Sunday, March 26, 2017

Seeing as God Sees

The Gospel according to John portrays Jesus performing a series of miracles, which John calls “signs.” The specific “sign” in today’s Gospel is a truly monumental miracle, for, as the formerly blind man himself testifies, it was unheard of that anyone ever opened the eyes of a person born blind.

And, just as the blind man receives physical sight, he is also gradually given increasing insight into who Jesus is, culminating in his profession of faith, “I do believe, Lord.” He receives his physical sight through a series of steps in which Jesus spits on the ground, makes a kind of clay which he smears on the man’s eyes, and tells him to wash in the Pool of Siloam. The man goes, washes, and returns able to see.  Meanwhile, he gains increasing insight into who Jesus is - a growth in faith which exactly parallels the unbelief of Jesus’ adversaries, who can certainly see but are spiritually blind - obstinately so. Physically the Pharisees could see, but spiritually they would not see, because they already knew with absolute certitude that Jesus was not from God. Unlike the disability of the man blind from birth, theirs was a willful choice not to see.

God, however, has his own way of acting, as the story of his surprising selection of David as Israel’s king illustrates. Not as we see does God see. What God does can come as a complete surprise. What God wants of any of us may also be a surprise.

It’s easy to appreciate why the Church chose this Gospel account to express what happens when one turns one’s life around and obeys Jesus’ command to go and wash in the waters of baptism. What happens is a wonderfully new and bright outlook on life.  At the same time, it is also an enormous challenge. Embracing belief in Christ opens one to a new life of faith and worship, but also potentially puts one at odds with the darkness that still seems to dominate the world. Saying “Yes” to Jesus inevitably means saying “No” to other options.

Fifty years ago today, Blessed Pope Paul VI issued his landmark encyclical Populorum Progressio ("On the Development of Peoples"). Paul VI's perceptive and well-timed call to look around us and see the contemporary world’s challenges echoes Jesus’ invitation to the blind man to see for the first time and his challenge to the rest of us to start seeing in a new way. In faithful continuity with our Catholic tradition, Paul brought new light to the analysis of modern society and the politics it produces, challenging such concepts as profit as the chief spur to economic progress, free competition as the guiding norm of economics, and private ownership of the means of production as an absolute right. Fifty years later, Populorum Progressio continues to challenge our still unconverted world.

All of us are being called to constant conversion throughout our entire lives, and Lent is intended to be an especially transformative time for each of us, just as the blind man’s encounter with Jesus proved totally transforming for him. Lent challenges us, as Jesus challenged his adversaries and Blessed Paul VI challenged his contemporaries, to reject our own blind spots and to respond anew to Jesus’ invitation to live in the light.

This challenge to live as children of light and to keep on producing every kind of goodness is ongoing. The conversion we are all called to is a continuing challenge to say “Yes” to Christ and “No” to other options. It continues throughout the entire course of life. That is why we need to avail ourselves of every available resource, including and especially what the early Church charmingly called “the second plank after shipwreck” – the sacrament of Penance, in which, through the ministry of the Church, we receive forgiveness and so may be repeatedly reconciled with God and with his Church.

If we manage to do nothing else during this Lent, let us at least make it a point to do that.

Homily for the 4th Sunday of Lent (Laetare Sunday), Immaculate Conception Church, Knoxville, TN, March 26, 2017.

(Photo: The Golden Rose Given by Pope Benedict XVI to the Basilica of the national Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington, DC)

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