With Eyes Full of Light: The Healing of the Man Born Blind
“What an example of firm faith the blind man gives us! A living, operative faith. Do you behave like this when God commands, when so often you can’t see, when your soul is worried and the light is gone? What power could the water possibly contain that when the blind man’s eyes were moistened with it they were cured? Surely some mysterious eye salve, or a precious medicine made up in the laboratory of some wise alchemist, would have done better? But the man believed; he acted upon the command of God, and he returned with eyes full of light.”
St. Josemaria Escriva
Christ is Passing By, no. 193
It is a feature of the Lenten Gospel readings for Year A that the events recounted are very vivid. The persons involved are so memorable, so human, so similar to us, that we have little trouble placing ourselves in these scenes, imagining that we are there. In meditation, picturing yourself interacting with Jesus and others in the Gospels is a fruitful practice recommended by many Saints.
Saint Josemaria frequently recommended prayerfully entering into the Gospel scenes as a means to greater familiarity with the Lord, as well as to experience more directly the impact of His saving words and actions: “If you wish to get close to our Lord through the pages of the Gospels, I always recommend that you try to enter into the scene by taking part as just one more person there” (Friends of God, 222).
For most of these Sundays of Lent we can ask ourselves: With whom do I most identify and why? Peter, James, and John on the mount of the Transfiguration? The Samaritan woman? Lazarus, Martha and Mary? Or as we have before us on the Fourth Sunday, the man born blind? In some way, of course, we can see ourselves in each of these figures, in some more than others.
But the point of inserting ourselves into the Gospel and identifying ourselves with certain figures is ultimately to nurture “a living, operative faith” that treats Jesus as a real Person, not just an idea, not a distant observer of the world, but as really involved in your life here and now. Our aim is to cleanse the eyes of our faith so that Christ becomes the One who illuminates and infuses every event of our lives with a divine meaning—every work, relationship, conversation, thought, and desire.
Like the man born blind, we too enter this world fundamentally blind, blind to what matters most, unless we allow Christ to enlighten the eyes of our hearts (cf. Eph 1:18), or as St Josemaria reflects: “If … we [do not] prevent Christ from curing our blindness, if we let our Lord apply the clay which, in his hands, becomes a cleansing salve, we shall come to know earthly realities and we shall look upon the divine realities with new vision, with the light of faith. Our outlook will have become Christian” (Christ is Passing By, 71).
This faith perspective is so essential because, in fact, we are not the personages in the historical Gospels. We are unique individuals in a different historical epoch, with our particular good points and bad points. However much we may identify with them, we are not the Samaritan woman, Lazarus, or the man born blind. That is important, because we can make vivid use of our imagination, make a good meditation, but then fail to apply it practically to our lives, to life as we experience it in our own place and time.
St Teresa of Jesus vigorously underscores this truth about the interior life. We can trick and deceive ourselves, she says, with grand schemes and splendid plans that might occur to us in prayer, which she calls building “castles in the air.” Instead, she concludes that the fruition of the interior, mystical life is something very concrete—good deeds inspired by our inner union with Christ: “This is the reason for prayer … the purpose of spiritual marriage: the birth always of good works, good works” (Interior Castle VII:4).
This brings us back down to earth, to a detail of this healing miracle which is always very striking—striking because it is so earthy: the application of mud to the blind man’s eyes. Our Lord chooses to heal through the medium of mud. We should meditate on that. Ordinary mud, the stuff that we scrape off of our shoes, the stuff that we try to step over. Jesus took common dirt, mixed it with His own saliva and smeared it upon the blind man’s eyes. It all sounds very mysterious, and so it must have appeared to bystanders.
Then the impossible happens, and people don’t know what to think. Those who were Jesus’ enemies were prepared to condemn Him, the healed man, everything about the healing. It wasn’t the right time, right place, or right person. Our Lord’s friends were prepared to give thanks to God and to rejoice. We do not need to ask ourselves about which camp we are in. We are His friends, and need to become more so. And the way to that deeper friendship is to consider how God acts in our lives, as He did in the life of the blind man.
This mud, this healing, tells us a lot about how God acts through the most ordinary and common things of life—even through things that we try our best to stay away from. Those are oftentimes God’s chosen instruments. This includes people, unpleasant situations, and so many other things over which we have no control. For us, too, it is not always the “right” time, place, or even the “right” person who might mediate God’s grace to us.
We have to remember that our lives are all about friendship with a God who became an ordinary man and lived most of his life in a most ordinary village, applying himself to the most humble occupations. He worked long hours and was paid for His labor. If we are always on the lookout for the extraordinary in religion we will only find what our imagination produces.
Sometimes people drive themselves crazy imagining all sorts of extraordinary things about themselves and others which simply have no basis in reality. Strong mental images and strong feelings do not change reality, and they do not prepare us to receive God’s intervention in our lives in the thousand and one humble ways that He chooses to make use of. This is why the advice of true mystics, like St Teresa and St Josemaria, is always so down-to-earth. The arena of Christian struggle and perfection, the venue of our spiritual growth, is the same earth upon which our Savior worked, prayed, preached, and suffered. As He enlightens us to see this, then our outlook becomes truly Christian, and we begin to look out for the divine in daily life.
This blind man who found healing at the hands of Christ was not looking for it; that would have been most extraordinary and unusual. He was simply begging because he was, simply, blind. He was doing his best under the circumstances. And the Lord knew that and everything else about him and so chose him to receive this miracle that would lead to his confession of faith: “I do believe, Lord.”
And in the midst of the bustling Temple area, where people were going about their ordinary business, he fell down and worshipped his God. Jesus also wills to fill our eyes with this light, so that they open to this startling discovery of faith: In the Lord’s hands, the ordinary “clay” of daily life becomes a reason to believe.
The content is published by the St Josemaria Institute for the free use of readers and may not be copied or reproduced without permission from its author © Fr. John Henry Hanson, 2014.