I am what I saw shining in the gaze of that man as he looked intently at me ...
Some years ago, I read a powerful book about a professor who went blind in his 40s. In Touching the Rock: An Experience of Blindness, the author John M. Hull (+2015) wrote: “What matters is not that I am blind, but that I am known and that I am led by the hand, and that my life, whether sighted or blind, is full of praise.” Such incredible faith and conviction!
One of the “great” Gospels we will hear this Lent—the healing of the man born blind (Jn 9:1-41)—offers an apt occasion for us to take stock of our need to be healed of our own spiritual blindness.
Servant of God Romano Guardini, reflecting on spiritual blindness, comments that the spiritually blind are “those who realize that with all their earthly insight and knowledge they stand in the dark before the divine, utterly incapable of comprehending the essential.” They are “those who in God’s presence still cling to their earthly point of view, their earthly knowledge, earthly conception of justice, naively attempting to measure even the divine by their own standards.”
So many things can make us blind: wounds from the past that occlude a clear perception of facts in the present … inattentiveness to prayer … being in league with lies of the world about how worthless we are, how we don’t matter. St. Thomas Aquinas notes that “the firstborn daughter of unchastity is the blindness of spirit.” The spiritually blind cannot see Jesus and how he is reaching out to us, his eyes glowing with tenderness and mercy. Bereft of hope as well as vision, the spiritually blind cleave to a sad line from the Psalms: My one companion is darkness (Ps 88:18).
Yet, darkness is never the end—it is just a beginning: “Nothing has ever borne fruit in the Church without emerging from the darkness of a long period of loneliness into the light of the community” (Von Balthasar). Jesus is always passing by, seeing us when we are without sight, and proclaiming, While I am in the world, I am the light of the world. And he will leave no one in the abyss of darkness.
When Jesus had said this, he spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva, and smeared the clay on his eyes. Why such an elaborate procedure? Because Jesus is not about simply restoring sight to the blind/spiritually blind. Rather, he longs to make us a new creation. And so he replicates the actions by which “the Lord God formed man out of the clay of the ground” (Gn 2:7). In Jesus, seeing is a way of being.
Monsignor Guardini comments:
He who admits this truth to himself, the more he sees, the more “seeing” he grows, comprehending the things of God’s Kingdom more and more deeply and fully. Thus the inner eye feeds on what it sees, and the greater its strength, the greater the abundance that is revealed to it. Seeing is more than indifferently reflecting (as a mirror reflects all that passes within range). It is a vital process that directly affects our lives. To see, perceive, means to receive into oneself, to submit to the influence of things, to place oneself within their grasp.
Fr. Julián Carrón imagines the man born blind saying: “I only know that before I couldn’t see and now I see. I see reality, not only physical reality, but I see the truth of myself, of what I am. I am not what you say I am. I am what I saw shining in the gaze of that man as he looked intently at me, looked at me, the nothing I am, looked at me with friendship.” As St. Ambrose says, “He whom Jesus touches sees more.”
Believing and belief
Christ asks his new creation, Do you believe in the Son of Man? And the once-blind man responds, I do believe, Lord. Why does Jesus solicit from the man this profession of faith?
Bishop Robert Barron would answer that to believe, as Jesus uses the term, signals not so much a way of knowing as a way of being known. Jesus intends for the seeing man to see how much he belongs to Jesus.
“Belief,” wrote Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, “is certainty that God has shown himself and has opened up for us the view of truth itself. We are able to give the assent of faith because the will—the heart—has been touched by God, ‘affected’ by him.” Jesus wants all those formerly afflicted with blindness to possess that certainty and the glorious view of the truth. We are known! We are led by the hand! And our life is full of praise for the one who has searched for us in the darkness and plunged us into unending light!
The re-created blind man could well be the one described by Monsignor Guardini in these beautiful words:
Believing is a process which takes hold of our being, the invasion of divine love or of divine life from which a new existence comes to be. In the last resort, becoming a believer always means the same thing: another reality looms before the person who was formerly enclosed in their own being, in their own world. Believing is the decision to entrust one’s own existence to the strange reality that surpasses it.
Let me end by sharing with you a poem by a very dear friend, Fr. Harry Cronin, C.S.C., who died in 2022:
“…He spat on the ground,
and made clay of the spittle,
and applied the clay to his eyes,” John 9:6
Spit of God
dirt of earth.
from your shoe.
Let this mud stay
For it heals
redeems from pain
By anger and wrath
Don’t back away
Let this mud
Stay In your hands
On your eyes
In your heart
Can you have
Find Fr. Peter John Cameron’s reflection on the Sunday Gospel each week here.