Seeing and Knowing

(Homily for Fourth Sunday of Lent, Year A)

The Jesuit philosopher Bernard Lonergan fought against the idea that knowing is simply a matter of “taking a good look.” He countered that true understanding involves a four-fold process of being attentive, intelligent, reasonable and responsible. In an 800 page book titled Insight Lonergan explained what he meant, that to know in the true sense requires intellectual and moral conversion.

Today’s Gospel illustrates that seeing and knowing are not the same thing. The Pharisees and the townspeople could see just fine, but they did not understand. By way of contrast, a blind beggar recognizes the truth about Jesus.

In our culture we have instant access to an incredible amount of information. We have developed marvelous systems for storing and retrieving data. We can “see” anything we want, anytime we want. Yet our culture in important ways has become blind and seeks to blind others. Let me give you an example. To me this is one of the most extreme case of blindness that I have heard of:

During the February 22 episode of the NBC-TV sitcom, “Committed,” two non-Catholics are mistakenly given Holy Communion at a Catholic funeral Mass. Nate, who is Jewish, and Bowie, a Protestant, don’t know what to do with the Eucharist, so they make several failed attempts to get rid of it. For example, they try slipping it into the pocket of a priest, dropping it on a tray of cheese and crackers, etc. At one point, the priest, who is portrayed as not knowing the difference between the Host and a cracker, goes to grab the “cracker” from a tray of appetizers; he initially balks when he discovers that it is the last one. Then he changes his mind, saying, “Oh, what the hell.” By far the most offensive scene occurs when Nate and Bowie accidentally flush what they think is the Host down the toilet.

This represents a two-fold blindness.* First, on a simple human level: Suppose the producers had depicted someone making paper airplanes out of pages of the Koran - and sailing them into a sewer. Almost all of us, not just Moslems, would react with disgust, perhaps even outrage that something considered sacred could be utilized so crudely. Yet, surely the producers of that sitcom have heard that faithful Catholics kneel in adoration to the Blessed Sacrament, that we consider the Host the most sacred object on this earth. If they did not know, they could have easily found out.

The program evidences a deeper blindness** than the insensitivity to the beliefs of others. Jesus tells us that he came into the world not only so that the blind might see, but that those who think they see would become blind. This at first seems harsh, but it is not that Jesus himself blinds them. Rather their blindness results from their own choices. Thus, says Jesus, does judgment come upon them.

This is sobering, perhaps even frightening – that we could blind ourselves to others and to Jesus himself. This Sunday’s prayer for our catechumens should become our own:

Free these elect
from the false values that surround and blind them.

Let them rejoice in your light, that they may see,
and, like the man born blind whose sight you restored,
let them prove to be staunch and fearless witnesses to the faith,
for you are Lord for ever and ever.


*I am not concerned here to analyze the motives of the producers, e.g. whether they were acting viciously or simply seeking controversy to boost ratings or even, as some have argued, giving a back-handed compliment to Catholicism. Whatever the motives, the blindness was profound. Of course, blindness about the meaning of the Eucharist affects Catholics as well as non-Catholics. If we treat casually such a great gift, the judgment upon us will be more severe.

**In an article about this episode of Committed, Michelle Malkin refers to NBC as Network Blaspheming Catholics. A more accurate title would have been Network Blaspheming Christ. To attack Catholics is one thing, but to attack Christ is immeasurably more serious.

Spanish Version

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)

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

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