Love, the beginning and end of every conversion

A Homily for Quinquagesima Sunday

Readings: I Cor 13:1-13 and Lk 18:31-43

“We see now through a glass in a dark manner: but then face to face…”

Paul sets up our meditation perfectly.  In these last days leading up to Lent, Lord we pray for sight… and not just any sight, but specifically Lord we pray for sight that is qualified by your Love, your charity, caritas.  Lent being a time of moral renewal, our plea finds special importance on the threshold of Ash Wednesday.  “The practice of all the virtues is animated and inspired by charity, which ‘binds everything in perfect harmony;’ it is the form of the virtues; it articulates and orders them among themselves; it is the source and goal of Christian practice.” (CCC 1826)

Man has always been able to practice some degree of charity… at the level of nature, we are unique among animals in our capacity for chosen self-sacrifice.  Under the old covenant of course a great degree of charity was possible under the Law, but as our Lord demonstrates over and over again, that was hardly a guarantee.  And so we saw darkly as through a glass.  

This issue of sight and partial sight also casts charity, and today’s readings as a Kingdom issue: In the Kingdom of this world, illumined as we are by partial charity… we see dimly… but in the Kingdom of heaven we will see as “face-to-face,” our faces and the face of God clearly illumined by the perfect reign of his love.  In Jesus this Kingdom becomes present on earth… He incarnates the Charity that should illuminate and guide his Church until he comes again.  It’s a charity marked neither by fear, nor by the promise of gain, but rather a charity a Love observed for its own sake.  As St. Basil says in his Rule, “If we turn away from evil out of fear of punishment, we are in the position of slaves.  If we pursue the enticement of wages we resemble mercenaries.  Finally, if we obey for the sake of the good itself and out of love for him who commands us we are in the position of children.”

That same Lord who illumines our practice of Charity gives us a shining example today… And perhaps, as we approach Lent we might consider the unexpected ways Charity can work.  

First, there’s the blind man himself.  St. John Chrysostom says so beautifully, “it is a source of wonder to reflect, by what inspiration did this blind man, who had not read the Law, nor scanned the Prophets,  neither had he yet read the Gospels nor had he been confirmed by the apostles, should so address  the Savior of mankind and say to him, ‘Son of David have mercy on me.’”  The Love of God was present in this man: this man whose blindness condemned him as cursed, whose blindness mad him shunned by polite society.  The Love of God was present in this man giving him a sight that so many with healthy eyes could not enjoy.  Perhaps it was a desperate love, perhaps it was only yet a desirous love, but it was planted in his soul and gave him enough light to sense the Son of David, the Messiah when he was near.  

We don’t always take time to think about this.  So many of our neighbors suffer the effects of a secular world.  In their suffering, in their outcries, echo the hunger for something more their desire for charity… Love has a place in those hearts and like Christ we can be there to fan that light into a flame.  And that’s the other part… Our Lord constantly had ears and a sacred heart attentive to the cries of sinners, the outcasts, the cursed.  He was always ready to take the time to listen… take the time to know and love his Creatures… and then to instruct them as they truly needed.  In addition to today’s encounter with the blind man, consider the rich young man, “Jesus looked at him and loved him”…then instructed him.  I think we jump at the opportunity to instruct… but that earlier step… taking time to listen, to know, and to love… that can be where we fall short.  But our Lord illumines the path before us… incarnating this process he teaches us that taking that time is what we MUST do so that love may come first and guide all the other virtues that follow.  

If we can begin, this Lent, to follow Christ’s example that much more deeply.  To hear love present in the sinners’ cries, and to love them as he did, then we can truly claim to have been illumined by Him and to be part of that Kingdom where St. Augustine tells us, “we shall rest and see, we shall see and love, we shall love and praise.  Behold what will be at the end without end.  For what other end do we have, if not to reach the kingdom which has not end.”