The Eyes of our Heart
Homily for March 26, 2017 4th Sunday Lent - A
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi
Today’s Gospel, the 2nd Scrutiny for catechumens seeking entry into the Church through Baptism at Easter, is the familiar story of Jesus healing the man born blind. Physically, we are all born blind, at least in the legal sense. It takes time for our vision to develop. At first, everything is blurry, like a camera that’s out of focus. It takes about a week before a baby begins to learn how to see, and then it’s only objects within a foot or so of its face – which just so happens to be about the distance between a mother and her nursing child. And while the infant’s visual abilities continue to improve, it takes about 4 months for the child to start developing hand-eye coordination and to understand depth perception. After about 6 months a child should see with 20/20 vision.
Understanding what they see, however, takes a lifetime. It is said that we are born with only two innate fears – the fear of falling and the fear of loud noises. The rest are learned responses. Various tests like those using the “Visual Cliff” experiment with infants have shown that a child who instinctively hesitates to cross a solid glass floor when it looks like there’s a drop under it, will look to a trusted adult for reassurance in attempting something new and will act somewhat fearlessly “going over the cliff” if given positive encouragement by them.
(By the way, it’s not until they’re about 2 years old before they begin to do dangerous things without encouragement, especially when they’re told not to.)
Now, a person who becomes blind at some point in their life can remember what it was like to see, and so they can create images in their mind from their memories of what they can no longer witness. But what about a person who was born blind?
While they can use their other senses – touch, sound, smell, taste – to build an “image” of the world around them, they have no way to recognize something that’s “beyond their senses” without the help of someone who can help them understand what they cannot see. How do you describe “blue” to someone who has never seen color? Or “clouds” to someone who cannot see the shadows cast by a blocked sun?
And so, I wonder what the man born blind thought when his eyes were opened by Jesus for the first time?
For Jews, blindness was more than just a physical ailment – it was a sign that God was displeased with you. They believed that physical infirmities were linked to sin and if you suffered from some sort of illness or calamity it must be because you or your parents had sinned. This comes from the 10 Commandments:
…For I, the LORD, your God, am a jealous God, inflicting punishment for their ancestors’ wickedness on the children of those who hate me, down to the third and fourth generation. (Exodus 20:4)
So it would seem obvious that the man’s parents must have done something particularly wicked for him to have been born blind, since it would be pretty difficult for him to have done something BEFORE he was born. And I wonder, did he accuse his parents of doing something evil that caused him to be born blind? Or was it his grandparents? Or did he think there was something “wrong” with him spiritually, since he must have been rejected by God because he was born blind?
Just as we are born physically blind, we are also born spiritually blind. While we “see” physically through the eyes in our head; we “see” spiritually through the eyes of our heart.
And just as we are born with an innate sense of fear for falling and loud noises, we are born with an innate spiritual longing for God. But just like learning to see with our eyes, it takes time for us to open the eyes of our hearts to God.
We begin like infants, by listening from those we trust most – our parents and godparents. The Second Vatican Council’s document, “Lumen Gentium”, states that “In what might be regarded as the domestic Church, the parents, by word and example are the first heralds of the faith with regard to their children.” It is this initial exposure to faith by our parents that helps us to understand what it is that we “see” – and to help us avoid spiritual dangers through experience and teachings.
But often our blindness remains – and not just because our parents were evil or we are evil. God doesn’t work that way. He wants us to see, to be able to draw close to Him. And so in today’s Gospel, Jesus teaches us to see spiritually with our hearts through the healing of a man born blind.
He begins simple enough – he points out to his disciples that the evils that we experience in life are not because we are evil, but often it is in how we deal with the evils we encounter that we can make the works of God visible to others. Physical blindness is temporary and limited to the short time we are on Earth; but we must overcome our spiritual blindness if we are to be able to “see” the Glory of God. In the Acts of the Apostles, St. Paul is commissioned by Jesus to remove the spiritual blindness of others when Jesus tells him:
I shall deliver you from this people and from the Gentiles to whom I send you, to open their eyes that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may obtain forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been consecrated by faith in me.’ (Acts 26:17)
So Jesus begins with “healing” the physical blindness of the man born blind. Note that the man doesn’t ask to be healed. Why? Maybe it was because he didn’t think he was worthy to be healed; after all, he was born blind and like most Jews he probably believed that he didn’t deserve to be healed.
But he must have had some hope – some spiritual desire – in his heart since he followed Jesus’ directions and allowed mud made from spit to be put upon his eyes, and then allowed himself to be led – remember, as yet he still couldn’t see – to the Pool of Siloam to wash. He had some faith, without even fully understanding what he believed. He washes at the Pool of Siloam, and the Church sees that washing as a symbol of the waters of Baptism and the beginning of his faith journey, just as our baptism is a beginning step in ours. And he experiences God’s mercy through both a physical and a spiritual healing.
Now, he probably didn’t know who Jesus was at first. Oh, he may have known his name, hearing it from those around him, but he didn’t know who Jesus WAS. He testifies before the Pharisees and then questions them about how this man Jesus could do what he did for him, but the Pharisees cannot answer him. They reject his testimony and throw him out. But the eyes of his heart have been opened and so, when Jesus seeks him out, he is ready to see Jesus for who he is, the Son of God.
One final thought. In both this Gospel and last Sunday’s about the woman at the well, after Jesus reveals his divinity through word and action the eyes of their hearts are opened and the people come to believe in him. The Pharisees however, whose physical eyes are open, refuse to allow the eyes of their hearts to see the wonders of God at work around them. And so we must ask ourselves – do we close our eyes to God at work in our lives? Are we blind to God and the wonders of His mercy?
And so we pray: Open the eyes of our hearts, Lord – we want to see you.