lord’s teachings, His Law and commandments, and not be like those hypocrites who outwardly believed in God but inside, they are all rotten and wicked.

This is also what St. Paul told to the faithful people in Ephesus, calling on them all to arise from the darkness of the world and abandon that darkness for the light of Christ’s truth and love. The Apostle reminded the faithful that they are the children and people of God, and they belong to the Light, and therefore, their actions and way of life should indeed reflect this nature, and that they should be genuinely faithful in all things. They should not scandalise the faith, the Church and all the other faithful people of God because of their wickedness and sinful actions. That is why he has called on all of them to embrace the Lord fully and wholeheartedly, to truly love God with all of their hearts and minds, with all of their strength. Unless they commit themselves wholly to God and if they continue to allow the temptations and attachments to worldliness to sway and distract them, then the path towards God and His salvation will truly be a difficult one.

That is why in our Gospel passage today, we are reminded yet again about this by the story of the moment when the Lord healed a man born blind, who was blind since birth. The Lord performed that healing on the blind man, opening his eyes and allowed him finally to see the light of this world. Immediately, that brought about the attention of the people who remembered this man who had been blind all the time since his birth, and then suddenly could see clearly. As this happened on the Sabbath, some of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law present there immediately questioned the formerly blind man, who it was that healed him, and how he was healed in the first place, with some even doubting that he had been blind in the first place. This was because those people cannot reconcile with the fact that someone had performed this miraculous healing on the Sabbath day, as it had happened.

The Pharisees and the teachers of the Law had often gotten in conflict and disagreements with the Lord because He often performed His healing on the Sabbath, which was to highlight the point that He wanted to bring across that it was truly foolishness that the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law were interpreting the Law in the way that brought about inconveniences and difficulties for the people of God to live their lives, not only in making it an offence to do anything on the Sabbath, but even forbidding and preventing anything good from being done on the Sabbath. Their way of obeying and observing the Law was based on external and ritualistic observance, on literal understanding of the precepts, but failing to understand the true intention and purpose of the Law, which was in truth meant to help the people of God to live their lives in accordance with His truth and love.

That is why, the Lord told them all that while they might be physically capable of seeing, unlike how the blind man was, but they were suffering from spiritual blindness. Their pride and ego, their arrogance and greed for power and worldly glory and praise led them to shut the doors of their hearts and minds, and also their spiritual eyes to the truth and the light of God. That is why although they could see perfectly well and had witnessed many of the miracles that the Lord had performed before them, but they consistently and stubbornly refused to believe, kept on asking the Lord for more signs when they had witnessed so many things and heard so many words of Wisdom and truth that the Lord had done before them. They even doubted Him and cast doubts in the hearts of others by openly challenging Him and accusing Him of colluding with the demons in the action of His miracles.

All those things happened because they allowed sin to cloud their minds and to make them blind to God’s truth and love. They had practiced their faith outwardly and were pious in the sight of others, showing all their ritual expertise and knowledge of the Law, but most if not all of those were superficial in nature. Below all of that, there was no true love for God. Yes, brothers and sisters in Christ, it is possible for one to be outwardly faithful to the Lord but in the inside, to have no real or genuine faith in Him. It means that they were just going through the motion as they practiced their faith, and they just carried on doing all their works without real understanding and appreciation of the true intentions of God’s Law and commandments. They were like a brilliant pot that is highly polished on the outside, but the inside is empty, or even ugly and dirty. That is what St. Paul had warned the faithful against, that they should not be bereft of the light of Christ in their hearts.

How do all these then relate to us, brothers and sisters in Christ? It means that as we continue to progress through this season of Lent, all of us are called to reflect deeply in our hearts, and look within us if Christ’s Light can be found within, and if His truth and love are the bedrock and strong foundation of our faith and lives. What the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law had been doing, are exactly what we ourselves had been doing as well. How many of us practiced our faith in the way that we were just going through the motion? How many of us went and attended the Holy Mass or other celebrations of our faith, and yet we were not spiritually or mentally present there. How many of us cannot wait until everything is over so that we can go back to our usual daily routines and pursuits in life? Some of us even have the bad habit of leaving before the Holy Mass had concluded, even when we did not have the legitimate reason to do so.

The list can go on and on for us, like how many of us prayed by reciting the prayers and devotions and yet did not mean what we were saying. That is why I call these recitations and utterances rather than true, genuine prayer. We may think that we have done what our faith has been asking us to do, but we forget that what the Lord wants from us is to build a genuine and living relationship with Him, that of course begins from us spending more quality time with Him and nurturing that relationship we have with God. We do that by refocusing our lives and our attention truly on the Lord, and by learning to listen to Him instead of us just keep on reciting, telling or demanding for Him to do something for us. And we can also spend more time to reflect on our way of life and actions as well, on whether they have been truly a reflection of what God’s holy people should be like.

In this season of Lent, all of us are called to spend more time in prayer so that we may deepen and build up a genuine relationship with God, and we are also called to practice fasting and abstinence, not so that others may see how pious or great we are in our faith, but so that we may restrain the allure of worldly pride, greed and desire. All those things are great obstacles and barriers that keep us separated from God, and which have also kept causing us to fall again and again into sin. That is why this Lent we are constantly being reminded to distance ourselves from those sinful way of life and from all the obstacles that have been making it difficult for us to reach out to God. We are also called to be more generous in sharing our love and blessings to others, by practicing more almsgiving, again not for fame or praise from others, but so that others who are less fortunate than us may also truly experience joy and relief in their lives.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, therefore as we look forward to the coming of our true Joy in Christ this Easter, let us all open the barred doors of our hearts and minds, and humble ourselves, seeking God for His forgiveness and compassionate mercy. Let us all remember the love and kindness that He has always shown us, and endeavour therefore to live our lives from now on in accordance with the path that He has shown us. Let us all be good examples and role models for each other, and inspire the people around us by our genuine faith and love-filled hearts, that also shine with the Light of Christ, so that more and more people may also come to believe in God through us. Let us all be thoroughly good and worthy of God, not just outwardly only, but our interior orientation should also be attuned with God. May God bless us all in the remaining time we have this Lent and help us to continue doing our best in living our lives and faith as good and truly devoted children of God. Amen.

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