Saturday, April 2, 2011

April 3, 2011: 4th Sunday of Lent (A)

Click to hear audio homily

As you grow older, you get smarter. That's the insight I gained as I heard the confessions of Catholic school kids this week. On Tuesday, I heard the second graders through fifth graders. I noticed how the second graders were direct and simple with their sins--e.g. I lied, I was sassy with mom, I hit my sister. On Thursday, I heard sixth graders through eighth graders. I noticed that their sins were not that different from the second graders, but these older kids attached complicated reasons as to why they sinned. For example, "I lied to mom about going somewhere she didn't want me to go. But really, it was a white lie. I didn't want to worry her or hurt her feelings." Or another example, "I hit my sister because she annoyed me and would not leave me alone." So as we get older, we get smarter and we begin to 'dress up' what we have done wrong. We do that in hopes of minimizing our feelings of guilt and shame because we believe that we are much better than that.

Sometimes as we 'dress up' our faults, we become blind to the pain and suffering we cause another person. At times, we are self-absorbed and want to protect our reputation and our self-image. In doing so, we forget that there is a person who was adversely affected by our sins. As a priest, I get to witness the effects of the sins of parents on their children. This week, a child told me that her grades were dropping. When I asked what caused the change, she said that her mom and dad were fighting at home. I was reminded of what an elementary school guidance counselor told me; when the parents are not at peace with each other, their children are not at peace.

The impact of our sins is sometimes long lasting. Sometimes I hear from adult children in their 40's and 50's that are still suffering from what happened to them as children by a family member or a neighbor. As a priest, I see firsthand, the deep scarring effects of physical and emotional abuse that occurred in childhood. Typically I ask the adult children whether the person who hurt them ever apologized to them. Usually, the response is an emphatic "no". Thus, the pain and suffering remains for them. Although we may become smarter as we get older, that doesn't mean we become more humble and more honest as we grow older. The same was true with the religious leaders that Jesus dealt with in the today's gospel.

Jesus used the healing of a blind man to demonstrate to the smart, well-educated religious leaders their own blindness. These self-absorbed men did not see how they were preoccupied with judging others' faults and using their intelligence to put other people down. Yet from the First Reading, we are reminded, "Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance but the LORD looks into the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:1-7) Whereas Jesus' eyes are open with compassion, looking to heal those who are suffering and hurting, the religious leaders' eyes were blind by self-importance and self-righteousness.

Sometimes, it takes a child to help adults heal from their blindness. A boy named Colton Burpo from Nebraska has been helping adults help heal from their blindness by showing them that, as he said, "Heaven is real, and you're gonna like it." When Colton was three years old, he died for three minutes in an emergency room of a ruptured appendix. It was after his recovery that he began to tell his mom and dad about his near-death experience in Heaven. One day when Colton was 4-years old, he told his mom, "Mommy, I have two sisters." His mom replied, "No, you have your sister, Cassie." "No." Colton said. "I have two sisters. You had a baby die in your tummy, didn't you?" His mom replied, "Who told you I had a baby die in my tummy?" Colton replied, "She did, Mommy. She said she died in your tummy...She's okay, Mommy." Colton's dad is a part-time pastor, and he wrote a book recounting his son's experience in heaven in a book called, Heaven Is For Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back. Now the book is a New York Times Bestseller.

In the book, his dad recalls Colton's reaction during a funeral. Colton pointed to the casket and asked his dad, "What's that daddy?" His dad said, "That's the casket. The man who died is inside it." Colton's face turned serious all of a sudden and nearly shouted out, "Did that man have Jesus? He had to! He had to! He can't get into heaven if he didn't have Jesus in his heart!" His mom grabbed him amid surprised funeral guests and tried to shush him. Then he yelled out, "He had to know Jesus, Dad!"

Why are many so attracted to Colton's account of Heaven? Is it not because they want to "see", to see past their own blindness? The humble and innocent child's experience of Heaven reminds us to take seriously what Jesus taught us and it helps us listen to what St. Paul told us today in the Second Reading:

"Brothers and sisters: You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light, for light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth. Try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the fruitless works of darkness; rather expose them, for it is shameful even to mention the things done by them in secret; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light."