24 March 2017

'One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.' Sunday Reflections. Fourth Sunday of Lent, Year A

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. [His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.’] When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, ‘Go, wash in the pool of Siloam’ (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. The neighbours and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, ‘Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?’ Some were saying, ‘It is he.’ Others were saying, ‘No, but it is someone like him.’ He kept saying, ‘I am the man. [But they kept asking him, ‘Then how were your eyes opened?’ He answered, ‘The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, “Go to Siloam and wash.” Then I went and washed and received my sight.’ They said to him, ‘Where is he?’ He said, ‘I do not know.’]
They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes.  Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, ‘He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.’ Some of the Pharisees said, ‘This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.’ But others said, ‘How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?’ And they were divided. So they said again to the blind man, ‘What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.’ He said, ‘He is a prophet.’
[The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight and asked them, ‘Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?’ His parents answered, ‘We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.’ His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, ‘He is of age; ask him.’
So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, ‘Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.’ He answered, ‘I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.’ They said to him, ‘What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?’ He answered them, ‘I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?’ Then they reviled him, saying, ‘You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.’ The man answered, ‘Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.’ They answered him, ‘You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?’ And they drove him out.]
Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’ He answered, ‘And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.’ Jesus said to him, ‘You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.’ He said, ‘Lord, I believe.’ And he worshipped him. [Jesus said, ‘I came into this world for judgement so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.’ Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, ‘Surely we are not blind, are we?’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, “We see”, your sin remains.]

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.

1 comment:

Fr Seán Coyle said...

'People with intellectual disabilities are not able to assume important roles of power and of efficacy. They are essentially people of the heart. When they meet others they do not have a hidden agenda for power or for success. Their cry, their fundamental cry, is for a relationship, a meeting heart to heart. It is this meeting that awakens them, opens them up to life, and calls them forth to love in great simplicity, freedom and openness. When those ingrained in a culture of winning and of individual success really meet them, and enter into friendship with them, something amazing and wonderful happens. They too are opened up to love and even to God. They are changed at a very deep level. They are transformed and become more fundamentally human.' Jean Vanier