Sunday, March 2, 2008

The Response to Conversion

My thoughts on the Gospel of the Man Born Blind, shared this week at St. Luke's in Beavercreek:

I am one of those unlucky few, relegated to the world of eyeglasses. Because of a slight stigmatise, I am unable to wear contacts, and any type of lasik procedure is too much to hope for. Even worse, mine is not a slight vision impairment, but a rather dramatic version, so that if I do not have my glasses on, I’m bumping into tables, missing steps, squinting in vain attempts to read even my large digital clock from across the room. Without the glasses, I am blind. In a small way, I identify with the man in today’s Gospel reading, helpless without the correction.

However, this man’s blindness is contrasted with the apparent sight of Jesus’ adversaries. While this man is not able to see, the Pharisees and those with them think that they can see; and here is the rub, the crux, of the problem.

But what's even more interesting to me, is that he is really an innocent bystander in this whole event. He's sitting there, minding his own business, and all of a sudden, this guy is smearing mud on his eyes and he's told to go and wash. Maybe he did it just to get the mud off of his face, maybe he knew who this was, but imagine his surprise at opening his eyes, and the flood of color, sights, textures that rush into his brain! Unbelievable! I wouldn't want to shut my eyes ever again!

There is something more that strikes me in this account, and it is again something that resonates with my experience. After he has that healing encounter with Jesus, the tension he gets, the adversity he meets because of his conversion. Looking back through this story, he gets challenged by people who used to know him, he gets hauled before judges and magistrates (the Sanhedrin was the governing body of the Jews at the time.) 'Maybe this is his twin brother, and not really him?'

I can hardly imagine the tension that he is feeling as he wants to erupt in joy and share those experiences with everyone he meets, yet he is also then hauled before a tribunal and nearly charged with a crime! It is a dangerous thing, having an encounter with Christ, something that continues to bear out in the life of the believer today.

When I first entered seminary, I had friends from high school who ridiculed me, and laid some very unkind accusations at my feet. I had acquaintances at college that mocked and scorned me, both to the group I was involved with, as well as behind my back.

At the time, it was painful. Yet looking back now, with the eyes of faith, I see that it was not me that they were rejecting, but rather Christ whom they saw through me because I was responding to His invitation.

This is one of the challenges that I see coming from today's Gospel: "How do we treat those who have had conversion experiences?" The temptation is to see that person as he or she once was, yet they have been changed, we have been changed. Are we able to see beyond who they were to who they now are, and to help them experience that joy of meeting Christ, deeply, profoundly, dynamically, in their life?

With all that, though, I think that there is another question that the Church poses for us, and one that might be a little harder to hear: Are we like the Pharisees who miss the signs of what is happening around them? This is an easy temptation to fall to, and it is easy to miss when it happens, as well. We can get so caught up in our own reading of events and happenings, that we miss the direction, we miss the surprise, we miss the depth of what God is doing right in our midst.

Back to the story we have heard, the Pharisees are so hard hearted that they cannot rely on the word of the man born blind (and now able to see), but rather have to call in his parents! (who are none to excited by the prospect, apparently.) Still, the Pharisees are so obsessed with their single-minded pursuit that Jesus is disrupting their flow of life, they absolutely miss every thing that he offers.

The problem, however, is that there is not an easy solution to this dilemma. We, as faithful Catholics, certainly need to trust the wisdom and guidance of the Holy Spirit as expressed through the teaching authority of the bishops; we have to have the discipline to study and understand what the Church teaches and to make that teaching our own. Yet, we cannot be so obsessed with ironing out the minutia of our faith that we miss those blessed interruptions where Jesus challenges us to take that next step of trust, that leap of faith, that when we are sent to wash that we will be healed.

To me, this is part of the glory and wisdom of the Catholic Church: nothing moves in a hurry, rather we take our time to discern and reflect, as we balance the exuberance of faith with the calm discipline of theology.

So, as we continue this journey in Lent, we pause to recognize these two tendencies, to see if we have fallen into the very pitfalls that Jesus warns us against: the shunning of a converted sinner or the obsession of the self-righteous. We lay our weaknesses at the feet of Jesus so that we can experience that great joy that comes with knowing Christ, and experiencing his power and authority in our lives.

1 comment:

adoro said...

Wow. I'm ready to convert! Again, I mean ('cause it's ongoing...)

This is a great homily!

You know, I was almost blind as a child and the doctor told my Mom that I'd never even be able to so much as stack blocks. I was supposed to have surgery to correct the muscles in my eye because it was turned so far inward. Well, Mom took me to her friend's house, everyone prayed over me (and I was a very shy child...imagine my discomfort at being the center of attention!), and the next day we went to the hospital for the surgery.

It was eye had been miraculously healed overnight! I still wear glasses, have a pretty severe astigmatism, but I can wear contacts. And I don't complain because, after all...I've been able to do ALL those things they said I'd never be able to accomplish.

And the gospel of the other blind man, Bartimaeus...that is the story of my conversion. Right there.

I think we are all blind in some way, and sometimes the parables and scenes from Jesus' life happen in our own, and through His own hand. Although we often don't realize it until later.