by f. Luis CASASUS, General Superior of the men’s branch of the Idente missionaries.
New York, March 22, 2020. | Fourth Sunday of Lent.
1st book of Samuel 16: 1b.6-7.10-13a; Letter to the Ephesians 5: 8-14; Saint John 9: 1-41.
Nan Qi was situated in a remote mountainous area of Sichuan, China. The mountain water was very sweet. However, those who drank it developed goiter, which resulted in an enlarged neck. The people in Nan Qi all drank this water, so all of them had goiter. One day, a stranger arrived in Nan Qi. All the villagers were amazed at the smallness of the stranger’s neck. The newcomer told the villagers that they were suffering from a disease called goiter, and they should see a doctor as soon as possible. However, all the people in Nan Qi laughed at him and said: All our necks are like this. Why should we see a doctor? It is your neck which has the problem.
This story is similar to today’s Gospel text. Are we blind? If we admit we are blind, we have a chance to see the light; if we are self-centered of self-righteous, we will not have the same opportunity. In the hearts of each one of us, there are many blind corners. The man-who-saw was never named. The man born blind is everyone, we are invited to be people who realize we are somehow blind and are willing to be given sight. The Pharisees ask Jesus: Do you mean we are blind, too? And Christ tells them: If you were really blind [like the man], you would not have sin; but because you say, ‘We can see,’ you are guilty.
Blindness is the condition in which man is born. Some we do not see, some we do not wish to see, and some we do not think of looking. Those are the three possible forms of blindness.
The first blindness is due to a lack of sensitivity. We are blind because we are ignorant and spiritually clumsy. The man Christ met was born blind, that is, ignorant because of Original Sin. We have lost the preternatural gift of infused knowledge. If we are sincerely ignorant of the truth, God will forgive us. For this is what Jesus Christ said: If you were blind, you would not be guilty. So on the cross, He prayed: Father, forgive them for they know not what they were doing. So for those ignorant of the will of God and of His plans, they could be forgiven. And, if we remain open to divine inspiration, forgiveness comes immediately. We do not have to wait for the Last Judgment: we feel that God sharpens our sensitivity and welcomes us as collaborators in his plans, in the redemption of our neighbor.
Typically, by suffering from this blindness, we do not see the harm we do to people by our bad example or the consequences of not having continuous prayer. Nor do we see the possibilities that the Holy Spirit is continually offering us to comfort, serve, and give peace to our neighbors.
This is what happened to the rich man in the Parable of Lazarus. He was kind to others, he organized banquets that people appreciated, but he did not see the reality of the poor man who sat at the door of his house. He was insensitive, indifferent, and a “great abyss” separated him from Lazarus… already when they were in this world.
Another symptom of this type of blindness are our short-sighted judgments about people: we are dazzled by their virtues and talents or by their limitations and defects. In the First reading we see that even the prophet Samuel, when he is about to choose the future king of Israel, a son of Jesse, sets his sights on Eliab, the first-born, because of his physical strength and pleasant and intelligent appearance. But God lets Samuel know that the chosen one will be David, the youngest, still an adolescent and immature.
The second blindness is caused by fear.
In 2008 researchers performed an experiment at the top of a hill, using a skateboard, a short box, and multiple participants unaware of the nature of the test. One group was asked to stand at the top of the hill on a short box the same height as a skateboard. The other group was asked to stand on the skateboard (which had been secured so it wouldn’t roll). Both sets of volunteers were asked to judge the distance to the bottom of the hill. Without exception, the participants standing on the skateboard estimated the hill to be much more steep and further to the bottom. The research team concluded the people standing on the skateboard had a natural sense of danger, and thus their perception was affected by fear.
We are afraid to look at God’s action in our lives. Even if it’s something very evident. This happened to the parents of the blind man that Christ healed: We know he is our son, and we know he was born blind, but we don’t know how it is that he can see now, or who opened his eyes. They feared the religious leaders, who had already agreed to expel from the synagogue anyone who should acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah. This is the case of many Catholics who are ashamed to be recognized as believers for fear that they might be ridiculed and excluded from their social circles.
