We have covered a half of our Lenten journey. This fourth Sunday marks a kind of stop, as if we had to take refreshment. From the first word of the Entrance Antiphon, it is called Laetare, which means “Rejoice.” We are invited to be glad. The liturgical color is rose, precisely to emphasize this sense of joy.
Meanwhile, the catechumens’ preparation for Baptism continues with the second scrutiny and exorcism. The catechesis on Baptism also goes on with the second passage from the gospel of John—the healing of the man born blind. Last Sunday the whole liturgy was about water, so as to illustrate Baptism as a kind of purification. Even in today’s gospel we find a hint to water, when Jesus sends the blind man to wash in the Pool of Siloam: “So he went and washed, and came back able to see”—a clear reference to Baptism. We can see another allusion to the sacraments of Christian initiation in the smearing of clay on the eyes of the blind man: the verb used by the gospel is to anoint, a verb usually employed for oil, like, for example, in the first reading for the anointing of David as king of Israel. Jesus’ gesture could refer either to the pre-baptismal anointing of catechumens or to Confirmation.
But the point of today’s liturgy is blindness, which is a symbol of the darkness wherein man lives. In the second reading Saint Paul portrays as darkness the state of man before becoming Christian. Well, the blind man in the gospel is the emblem of the human condition before Baptism. Mark well, he did not become blind during his life, but was born blind. That is precisely the situation of each of us: when we are born, we are already sinners, before committing any sin. We could consider our sinfulness as a kind of blindness, because sin prevents us from seeing and, consequently, from acting freely.
It is interesting to notice that in the Old Testament the only blind person healed is Tobit, Tobiah’s father; but he had become blind. Even in the gospel, Jesus heals several other blind men, but none of them was born blind. This is the only one. He says to the Pharisees: “It is unheard of that anyone ever opened the eyes of a person born blind.” It is really a unique miracle. Not everybody is able to heal a man born blind. That is why one should wonder who is he who performs such a great miracle. The blind man does it, and comes to the only conclusion possible. An antiphon in the liturgy of the hours supplements the blind man’s statement: “It was unheard of for anyone to open the eyes of a man born blind until the coming of Christ, the Son of God.” But he reaches this conclusion little by little, reflecting upon what he had experienced. He starts from the facts and progressively arrives at the only conclusion that can explain those facts. Exactly the opposite of what the Pharisees do: they start from their frames of thought, and apply them to the facts. For them, Jesus is a sinner, because he does not keep the sabbath. For them, Jesus has not performed the miracle. Indeed, they go so far as not to believe that that man had been blind. When we are slaves to ideology, we are not even able to bow to the facts. For this reason, the Pharisees can be considered blind and, moreover, guilty, because they are convinced that they see. Jesus says to them: “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you are saying, ‘We see,’ so your sin remains.”
On the contrary, the blind man not only gains his sight, but also is interiorly illuminated by the one who says: “I am the light of the world.” The light that enlightens our minds is faith. Even in this case the Communion Antiphon of this Mass completes the words of the blind man: “The Lord anointed my eyes: I went, I washed, I saw and I believed in God (et abii, et lavi, et vidi, et credidi Deo).” It is precisely what happens in Baptism. Baptism is the sacrament of enlightenment; through it we are healed from blindness and our spirit is filled with light, so that we may see the way to walk, so as to reach our eternal salvation.