Blind Pensioner with a Stick, Van Gogh [Web Gallery of Art]
Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)
Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)
For the shorter form of the Gospel omit the passages [in square brackets].
Gospel John 9:1-41 [9: 1, 6-9, 13-17, 34-38] (New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Catholic Edition)
As Jesus walked along, he saw a man blind from birth.
Tell me, so that I may believe in him.’
From The Gospel of John
In his homily on the Solemnity of the Annunciation in 2014 Pope Francis said, Salvation cannot be bought and sold; it is given as a gift, it is free . . . We cannot save ourselves, salvation is a totally free gift. The Pope continued: Since it cannot be bought, in order for this salvation to enter into us we need a humble heart, a docile heart, an obedient heart like Mary's. Moreover, the model on this journey of salvation is God himself, his Son, who did not count equality with God something to be grasped, but emptied himself, and was obedient unto death, even death on a cross.
All of the people in this Sunday's gospel had been given the gift of faith but only the man who received the gift of sight from Jesus professed his faith openly, his faith in Jesus: Lord, I believe. Not only that, he began to share the gift of his faith with others, most especially the Pharisees who were trying to intimidate him. They proclaimed themselves as disciples of Moses. As such, they should have been prepared for the coming of the Messiah who was now among them.
But they had developed a sense of 'proprietorship' of their faith, a righteous complacency that blinded them to the extent that they dismissed a man who was born blind as a sinner with nothing from which they could learn. The man born blind, on the other hand, has an acute sense of being gifted, by the gift of sight and by the gift of faith. He is an embodiment of the thrust of Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, The Joy of the Gospel.
Our Christian faith is a gift that can be lost by an individual and by a whole community. The Church flourished in North Africa and in the Middle East before Islam came into being but the vast majority lost the gift of our faith. In our own lifetime the faith has been rapidly disappearing from places such as Belgium, Ireland, the Netherlands, Quebec. Fifty years ago these places were sending missionaries to every part of the world and their seminaries were full. Now most of the seminaries have been closed down. Just over 100 years ago CICM brothers and priests (Scheut Missionaries, Missionhurst) and ICM Sisters came to the mountains of northern Luzon from a part of Europe that is as flat as a billiard table, most of Belgium and the Netherlands. In February 2014 Belgium made it legal for sick children to be killed, to be put down like sick animals. There was little international reaction to this, though there was to the putting down of a healthy giraffe in a zoo in Denmark a few days earlier.
There still are people in these places and others like them who are living the Christian life faithfully, often heroically. Martyrs such as Fr Ragheed Ganni of Iraq and politician Shahbaz Bhatti of Pakistan are outstanding examples. Another is the late Professor Jérôme Lejeune, doctor and researcher, who in 1959 discovered the cause of Down syndrome (trisomy 21).
Servant of God Jérôme Lejeune
In so many places in the gospel we find Jesus going out to those considered unimportant such as the blind man in today's gospel. Pope Francis met with thousands of persons who are blind or profoundly deaf on Saturday 29 March 2014, the first ever such gathering in the Vatican. And there were probably some present who were both deaf and blind.
John Milton, who went blind as an adult, in his poem On His Blindness (below) shows an acceptance of what he calls his mild yoke and a sense of our sight and everything else being gifts from God.
Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium No 264 gives us some pointers:
We need to implore his grace daily, asking him to open our cold hearts and shake up our lukewarm and superficial existence . . . How good it is to stand before a crucifix, or on our knees before the Blessed Sacrament, and simply to be in his presence!
The best incentive for sharing the Gospel comes from contemplating it with love, lingering over its pages and reading it with the heart.
Sometimes we lose our enthusiasm for mission because we forget that the Gospel responds to our deepest needs, since we were created for what the Gospel offers us: friendship with Jesus and love of our brothers and sisters.
The words of Pope Francis suggest a basic attitude of gratitude to God such as we see in the man who tells everyone, One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.
Somewhat different from the Pharisees' Surely we are not blind, are we?
Which statement/question reflects my stance before God?
On His Blindness by John Milton
When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodg'd with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide,
"Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?"
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies: "God doth not need
Either man's work or his own gifts: who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly; thousands at his bidding speed
And post o'er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait."
This video, posted by the Jerome Lejeune Foundation USA, is, I think, an eye-opener.