The Mass readings for the fourth Sunday in Lent align beautifully with insights from St. Theresa of Avila. The Church has placed these liturgical readings that emphasize on the inward movement of the spiritual life at such a critical moment in our Lenten journey. The Ash Wednesday readings started us on this journey inward by telling us to not be showy in our Lenten fasting and to pray to God in our closets. Today’s readings elaborate on why this inward journey is essential to our spiritual growth. St. Theresa of Avila also describes her spiritual journey inward in a selection from her autobiography, which this article includes.
Mass Readings 4th Sunday in Lent
The Old Testament reading begins with the Lord’s command for the prophet Samuel to go and find the next king of the Jews. The Lord warns Samuel not to be deceived by appearances:
“Do not judge from his appearance or from his lofty stature, because I have rejected him. Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance but the LORD looks into the heart.” (1 Samuel 16: 6-7, 10-13)
In guiding Samuel to be wary of those who are prominent and look to the young son David who was small in stature and reeked of shepherding, the Lord reminds us that he favors the meek and humble as agents for building the Kingdom. He also calls us to be skeptical of looking for truth in appearances, and to know that God sees directly into our hearts.
In today’s Epistle, the Lord reminds us of our journey into the light as the chosen people; and further, that God’s light shines with us:
“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… [E]verything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light…Christ will give you light…” (Ephesians 5:8-14)
This passage assures us that the Lord of light has already transformed us. He shines a clear light into our world to help us discern truth from appearances, and he is the very light within us that transforms us within.
The Gospel reading today further reminds us that Jesus heals the blind; this is factually true for the man featured in this Gospel narrative, and this truth extends to us as well: “the works of God might be made visible through him.” (John 9:1-41) We do not know the means by which Christ uses his people to reveal his light. We are called to be the children of light in this world.
What better message for this moment in Lent? In our struggles to exercise Lenten discipline, and the attendant failures which humble us and help us grow as children of God, we are reminded that we must rely on the light God nourishes within us to see clearly and to act as his disciples in bringing light to all corners of darkness. Meanwhile it is God’s work within our hearts to enlightens us.
St. Teresa of Avila’s Journey Inward
In this passage of St. Theresa’s autobiography, she describes a critical juncture in her prayer life:
“I was so little able to put things before me by the help of my understanding, that, unless I saw a thing with my eyes, my imagination was of no use whatever. I could not do as others do, who can put matters before themselves so as to become thereby recollected. I was able to think of Christ only as man. But so it was; and I never could form any image of Him to myself, though I read much of His beauty, and looked at pictures of Him. I was like one who is blind, or in the dark, who, though speaking to a person present, and feeling his presence, because he knows for certain that he is present—I mean, that he understands him to be present, and believes it—yet does not see him…
“O my God, I amazed at the hardness of my heart amidst so many succours from Thee. I am filled with dread when I see how little I could do with myself, and how I was clogged, so that I could not resolve to give myself entirely to God. When I began to read [St. Augustine’s] Confessions, I thought I saw myself there described, and began to recommend myself greatly to this glorious Saint. When I came to his conversion, and read how he heard that voice in the garden, it seemed to me nothing less than that our Lord had uttered it for me: I felt so in my heart. I remained for some time lost in tears, in great inward affliction and distress…
“A desire to spend more time with Him began to grow within me” (Life of St. Theresa of Avila IX.7-10).
May we each journey with Samuel to discern beyond appearances, to recall that Christ shines his light within our hearts, and that he draws us ever deeper within to love him, know him, and serve him in this world and in the life to come.