Admitting Blindness and Receiving Vision – Pastor’s Reflection (March 22, 2020)
I write you this on March 12. Yesterday the St. Patrick’s Day Parade was canceled and flight restrictions on European travel went into effect. So I wonder what will have happened in 10 days when you read this letter. As far as one can predict we will be spending more time alone, and so our challenge is how to make these hours, days (and weeks?) sane, productive, and spiritually fruitful. Last week in these pages we opened an initiative that might be of some help.
My hope was that we could share with our catechumens the unique experiences of prayer we have named “scrutinies.” On the Third, Fourth, and Fifth Sundays of Lent we gather them in the midst of the parish at the 12 pm Solemn Mass and we ask the Holy Spirit to scrutinize their hearts. Lovingly he will probe them to heal what is sinful and weak and to strengthen what is healthy and good. The prayers of the scrutiny, referred to as exorcisms, draw on the Gospels we read at Mass this year. The long stories of the Woman of Samaria (Third Sunday), the Man Born Blind (Fourth Sunday), and the Raising of Lazarus (Fifth Sunday) are themselves scrutinies. In these Jesus scrutinizes the hearts of the protagonists, liberating them from fear and freeing them for life in him.
Inviting the Spirit to scrutinize our own hearts will be a fruitful practice in a time like this. This Sunday’s protagonist, the Man Born Blind (John 9), like those of the other scrutiny Gospels, finds himself in a situation of acute stress. For him the work of receiving healing and of recognizing Jesus the healer, comes in tandem with the experience of isolation and rejection. The presence of Jesus makes the increasing stress an occasion not of getting sicker, but of getting better.
Father of mercy, you led the man born blind to the kingdom of light through the gift of faith in your Son. Free these elect from the false values that surround and blind them. Set them firmly in your truth, children of the light forever. We ask this through Christ our Lord.
Here the Celebrant would have imposed hands on the Elect.
Lord Jesus you are the true light that enlightens the world. Through your Spirit of truth free those who are enslaved by the father of lies. Stir up the desire for good in these elect, whom you have chosen for your sacraments. 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 forever and ever.
We now face a crisis that will place each of us under stress and will test us. In a sense, the weeks ahead will be a scrutiny, laying bare our fears and anxieties: some instinctive ways of dealing with isolation and uncertainty may come to the fore. When calm returns we feel saddened and ashamed by what came over us. But the scrutiny of the Holy Spirit can help us change the patterns.
Crisis coming at us looks like darkness for we are blind to its shape and duration. The vision Jesus gives does not take away the unknown but it reveals the one who knows what we do not, and who endures beyond what justly scares us.
Jesus, possessed of this light within, did not thereby escape the pain, degradation, and isolation of his passion, but he knew that the Father saw beyond it in all directions.
This same light enables us to make a more than instinctual response to dislocation and privation. By this light we accept what we would never choose and ask that by his light it may become an occasion of growth for us. New Yorkers like us would never choose to be locked in our rooms by a pandemic, but only ponder what God might do with the hours. What will He show us about ourselves, invite us to challenge in ourselves, and teach us to love in ourselves?
We invite the light into us when we heed the final words of Jesus in the Sunday’s gospel: “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you are saying, “We see,” so your sin remains.” (John. 9: 41 ). The way forward into light is the narrow one of admitting our fear of the dark, because that is the truth. It is the Spirit who exposes the truth about us to the Truth that is God, and His truth heals and enables ours.
PS. As I complete this letter I now know that you will read it in a world that is dark with the absence of the Eucharist and the other sacraments and services. I hope you will give yourself some time with this powerful Gospel.