Since we are celebrating the Rite of Christian Initiation with our catechumens this Sunday, the readings used are those of Year A, which are read in conjunction with the Mass for the Second Scrutiny.
God knew that I wasn't prepared for the shock. So it all happened while I was up in Whistler, blissfully unaware that the schoolchildren were sitting in the dark and poor Father Xavier was finding his away about the house with a flashlight right up till bedtime.
Small wonder that Jesus says we can't work in the dark. We need light to carry on our main activities. You can't study without light, cook without light, or even get around safely without light, which is one of the reasons we had to close the school and find a way to get the children off the property through the back gate.
The crew running the Alpha Course had a challenge even greater than evacuating the school. They were supposed to prepare dinner for more than seventy people—in a kitchen with no windows. The evening centers on a video, which you can't show without power.
But they showed what it means to be children of the light. They lit up the pitch-black kitchen with the little votive candles people light by the statues; they rented a generator; they served dinner by candlelight. In the words of the first chapter of St. John's Gospel, they showed that "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it."
It's a fair bet that this Monday miracle was a powerful lesson for those at Alpha. Among other things, it showed what happens when people work together with zeal and joy. But more than that, the candlelit dinner reminded everyone at the table of St. Peter's words: "You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts." (2 Pt 1:19b)
But let's turn our attention to a full-blown miracle, the one Jesus works in today's Gospel of the man born blind, which we read today in connection with the rite of scrutiny we are celebrating this morning. What does this miracle teach us all?
We know that light and darkness, day and night, are potent symbols in the Scriptures. Jesus says he is the light of the world, and amazingly he also says that we are the light of the world. St. Paul talks about "unfruitful works of darkness," and about the purifying power of exposing our shameful deeds to the light of day. The night that Jesus speaks about is the night of death, the night that stops in our tracks.
The miracle is a lot less complicated than St. John's rather longwinded account suggests. It's almost homey in its details, and everyone speaks their part plainly and simply. Everyone, that is, except Jesus.
Jesus shows himself to be the perfect Teacher in this miracle. He starts by telling us what he's doing: he is revealing God's works. It's the reason the man was born blind, and it's the reason Jesus heals his blindness: that God's works might be revealed in him.
The day Jesus speaks of is the day of the Lord; the night is Satan's hour when God's mighty works are eclipsed until the Resurrection is shown as God's "supreme and wholly marvelous work," as St. Augustine calls it.
The disciples asked Jesus: "who sinned? The man or his parents?" We know the answer: not him, not them, but us. This healing isn't about one blind beggar but about all of us, blinded by sin and selfishness.
Today's Gospel, used for centuries to prepare men and women for baptism, always makes me think of the line from the hymn "Amazing Grace": I was blind, but now I see. But at the same time, I think of a modern song, with the refrain "Open the eyes of my heart, Lord. I want to see you."
Those of us who are baptized have been called from darkness into light. St. Paul tells us that Christians are "light in the Lord." Lent is a challenge to rekindle the divine fire inside of us by prayer and penance, by taking stock.
St. Paul offers some very concrete advice about self-examination: "Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord." Don't just think about your sins, but try to figure out one or two things you can do to make God glad. Spend some time thinking about what is good and true—and make a plan for positive change. Perhaps we overshot the mark with our Lenten sacrifices, and we were back on Facebook or drinking our Starbucks a week after Ash Wednesday. That doesn't mean we can't shift our Lenten gears and decide to make some positive changes in our lives, right here and now. Try to find out what would please the Lord.
Of course good resolutions aren't the whole story. The Apostle also reminds us that we need to expose our dark side to the healing light of Christ —especially the hidden sins we can't quite face up to. Are we living in the light or skulking around in the dark? Sin can't stand the light; when it's hauled out in the open, repentance follows naturally. The more shame we feel about the sin, the truer this is.
To those preparing for baptism, today's readings aren't so much a challenge as an invitation. By now, the catechumens have been on the journey long enough that Jesus can say to them the same words he said to the man born blind: "You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he." And they are now ready to respond "Lord, I believe."
The Alpha "miracle" turned a flop into a feast; it made light shine in the darkness. We can do the same if the lights went out on our Lent. All it takes is admitting our blindness, and asking the Holy Spirit to lead us "out of the darkness and into God's marvelous light." (1 Pt 2:9b)