Ars Praedicandi: Fourth Sunday of Lent (Readings from Year A), Ed Foley

by Fr. Edward Foley, Capuchin

We don’t do this very often.
As a matter of fact
until last week,
this is not something that this community has done
in recent or distant memory.

The liturgical novelty that marks three successive Sundays in Lent –
last week, this week, and next week –
is what the church calls “scrutinies.”

These are rituals of purification and affirmation
intended to provide special accompaniment
for those who have been elected for Easter Initiation.
These rites are taking place all across the world today
and for us are gifts this community bestows upon:
Kim, Arthur, Eric and Marsela.

They, with their sponsors and mentors and companions,
with those who will be brought into full communion
and with others will receive their first communion
and confirmation at the Easter vigil,
have journeyed through the RCIA process –
the Roman Catholic process –
for the Christian Initiation of Adults
and after months of preparation
are now just three weeks away from their full incorporation
in the Roman Catholic Church.

Being scrutinized by anyone
is seldom our favorite pastime.
And being scrutinized in a public setting,
especially for those who self-identify as introverts
could be a very uncomfortable experience.

Thus, the majority of us might be thinking
“better them than me.”
Glad I can just sit here and watch,
but this always impertinent ritual says: “think again!”

If you are following along in some worship aid or missal
or some online resource for today’s worship,
you might be surprised that the readings
are not the usual ones from this lectionary cycle.

We are supposed to be in Cycle C, and reading Luke
and the usual gospel for this Sunday
is the parable of the prodigal son.

But instead, we have this tale of the man born blind
from the Gospel of John
with its parallel readings from Samuel and Ephesians
and no, the liturgy team did not make a mistake here.

This shift in the readings is a clarion announcement
about the importance of the scrutinies,
events so critical to the initiatory process
that they disrupt the lectionary equilibrium
and sound a liturgical alarm
that something important is afoot here
and not just for those preparing for baptism.

These three readings have an unusual unity about them;
and while it is typical for the first reading
to resonate with themes in the gospel,
here we have all three texts
pivoting around images of light and darkness,
blindness and sight,
sin and redemption,
election and healing.

Because of this convergence, there could be an instinct
to flatten these readings –
one-dimensionalizing them –
suggesting in a reductionist way that
since they are only about blindness,
either physically blindness as in the gospel
or politically blindness as in the first reading,
and concluding that the Spirit of Jesus
easily heals both kinds of blindness,
that all we need to do is pray
and all such blindness will be quickly banished
without so much as our lifting a finger.

Such a monochromatic reading of the texts
might also lead us to conclude that in the scrutinies,
with their two key elements
of first an exorcism or rite of purification
and then the laying on of hands and rite of blessing
we are praying the elect into shedding their blindness,
putting weakness and even sin behind them
as they open their eyes and their hearts
to the saving grace of the Christ.

So you might be saying, “and what’s wrong with that?”
Isn’t the church preparing this quartet of believers
to take the Easter plunge
and in order to do that they need to embrace
a path of conversion, reconciliation, grace, and light?

Of course, no doubt.
But theirs is not a personal journey.
Theirs is not a private conversion
and this ritual is not simply about individual grace.
Furthermore, it is also not only about a nice ritual.
Rather, it is about dramatically living conversion
and taking the risk to be disciples of reconciliation.

That is why the church elects and prayers over,
blesses and initiates these in such a public fashion
because their conversion is to be our conversion,
their scrutiny is to be our scrutiny,
their blessing is to be our blessing
for the sake of the Church
and for the sake of the world.

It is not breaking news to suggest
that today’s world could use an exorcism
in these difficult and dangerous times
as the innocent are suffering and dying in Ukraine,
as humanitarian crises confront the children & elderly
in Afghanistan and Congo,
Venezuela and Yemen, and
as human dignity is under assault across the globe
and on the streets of our own city.

There is much evil that needs to be expunged,
demonic actions that need to be halted,
and unseemly hatred that needs to be quenched.
But an exorcism is not only about confronting unseen demons

If you’ve been to an infant baptism recently
uou know that there is an exorcism
performed over a newborn in all of her innocence.

This ritual is not casting out some demon
that has possessed the child since conception,
but recognizing that she is born into a world
where not only sin exists,
but where we teach each other sin and prejudice,
greed and selfishness.

Praying that a child is freed from original sin
is an announcement to the family and friends
as well as the parents and godparents
who surround the child at the font
that we cannot be perpetrators of evil
and messengers of hatred –
we cannot be mentors in sin.
Rather, we must be disciples of reconciliation
so that the infants and these elect
might be faithful in their own journeys into God.

So in today’s sacred rites
when we pray that Kim, Arthur, Eric and Marsela
are freed from the false values that surround
and may even blind them,
we pray that they are set them firmly in God’s truth,
rendering them children of light forever.
We are offering that prayer for all of us, as well,
for the whole of the church
and for the world.

In doing so we are placing the four of you
at the epicenter of grace,
at the vanguard of gospel truth,
and at the heart of healing
so that in your metanoia in your personal conversion
you may light the way for a world
so in need of mentors in grace.

Jesus’ instruction that his followers are to be the light of the world
belongs to you in a special way this day.
It is both a joy and a burden,
but one that you do not carry alone.

Today this community and the universal church
holds you up as the light of the world.
What the ancients called the photozomenoi –
people destined for light –
supporting you with our own commitment
to combat evil
and spread peace.
You are the flame of this living paschal candle
and the church is the wax,
feeding and nourishing and supporting you.

And in this interchange of grace
you exercise true ministry to us all.

In this scrutiny it is not only this assembly
that acts upon and ministers to you,
for you have a unique ministry now to us
as you call us to our own baptismal vocation,
to be light and grace,
and to reject evil and live as children of the light.

So we now take a deep breath in the Spirit,
bracing ourselves for this distinctive moment of grace,
opening our hearts to God’s purifying fire and boundless blessing
so that as these candidates for initiation
continue to be transformed into the very image of Christ;
so might this community be changed
in our support, care, and embrace of them
and our reconciling ministry to the world.

Kim, Arthur, Eric and Marsela please come forward
with your sponsors and your companions on this Easter way
and step into the light that Christ promises you.

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