I would like to begin by telling you a true story of a Taiwanese friend of mine. Let us call her Karen (not her real name). Karen is happily married with two children and a very good husband. For more than ten years, Karen and her husband have been helping their very close friend, David (not his real name), to set up his business.
As the business expanded and became more successful, David began to enjoy the luxuries of life. At the same time he also became more and more ambitious and greedy for money and material gains. Material comforts and gains began to eat into David; so much so that he began to compete with the business of his good and faithful friends. Next, David began to betray them by spreading rumours about them and even plotted to destroy their business. Karen could not believe how such a good friend could turn against her and her family. Being a good person she could not imagine how goodness could be returned with such evil. Naturally, Karen became very upset and very confused about life.
In fact, Karen was beginning to be so stressed that she could not even sleep at night. One day, she telephoned me and confided her problems with me. I listened to her and offered her some advice. Even though they were not Christians, one of the things I asked of her was not to lose hope in life and most importantly not to lose hope in God. I asked her to place everything in God’s hands, to pray that David would one day come to his senses, and to beg for God’s healing grace. Several months later, Karen telephoned me and told me that since she began to turn to God, life had never been the same. She has since been able to find a lot of peace and joy in her heart and in her home. She has also since been reading up about the Catholic Christian faith and was going to Masses on her own. She said, “Our Lord has truly healed me of my pains and problems with David. Now, I am not so affected and bothered by David anymore and things are working out very well.” I was truly very happy to hear what she said, and I thanked God for His caring love on my friend and her family.
However, three months ago, Karen again telephoned me. She told me that she was diagnosed to have cancer of the stomach and that she needed radiotherapy. The sudden illness shook her and it was very difficult for her to come to terms with it. She said, “I cannot understand why when one cross seems to be lighter in my life, another is put on me again?” Karen’s struggle went on for a few months and she is now once more feeling much at peace with herself and with God. She said, “I now feel God’s presence very strongly within me, and I believe He is healing me and giving me all the strength I need.” Since then Karen and both her children have been taking RCIA classes in a parish in Taipei and they intend to be baptised as Catholics next year.
Now, each time Karen speaks about the faith, she it speaks with deep conviction and passion. Although Karen’s husband is not ready to begin the RCIA course, he strongly feels and can see that the Catholic Christian faith has brought his wife and children much hope, peace and strength. I have strong hope that soon, he too will receive and accept God’s gift of faith.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, this true story about Karen may in some ways remind many of us about the different disappointments and sometimes the betrayals that we may have experienced. However, like Karen, we too are called to face our problems and pains in life courageously, and with faith in God. Like Karen, we too are called to ask God to heal us and open our hearts to the happier life that He wants us to give us.
However, the problem that some of us are facing is that we are preventing ourselves from growing in our faith and relationship with the Lord. And one of the main reasons for our inability to grow in our faith is that we are blind to our own faults, failures and frailties. Thus, it is important that we first of all, myself included, look at the different ways in which we can be blind to ourselves.
Jesus healing a blind man by El Greco
Today’s Gospel story of the cure of the blind man is a story not simply of a physical cure of blindness. This story has a deeper meaning. This story tells us how a blind person was healed of his more serious illness. He was healed of his blindness of God. The greater miracle of this story is not the physical healing that took place, but the spiritual healing that took place. The spiritual healing of how a person who had not known God has been brought back to God – as Karen too was spiritually healed and brought back to God.
There are three different types of blindness in each of us: “physical blindness, psychological blindness and spiritual blindness.” We know that if we are “physically blind” we are not able to see what is in the world - everything will be in darkness. If such blindness is from birth, we would then not know how our families look like or how beautiful a sunset or a rainbow is. And so, if we were to be blinded by some accident today or if our child is born blind, we would say to ourselves that life is truly tragic because to live a life without sight is to live a life in darkness.
While this is true, I believe that many of us do not realise that we carry within us a more serious blindness and darkness in our hearts. This blindness is the “psychological blindness.” If we are “psychologically blind” everything is also in darkness, except that this is more serious. If we are psychologically blind our darkness in life is a darkness where people around us are not important and we are basically living a selfish life. With such blindness we would often take people like our parents, spouses, children and maids for granted. We would slam doors when others are trying to sleep or study. We would change TV channels regardless of whether there are others in the room or not. We would even cheat others including the poor by paying them low wages for long hours of work and the like. In order words, we are practically living in our own dark world. Such selfish living is worse than being physically blind because while physical blindness bring suffering to us alone, psychological blindness brings a lot of pain and suffering to others.
The third and most serious of all blindness is “spiritual blindness.” To have such blindness is to live in a darkness, which does not realise that eternal life is important. In such blindness we waste and squander our life away on things that do not last forever. We fool ourselves into thinking that what is important in life is what we can feel, taste, touch, smell and see. For example, the feelings of importance that people give us, the taste of good food, the sights we get on our holidays overseas and the excitements we get from the sensual world of pornography and the like. We so easily fool ourselves into thinking that all these are what life is all about; that eternal life is something remote and abstract and even unreal because we do not know what it is like. In such spiritual blindness, we lose hope in God and in everlasting life.
What then is life all about you may ask? Is life simply going to Church, saying our prayers and doing good? Life is going to Church, saying our prayers, doing good and living our lives according to God’s ways and not the ways of the world. Sin is precisely living our lives according to worldly ways instead of God’s ways. Sin is precisely refusing to turn back to God and refusing to open our eyes to His light. Sin is precisely choosing to live in darkness. And to live in such darkness is to be “spiritually blind.”
If Karen were to be spiritually blind she would most probably have been a nervous wreck or in deep depression by now. But, because she dared to pray for David instead of treating him as her enemy, the light of God was able to dispel the darkness of her mind and heal the hurts of her heart. But, because Karen also dared to face her illness with courage and trust in God, God’s healing hands were also able to soothe her pains and relieve her of the heaviness of her cross in her life. The blind man in today’s Gospel too dared to ask Jesus, “show me the Son of God and I will believe in Him.” And when Jesus said, “You are looking at Him,” the blind man immediately believed and worshipped Him.
My sisters and brothers in Christ, I am a religious priest and you are laypersons. While each of us has different responsibilities and roles to play in our lives, each of us is challenged to remove all obstacles that blind us and keep us from God’s light. To be able to do this more consciously, perhaps it may be helpful for us to reflect on three questions before we go to bed tonight.
First, are we aware of how important people like our parents, spouse, children, maid, migrant workers are in our lives and in our country? Second, do we appreciate them enough and love them or do we take their goodness and service for granted? Finally, do we see God in all these people and try to find Him in all situations of our daily lives? If we are able to answer these three questions honestly, we will have a good sense of whether we are spiritually blind or not.
My brothers and sisters, as I conclude, let us remind ourselves that none of us are perfect. All of us have our weaknesses, limitations and blind spots. But, all of us like Karen and the blind man too need to turn back to God more fully. Today is already the fourth Sunday in Lent. We should each ask ourselves seriously whether we have done anything significantly to turn back to God or to renew our love for Him more wholeheartedly? The time is now. The day is today. There is no worse time than later or tomorrow. God is waiting. God is always forgiving and loving. God is with us. So, on behalf of everyone, I would like to end this homily by praying, “Lord please remove our blindness and help us to see our true selves more clearly today. Give us also the wisdom and courage we need to return to you, and be resolved to remain with you forever, Amen.”
Philip Heng, S.J.