Fatal Blindness

(Homily for Fourth Sunday of Lent, A)

As Deacon Ted mentioned last Sunday, this is one of the three great Gospels from John: last Sunday, the woman at the well, next Sunday the resurrection of Lazarus and this Sunday we hear about a man born blind who acquires spiritual vision. By grace he catches a glimpse of who Jesus is. In contrast, the ones with physical sight are spiritually blind. Jesus heals the blind man, but spiritual blindness is harder because it involves the human will, our choices.

We live in a time of peculiar blindness. I'd like to give an example related to a poignant event in my own family. You have heard me talk about my mom and my brother's dog, Bumper. When I would go to Camano to visit my mom & brother, Bumper was the first to greet me. He would bark and want to be petted, even have his stomach scratched. But because of advanced age, about 15 years, Bumper was experiencing various afflictions: arthritis, deafness, cataracts, poor digestion, all the problems of old age.

Last week he turned much worse and my brother had to take him to the vet to be, as they say, euthanized--to receive a lethal injection. My brother put the body in a cardboard box and buried it near our home. It was sad because we had grown attached to Bumper.

I can understand the tendency to ascribe human qualities to pets, even to confuse animals and human beings. How easy it is to fall into the error of our time: devaluing human life while placing an exaggerated value on animal life. People sometimes spend lavish amounts of money on their pets while they are alive and when they die hold elaborate funerals for them. It's noteworthy that while many do not have funerals for humans, some are initiating them for pets.

It reminds me of the humorous story about the guy who approached a priest to request a funeral for his dog. The priest explained he couldn't do that, but the man kept insisting. In desperation, the priest told him to try a Protestant minister. As the man was leaving, he said, "It's too bad, Father, there was going to be a thousand dollar stipend."

The priest stopped him and said, "Why didn't you tell me your dog was Catholic?"

With all our financial problems, especially our school boiler going out, I might be tempted to do the same thing. I'll say more about finances in the announcements, but now I have a more serious point to make. We can fall into a spiritual blindness by ignoring the difference between humans and all other animals.

Now I am not saying we are better than animals. Let's face it, often we human beings are worse than animals*. But that is because of a perversion of something in us that animals do not have. Anthropologists might describe it various ways, but the Bible simply says we are created in the image of God (Gen 1:28). This does not give us a license to mistreat animals, but at the same time we must avoid the sentimentalism of ascribing human rights to them. To do so would put us in an untenable position. For instance, if animals have the same kind of rights we do, does that mean we should spend all our time protecting mice from cats? Other absurd consequence would result from failing to see the essential difference between human beings and other animals.

That would be a great blindness, but there is a greater one we can fall into. Today's Gospel warns us against it. It is one thing not to see the difference between man and other animals. It is much more fatal to not see the difference between Jesus and all other men.

That is the blindness some contemporaries of Jesus fell into. When you think about it, it was quite remarkable. They had so much evidence, but it wasn't just that they rejected it. They did not even want to look at the evidence. People will do something similar today. They will write off Jesus with a quick slogan, "Oh, I don't want to have anything to do with church. They are all a bunch of hypocrites." But the fact is we do not go to church because we think we are perfect, but because of a need inside of ourselves.

That should be our starting point in our relationship with Jesus. You know, it is possible for us to fall into a false idea of self esteem--to think that our value comes from within ourselves or by comparing ourselves with others. The only solid basis for esteem is knowing Jesus acceptance of us, that he died for us. For us imperfect, ungodly human beings. We are only OK because Jesus makes us OK--by his Blood.

On the confirmation retreat last weekend our young people saw a powerful presentation of Jesus' passion--how he suffered for our sins. This realization of God's love in Jesus was a deeply emotional experience for our young people, especially as they prayed before the Blessed Sacrament, knowing that it was not a mere symbol, but Jesus' real presence. That realization of who Jesus is--and who we are because of what he has done for us is the most joyful recognition we can have. Its like when Jesus himself anointed the blind man's eyes and he began to see for the first time.

Brothers and sisters, Holy Week begins in just two weeks. My prayer is that our parish will be showered with that grace, that spiritual vision to see who Jesus truly is.

**********

*The evidence for this is overwhelming: concentration camps, torture, rape, not to mention the hidden cruelties (put downs, bullying, snubs, grudges, etc.) which make up so much of ordinary human life. The amazing thing is that we continue to talk about "basic human goodness." This paradox was explained by St. Augustine: even tho the imago Dei (image of God) in man can be clouded over and distorted, it can never be destroyed--not even in hell.

**I heard about a group of college graduates who got together for a five year reunion. They spent the weekend at a lodge. On Sunday morning a few of them got up to go to Mass. One of those sleeping in was annoyed, "Look at the hypocrites, going off to church." But the other guy replied, "We are not going to church because we think we are perfect. Just the opposite. We are not saints. But we do want to get to heaven someday, not fall out of our beds into the other place."

From Archives (Year A Homilies for Fourth Sunday of Lent):

Best Lent Ever Week 4: Become a Continuous Learner (2017)
Prayer and Spiritual Combat Week 4 (2014)
Sight (2011)
Small Gesture with Enormous Promise (2008)
Seeing and Knowing (2005)
Men Who Went Blind (2002)
Fatal Blindness (1999)

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