On other occasions, we fear the effort involved in being faithful to God. We fear to abandon certain habits or to undertake acts of generous service that the Providence asks us to carry out with unquestionable clarity. We do not realize how we are continuously forgiven and welcomed by God. We don’t know what to do with our sins. We just feel shame, fear, discouragement, or even despair. At many times, we truly are lost in our relationship with God. A saint pointed out that there is a two-fold fear lurking in man’s heart that can hamper his relations with God. The first is the fear of not being loved enough by God (i.e., of not being lovable), while, paradoxically, the second is the fear of being loved too much, with too demanding and possessive love.
A few days ago, Pope Francis told the story about a saint who was discouraged. No matter what he did, he always felt that the Lord wasn’t satisfied. So, he asked God what was missing. Give me your sins. That’s what’s missing, the Lord responded. Sin makes us hide, God wants to talk. Like Adam and Eve, we tend to hide because of the shame and fear we feel because of the things we have done. Sin makes us close in ourselves. God calls us to talk about it with Him instead. And this is because, especially, he wants to show us his forgiveness.
We might not understand how divine plans are being unfolded in our lives. But if we cooperate with Him, we will see His wisdom and mercy. We must take one step at a time, responding to His will. By aligning ourselves with His will, one day, when we reach the end, we will be able to connect the dots in our lives. Then we will see, and we cannot but marvel at God’s plans.
The third blindness is the result of being blinded by the demands, trials, or worldly ambitions. Our need for health, economic resources, and affection is often overwhelming and painful. It is something that Christ describes in the Parable of the Sower when he speaks of the seed falling into shallow soil, among thorns or among stones. Urgency devours us. We don’t even think about looking at the most important thing in our lives.
Since this blindness is produced by walking in the paths of this world, whether guilty or not, this blindness to the truth is self-inflicted. This blindness starts with a lack of perspective and produces a loss of perseverance. It has several forms and degrees.
Of course, the Pharisees openly and bluntly refuse to admit the truth. Their pride prevented them from being open to the reality of the situation and Jesus, who healed the blind man. Their pride was a deliberate sin. A person who chooses not to see is guilty and commits the sin against the Holy Spirit.
The Pharisees did not want to see Christ’s intention in performing this miracle precisely on the Sabbath. He did not mean to be defiant of the Law or traditions, but rather He wanted to show that diseases, like the blindness of the man who is born without sight, are not due to God’s plan. They are because God has not finished the great work of creation. And therefore, on the day of divine rest, Jesus, in the name of the Father, takes up the task of finishing this great work of creation. The lesson is clear to all of us: The disciple cannot rest until the creation shines with the glory of perfection.
The blind man did not recognize Christ immediately after being healed. Like the disciples of Emmaus, like Mary Magdalene or like the apostles after the Resurrection. But the important fact is not the names, the definitions, the saying that Jesus is a prophet, the Messiah, or a man of God. What is essential is to realize, as did the blind man, that He can give us sight, open our eyes continuously to what really has to be our life, to God’s plans.
In today’s Scripture Readings we have the image of light and sight. But, of course, there is more than just an image or symbol. The central theme of today’s Readings is that God makes everything new in and through Jesus Christ. We are children of the light baptized into the glory that is Christ. We are transfigured into the life of Christ who is the light of the world. As we enter the second part of the season of Lent, we are called to recognize that only Jesus, who is our Good Shepherd, can lead us out of the valley of darkness by healing us of our blindness. Enlightened by Jesus, the blind man becomes unrecognizable and is completely changed. Even the neighbors, who for years have lived next door, ask themselves: Is this the beggar who used to sit here or not?
In the attitude of the just healed blind man, we can grasp some of the characteristics that distinguish those who are transfigured like Christ:
He is free, and he not intimidated by those who are abusing their power when they insult, threaten, and resort to violence. He is sincere: he does not renounce, to tell the truth even when this is uncomfortable or not welcomed by those who are used to getting approvals and applause from flatterers. He is simple as a dove, but also astute as a serpent. The authorities are trying to trap him, forcing him to admit that he is on the side of the one who “does not keep the Sabbath,” but he escapes the trap. He always recognizes his limits: Where is this man, I do not know. He admits not knowing much about Jesus.
But, in any case, he became a witness of what God had done in him through Christ. That’s what being an apostle is.
Today let us ask God to open our eyes so that we may see all those things that God wants us to see. May our prayer for this Lenten season be simply: Lord, let me see.