4th Sunday of Lent

There is a lot going on today.

The 4th Sunday of Lent is called Laetare Sunday, after the first word in Latin of the Entrance Antiphon. Laetare means ‘Rejoice’. Couldn’t we all do with some joy at the moment? It’s also in the secular calendar Mothering Sunday. We all want to salute our mothers. And as Catholics we naturally think of our mother the Church, we think of Mary, Mother of Christ and of each of us. It’s also 10 March. So, though the Sunday replaces it, it’s the feast day of St John Ogilvie, priest and martyr. Born in this diocese and such a topical figure, who fought (spiritually) for the freedom to be Catholic in a society that wanted to squeeze us out. Then again, as the 4th Sunday of Lent, it’s another stage in the journey of these good, brave souls sitting in the front who are preparing for baptism and confirmation at Easter. It’s their 2nd Scrutiny. Because of them we have had the long and striking Gospel of the man born blind and healed by Jesus.

All of this! And meanwhile we don’t have a Pope. And here in Scotland we’re in the middle of a blizzard. I don’t mean this morning’s snow. I mean the blizzard of the painful news in the Church. And the media storm, the cold wind blowing through our broken windows and banging doors.

It is a lot. And yet we go on. And it’s my job to keep things simple, and encourage you.

First of all, in the Providence of God, it’s not chance that our current difficulties have befallen us during this Year of Faith and during Lent. We think of believing or of keeping Lent as things we do. That’s true. But it’s not the whole story. It is the Lord, who through all the things that happen to us, deepens our faith and prepares us for Easter, for victory. T. S. Eliot has some good words here, ‘Even in sordid particulars / the divine design appears.’ There’s no lack of ‘sordid particulars’ around at the moment. But there’s the divine design as well. God is present.

Today our ‘elect’, our candidates for Easter, are having what the Liturgy calls the scrutinies. I don’t think it’s just they who are being scrutinised. It’s not just a Cardinal or priests or bishops, the clergy. It is all of us. We are all undergoing the scrutiny of the Lord. Let me just read what the relevant liturgical book says about ‘scrutinies’. To my mind, it is a perfect description of what is happening to all of us Catholics, to the Church:

‘The scrutinies…are rites for self-searching and repentance and have above all a spiritual purpose. The scrutinies are meant to uncover, then heal all that is weak, defective or sinful in the hearts of the elect; to bring out, then strengthen all that is upright, strong and good. For the scrutinies are celebrated in order to deliver the elect from the power of sin and Satan, to protect them against temptation, and to give them strength in Christ, who is the way, the truth and the life. These rites, therefore, should complete the conversion of the elect and deepen their resolve to hold fast to Christ and to carry out their decision to love God above all.’

We are all of us here today the ‘elect’. All of us have been elected, chosen to believe and to be members of the Church. And the Lord is scrutinising us, so that we may believe even more and enter more deeply into the life of the Church.

And what a model in the man born blind! What a fine fellow! Just an ordinary punter, healed by Jesus. A figure for us. The paste Jesus makes is a symbol of faith, the Pool of Siloam of baptism. And the man is washed and for the first time in his life he sees. And then what happens? He’s the centre of a media storm, of gossip. His family wash their hands of him. He’s interviewed, scrutinised by the Pharisees. And in the end he’s ostracised. But all through he simply sticks to his guns: you can say what you like about this man called Jesus, but he has healed me, he has given me sight. He can’t be a sinner, he must be a prophet, he must be from God. Simple truths, simple faith. And Jesus, hearing he has been put out, goes and looks for him. ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’, he asks him. ‘Tell me who he is’, says the man, ‘and I will believe in him.’ Remember he had never seen Jesus with his bodily eyes. And Jesus says, ‘You are looking at him; he is speaking to you.’ And the man replies, ‘Lord, I believe’ and worships him. What a wonderful scene! If we stick to our faith like this man, if we’re faithful to our worship, Christ will say to each and all of us, ‘You are looking at me; I am speaking to you.’ He will be closer than ever. Our Lent and our Year of Faith will not be wasted.

The German Jesuit Karl Rahner once said this: ‘The Church is like an old woman. There are many wrinkles and warts on her face. But she is my mother. And no one insults my mother.’

On Tuesday, the Conclave for the election of the new Pope begins. We want to be part of this. We’re feeling a lot at the moment. But there’s something we can do. So I am inviting the whole diocese to make next Tuesday a day of special prayer and fasting for the healing of the Church in Scotland and for the election of a Pope.

And, please God, next Sunday there will be a new name in the Canon of the Mass, and we will have a Pope.

St Mary’s Cathedral, Aberdeen.


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