Fourth Sunday of Lent. Fr Aelred Connelly shares with us the lessons he learned from his parents.
I am writing this sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Lent, which is Mother’s day, having recently lost both my mother and godmother on the same morning. Things will never be quite the same again.
There is something poignant in the words of the parents of the blind man in today’s Gospel: ‘he is old enough; let him speak for himself’. Our parents never entirely let go their children until they finally go from this earth. My father died quite suddenly two years ago this past January. The older my parents got, the more I realised how much we, their children, had received from them. As one of my brethren wrote to me at the time of my father’s death, ‘He was a man of deep goodness.’ I now begin to appreciate that this was equally true of my mother.
Like the parents of the man born blind, they were not experts in their religion, but people of a deep and quiet faith. It showed forth in a practical way. Both came from coal-mining roots. Both qualified for secondary school but had to leave early to help support their families. Unsurprisingly they were keen to ensure that their own children made the most of their educational opportunities, and all of them did complete their tertiary education.
My abiding memory of them both can be summed up in two of their sayings. Dad was a great Labour party and trade union man, and his favourite slogan was ‘Fair shares for all and priority for the needy’. My mother’s characteristic saying was, ‘It’s better to be a good loser than a bad winner’. This drove me nuts when I was younger but looking back, I now see the wisdom of her approach to life. She was quite happy to accept St Paul’s view that man was the head of woman in the family setting. Her important caveat was that if he is the head, I am the neck! One of her sayings was ‘better late than never’, to which her manager replied, ‘better never late’.
Dad was by conviction a Christian Socialist in the old sense, taking his political philosophy from the encyclical of Leo XIII, ‘Rerum Novarum’, popularly referred to as the ‘The Workers Charter’. He was a local councillor with many years of service in local government and a keen interest in education and housing and youth services. He worked nights shifts in the old National Coal Board, in order to have time for council work. That meant missing out on part of our growing up. Mum worked hard in the home to enable him to do this. Their roles were reversed later in life as he became her carer.
She represented a side of Jesus who was the ultimate ‘good loser’, entering his passion and death for us to finally triumph over sin and death as the real and true winner. I think he also appreciated women as the neck to the head, deferring to his own mother at Cana. ‘Do whatever he tells you’, she says to the servants. She says the same to us today as our heavenly mother.
He also seems to favour ‘better late than never’. For the Pharisees, the blind man must be a sinner, or his parents. Jesus by healing him on the Sabbath day, breaks the Law, therefore Jesus is a sinner. They see only the letter of the Law, not its true spirit.
The man is not blind because of sin, but to show forth the glory of God. Physically blind, he comes to profess his belief in Jesus as the Christ. ‘Lord I believe’. He came to the true sight of faith in the Lord of life. ‘As long as the day lasts, I must carry out the will of the one who sent me; the night will soon be here when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world’. The call to all of us is to share in his work, by being the light of the world in our time. We have one life span and are asked to make the best of it. There is always the hope of responding to the grace of God in Jesus. I feel that his final word to us is not ‘better never late’ but ‘better late than never’. My mother’s aphorism might not have been best practice in the world of work, but it is certainly the best and last hope of us all in the world of faith.