p. Luis CASASUS | President of the Idente Missionaries
Rome, March 19, 2023 | Fourth Sunday of Lent
1Sam 16: 1b.6-7.10-13a; Eph 5: 8-14; Jn 9:1-41.
The First Reading offers us an important key to what we will see in today’s Gospel text. The great prophet Samuel, when he was looking for a king, did not understand who could be the king of Israel when he let himself be guided by his expectations, by his way of seeing things. Neither could Jesse, the father of the future king David, imagine the divine plans for his son. May we acknowledge that something very similar happens to us with respect to the most important issues in our lives.
A priest was making his rounds at a local hospital. He came into the room of a woman who looked frail and clearly near the end of her earthly life. The priest asked if he could sit down and inquired how she was doing. She replied, I’ve made a mess of life and the relationships with my husband and daughter. There’s no hope for me–I’m going to hell.
Sitting in silence for a few moments, the priest noticed a framed picture on the nightstand of a beautiful young woman. Picking up the picture frame, he asked, “Who is she?” Smiling a little, the woman replied: That is my daughter; she is the one beautiful thing in my life. The priest said: And would you help her if she was in trouble or made a mistake? Would you forgive her? And would you still love her? The woman cried: Of course, I would! I would do anything for her. She will always be precious and wonderful to me. Why do you ask such a question?
Because I want you to know that God has a picture of you as well, answered the priest.
The Gospel text speaks of the blind from birth and the blindness of the Pharisees. It is evident that we can draw moral conclusions and speak of “good blind men” and “bad blind men”. But perhaps, beyond our obviously poor moral life and our offenses against God and our neighbor, we can focus today on our limited eyesight, at our blind walk in the dark valley (Second Reading), which only has relief in the company of God at our side, with his rod and staff, to give us courage.
All cultures, all religious traditions have emphasized the difficulty or impossibility of knowing ourselves in depth, how hard it is to have a clear and sharp vision of our weaknesses and limitations. Zhuangzi (c. 369 BC – c. 286 BC) was one of the greatest of literary and philosophical giants that China has produced. One of his most famous stories is the following one:
Once Chuang Chou dreamt he was a butterfly, a butterfly flitting and fluttering around, happy with himself and doing as he pleased. He didn’t know he was Chuang Chou. Suddenly he woke up and there he was, solid and unmistakable Chuang Chou. But he didn’t know if he was Chuang Chou who had dreamt he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming he was Chuang Chou.
The important, practical question we must ask ourselves is: What does Christ do to open our eyes? In what way does he restore our sight? And…. what do we see?
It is a matter, first of all, of trusting in what Christ proposes to us, as did the man born blind. Go to the pool of Siloam. Let us note that Christ addresses him twice; on the second occasion he says to him: Do you believe in the Son of Man? Our personal case is not different. We experience in mystical Recollection and Quietude that the Holy Spirit continually reminds us of “the things of Christ”, what we should contemplate, what He illuminates so that we do not look elsewhere and what He puts in our hearts so that we incline our feelings and our energy to the things of our Father.
There is no worse disease than having a sight which hinders us from seeing the things that are more important, things that matter most. Blindness is the condition in which man is born. It is not his fault nor of others. The man in today’s story is blind and has not even the faintest idea of what light is. So it is true that he never thinks of asking to be healed by Jesus. It is Jesus who takes the initiative to heal him, and with his gesture, he shows that his salvation (his light) is a completely free gift. Where Jesus is, there is light; it is day. Where he is absent, it is night.
It is significant how in today’s narrative, the Pharisees do not even mention the name of Jesus. They do not know or do not want to know who He really is. They refer to Him as “that man”. They are people who refuse to look at the light; not even a miracle can convince them, as Jesus would say: Even if a dead man rises from the dead, they will not believe (Lk 16: 31).
Before meeting Christ, the man was blind, then the Master gave him his sight. He enlightened him in the water of the baptismal font. When Christians began to build the first baptismal fonts, they were given the name of photisteria: places of enlightenment.
In today’s passage, John develops a central theme of the Christian message: the salvation given by Christ. He uses a biblical language: the dark–light contrast. In the Bible, darkness always has a negative connotation. They are the symbol of the dark power of evil, death, and destruction. Light instead represents the orientation towards God, the choice of good and of life.
To grasp the density of the message of today’s Gospel, the references to light and water should be noted. The blind will come to see the light only after washing with water of the Sent One.
The water, which in the form of saliva he applies to the eyes of the blind man and also the water of Siloam, is an image of Christ his own, who gives himself to each one of us to quench the thirst that we can neither understand nor extinguish. This is what he said to the Samaritan woman. On this occasion, Jesus does not focus on the sins of the blind man, which were surely similar to yours and mine, but rather on the grace that was to be manifested in his life in an unexpected way.
The light of Christ also enlightens the effects of my faults in their full measure: how they affect my neighbor and God. David also recognizes this (Psalm 51): Against you, you only, have I sinned.
Psalm 51 describes how the prophet Nathan opens the eyes of King David to make him aware of his sin, by seducing Bathsheba, wife of the Hittite Uriah, whom he also sent to the most dangerous place of the battle to procure his death.
Sometimes, when we recognize our faults, we seek to diminish our guilt, we even refuse to recognize our responsibility, seeking explanations and justifications. We do this internally, and it is also reflected in our mediocre and sad way of confessing our wrongdoings: “I was in a state of great tension“, “My intention was not to do harm“, “I could not imagine that my brother would be offended“….
But if we truly accept God’s forgiveness, our conversion is visibly manifested in the form of a new form of generosity. Thus, paradoxically, the Holy Spirit uses our sense of guilt to drive us to a true freedom, to a deeper detachment. It is observed that many people who have received absolution are more generous in their acts of service, even in their alms or material donations.
God accompanies us, even if we forget it, even if from time to time we do not “feel” it, even if we deny it. It happens to us as it did to the sick woman in the story at the beginning of this reflection. And this is what the Psalm 23 that we read today proclaims: The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. In verdant pastures he gives me repose; beside restful waters he leads me; he refreshes my soul. He guides me in right paths.
Normally, like that woman, like King David, we need a person to help us see the reality, the fullness of life that Providence desires for us and that the Holy Spirit, “with groanings that cannot be expressed in words” (Rom 8: 26) waits for us to embrace. This explains the importance of spiritual direction in its different forms, which is especially delicate today, given the individualistic (not only egotistical) spirit of our times.
But there is more. God makes us contemplate His compassion and care for those next to us. This pushes us to at least two attitudes: to forgive our neighbor and to help him/her to contemplate how much good Christ is doing in his/her heart.
Are we sometimes blind to the goodness of God in others? How can we make the love of Christ more visible in the world?
A traditional Jewish blessing says: Who brings us from light to light, gives us strength to bring that light to the entire world.
The ability to look at things in a better light gives us strength to deal with the problems we face along the way and to help others. It gives us courage. It is like a lubricant that lessens much friction along the way.
That’s the way we human beings are. Our capacity to unite ourselves to the Divine Persons and to other human beings begins to grow (truly) if we welcome the light received from Christ, which immediately strengthens us and thus – with light and strength – we become kind, merciful, authentically compassionate.
Will we be afraid to open our eyes? Will we prefer, like the Pharisees, our (somewhat) comfortable darkness or penumbra?
Perhaps today we can learn from the blind man to believe that Christ always has something new to tell us… and it almost always has to do with our blind fellows.
In the Sacred Hearts of Jesus, Mary and Joseph,