Sunday, March 30, 2014

I Can See Clearly Now (Lent 4A)

Vancouver recently hosted the TED conference. TED, which stands for “Technology, Education, Design” has been called “the leading ideas festival of the digital world.” People paid $7,000 a ticket to hear speakers on a wide variety of topics, including solving the world’s problems. Following one of the "TED Commandments," the talks are only eighteen minutes long.

Checking the internet, I found three TED talks about blindness. True to TED’s mission, all three deal looked at helping the blind by means of technology or design.

Nothing could be further from the low-tech healing of the man born blind. Jesus barely speaks for eighteen seconds, and he uses saliva and mud to perform the miracle.

And St. John tells the whole story in far fewer words than a TED talk. Really, it’s a number of stories. The central one is about a man born blind who comes to see life in a new way and as a result gradually arrives at the point where he worships Jesus.

As the story unfolds in stages, the man sees more and more clearly. First, he recognizes Jesus as a prophet, then as a healer coming from God, and ultimately as his Lord. Along the way, he experiences opposition and rejection, learning the cost of discipleship.

The Pharisees head in the opposite direction, becoming more and more blind. The contrast between them and the man born blind increases at every stage of their journey. Certain that they alone know God’s will, they become more and more intolerant and vicious.

Jesus stands right in the middle of this intense and complex drama. He is the source of light to the blind, and he exposes the blindness of the complacent and arrogant.

(I 'borrowed' much of the above from a detailed Irish lectio divina reflection by Michel de Verteuil that you can read in its entirety here.)

Is it any wonder that the Church chooses to read this story as a lesson to those preparing for baptism? It teaches, of course, key truths about Jesus—he is the light of the world, the Son of Man come to remove the scales from our eyes so that we may see clearly. It invites us to see the world as Christians, but warns us of a great spiritual danger.

I came across a good name for that danger while looking at the TED website: “willful blindness.” A speaker told the story of a woman who discovered that people in a small town were dying at a rate  eighty times higher than elsewhere in the U.S. But when she figured out why—no-one wanted to know!

Willful blindness had set in. People had chosen not to know.

Jesus tells us today that he is the light, but elsewhere in St. John’s Gospel he says he is the truth. His disciples live in the light of truth—first of all, the truth about Jesus and the demands of following him. Secondly, Christ’s disciples live in the truth about themselves—about their weaknesses and their strengths, about their need to change and to grow.

Today’s Gospel reminds us that Jesus will reveal this truth to each of us in the course of our journey towards the light. If we are humble, like the man born blind, he will enlighten our hearts and minds. If we are overly sure of ourselves, like the Pharisees, he will have to leave us in sin.

Those preparing for baptism are faced with a concrete choice this morning. Will they face up to the conflict and criticism that becoming Christian may well demand? Are they ready to answer truthfully when angry people question them about Jesus?

But what about the rest of us? How should we respond to the example of the man born blind?

I have a concrete suggestion, in five words: come to the Parish Mission next week. Come despite the sacrifice and inconvenience four trips to the church might require.

Our Parish Mission this year is about spiritual healing. It is an opportunity for Jesus to heal spiritual and emotional wounds that blind us to truth—truth about God and truth about ourselves.

Dominican Father Emmerich Vogt comes from a family with alcohol and drug problems, and has used his own experience to discover Christ’s answers to the wounds we all suffer.

Check the bulletin this week: it asks each us some tough questions like “Do your good feelings about yourself depend on being liked by other people? Do you have difficulty in saying ‘NO’?”

If you can answer yes to some of the questions in the bulletin, this Mission is God’s gift to you. If you don’t answer yes to any of the questions, please come to see me after Mass and I will help you get a contract to write a bestselling book that explains your secret.

Seriously, none of us has 20/20 vision about ourselves and our spiritual life. Our Lenten Mission is a rare opportunity to see more clearly as we develop practical ways of dealing with the issues we face every day.

Even the very best of the TED talks can’t offer half as much—and the Mission is free!

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