Monsignor Ryan’s Homily for March 22nd

“Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead…” Right now, millions of people around the world feel as though they – we – are living through a waking nightmare from which we cannot rouse ourselves. We are compulsively tuned in to the media as they deliver an unceasing stream of bad news. And we wait with trepidation to find that we or someone we love has contracted the dreaded Covid-19 virus. So, what does the liturgy have to say to us on this mid-Lenten Sunday that traditionally has been known as Laetare or Rejoicing Sunday?
It is admittedly not easy to see God’s power and grace at work in the midst of the pandemic, but we must make the effort. Opening the eyes of the man born blind was, for that matter, no simple matter. It required trust and persistence on the part of the man hoping against hope for a cure; and who found himself the object of a bizarre ritual involving dirt and spittle and a trip to a particular pool for washing. So, let us take a close and discerning look at the Scriptures.
A discerning look is the first suggestion that the Scriptures offer us. That is what God asks of old Samuel in the search for a king to replace Saul. One after another of Jesse’s sons looks as though he can fill the bill; but God does not see the boys in the same way that Samuel does. He demands that Samuel keep looking, even when there are no more candidates in evidence. His persistence is rewarded when David answers the summons to abandon the sheep he has been tending and appear before his father and the prophet. “’There – anoint him, for this is the one!’ Then Samuel … anointed David … and from that day on, the spirit of the Lord rushed upon David.”
At first sight, there appears to be only bleakness in our present situation. It looks as ugly to us as Jesse’s oldest son, Eliab, looked perfect to Samuel. But there are aspects to our situation that demand a second look. Scores of medical researchers are working day and night to find a treatment and a vaccine. In hospitals and medical facilities, armies of dedicated physicians and nurses and staffers are tirelessly tending to patients afflicted with the corona virus and other ailments. Pharmacies and grocery stores and mass transit systems remain open because ordinary people are willing to put aside their fears and go to work. Neighbors are buying and delivering groceries to senior citizens. Competence and compassion are not lacking, not by a long shot. And because of them we have reason to rejoice. Competence and compassion: they are all around us, if we open our eyes to them.
Another aspect of discernment is trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord, as St. Paul urges. In an ordinary Lent, the answer to that would be simple. Get to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Attend Mass, even on weekdays, if possible. Perform some acts of self-denial and be generous to the needy. This Lent is far more complicated because of the Covid-19 virus. Where do we find joy in observing the “new” discipline imposed on us by the pandemic?
One of the virtues modeled by Jesus again and again was patience. He was endlessly patient with his disciples who were so slow to get it. He was patient with people who accosted him with their requests for healing, advice, enlightenment. Think of how patiently Jesus evangelized the Samaritan woman in last Sunday’s Gospel. Most outstandingly, though, Jesus demonstrated patience all through the events of his Passion. The Holy Week liturgy time and again quotes the prophet Isaiah whose songs about God’s Suffering Servant referred again and again to his composure and self-restraint under terrible provocation.
Coping with this terrible disease puts our patience to the test. Meditating on Jesus’s patience. Making a special effort to be patient with the people in our families and households with whom we are living in close quarters for a prolonged time. Doing all we can to reassure children who cannot fully understand what is happening and just want to get back to school and soccer and their friends. Finally, reflecting on the cure today can be our penance in this odd Lent. Think of how impatient the blind man must have been to receive this thing called “sight” and yet had to submit to the smearing of his eyes with clay and finding a particular pool while still sightless. In return for his patience, he received more than just his eyesight; he received the gift of faith. “I do believe, Lord…”
May Samuel who patiently discerned God’s choice and the man born blind who patiently followed Jesus’ directives intercede for us this Lent that our patience may expand and our discernment deepen. And may Jesus who calmed the storm at sea stretch out his hand and put an end to the pandemic before this extraordinary Lent runs its course.

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