Sunday, March 18, 2012

Holiness as an Act of Charity

Reading for March 18, Laetare Sunday (Cycle A for Scrutinies):
1 Samuel 16:1, 6-7, 10-13
Psalm 23:1-6
Ephesians 5:8-14
John 9:1-41

To the average First-Century Jewish person, having an illness, disease or disability was synonymous with having sinned. Likewise, to be of good health and not lacking in necessities indicated righteousness. For this reason, the disciples, seeing the man born blind, ask Our Lord the question, “who sinned, this man or his parents?” To this question that Lord brings a shift in the understanding of sufferings and illness. Rather than seeing it as a sign of the man’s lack of righteousness, the Lord tells them that he is blind, “so that the works of God might be made visible through him.” He was created blind so that at the appropriate time, the gift of physical sight might be bestowed on him and because of it the gift of spiritual sight would be bestowed on others. The key though is that the man must participate with the plan of God. Were it not for his willingness to be anointed with the clay, his walking to the pool of Siloam to wash, and his subsequent testimonies about Christ, the plan of God would not have been known and the souls of others would not have witnessed the life-transforming miracle that took place.

In a similar way, the Lord has created each one of us for some specific reason. Like the man born blind, each of us has been created by God with something in us that at the appropriate time in our life, He will desire to tap into for his glory and that His works might be made manifest in our time as well. None of us is accidental. We all have a role to play in this Divine plan. Unfortunately, though, we sometimes let sin into our hearts and permit it to detour us from the Lord’s plan.

In discussions with people about topics such as personal holiness and sin, I often arrived at the point where someone says to me, “Father, I can understand that doing something to someone is wrong, that directly harming them is sinful. But if I do it in the privacy of my own home, if nobody ever knows about it and it doesn’t hurt anyone, what’s the big deal?” The reality – and my response to that question – is that while we may think that our so-called ‘private sins’ or ‘harmless sins’ don’t hurt anyone, they in fact hurt everyone, including the Lord, ourselves, and those closest to us.  

In the Gospel reading the Lord tells the disciples, “I am the Light of the world,” and St. Paul reminds us that we, who once were darkness, now “are light in the Lord.” It’s beautiful how that is worded – we are light in the Lord. This points to the reality that by our baptism we have truly been united to Christ in a way that we often fail to fully realize. We are intimately connected to each other because we are all light in the Lord, members of His Body. This theology is clear and found all throughout St. Paul’s writing, especially in 1st Corinthians, where he reminds us that if one member suffers, the other members suffer with it (1 Cor 12:26) and that if one member joins itself to a particular sin, that sin is joined to the whole body (1 Cor 6:15-17). We can begin to understand this reality that every sin, even the ones that are only between a person and God, has an effect on the Church and her members. But what does this look like concretely?

Too approach this, I will start from the opposite direction and point out how others have blessed me. About eight years ago, when I was on summer break from the seminary, I got a package in the mail one day. I opened it and inside was a book and a couple of other items about St. Philomena, as well as a note that said, “Have fun.” I read the book of this saint that was then unknown to me and as I read it my heart was burning with joy and with love for this great saint of the Church. Today, she is my patroness and my constant support from Heaven, always helping me in the daily journey of life.

Months back, when I was just about 6 weeks ordained and had just gotten here, I was visiting with the youth group and telling my vocation story. I mentioned something about family Christmas gatherings and the fact that I had six siblings and that each of them had children but I had none. Immediately one of our youth said, “Father, you have us!” It struck me and I was without words for a moment. Those few words changed the way that I saw myself as a priest and have shaped the way that I minister to the flock entrusted to me.

These are just two of thousands of instances where someone has done or said something that changed the way that I live. And every single one of you can think of similar things that have happened in your own life. The person who gave you a small gift, who said a kind word, gave a hug, or any number of things. These little things are the things that change lives. But if those things never happened, where would we be? If my friend wasn’t fully open to God but had turned in a bit on himself, as sin makes us do, me might not have sent that book on St. Philomena. If that young lady in youth group had been a little less open to God because of some private sin, she might not have had the grace to hear what, I believe, the Holy Spirit wanted to speak through her to me. These are the ways that sin can affect the body. The smallest, most private sin can turn us in toward ourselves and keep us from hearing the voice of God, from feeling the compulsion to reach out, and we can fail to live up to that plan the Lord desires. But if keep our hearts open, if we live in the Holy Spirit and allow Him to really drive our entire lives, we can be like that man born blind and be used by Him to His glory, so that others might come to know God’s power and might.

Saint Jean Vianney, patron of priests, has a beautiful quote that says, "What will convert [insert name] is the sanctity of your own life." Ultimately, we can simply say that one of the greatest acts of charity that we can do for others is to simply be holy ourselves, because if we are holy and don't let sin bring us back to darkness, then we permit God to work in and through us to reach those in need. May God grant us these graces today through the gift of the Eucharist, that we might always truly be light in the Lord.