‘Incurvatus in se’ and Spiritual Blindness

4th Sunday of Lent

1 Samuel 16:1, 6-7, 10-13; Psalm 23:1-6; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41

A reading from the holy Gospel according to John.
(Short form)

AS Jesus went along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. He spat on the ground, made a paste with the spittle, put this over the eyes of the blind man and said to him, ‘Go and wash in the Pool of Siloam’ (a name that means ‘sent’). So the blind man went off and washed himself, and came away with his sight restored.

His neighbours and people who earlier had seen him begging said, ‘Isn’t this the man who used to sit and beg?’ Some said, ‘Yes, it is the same one.’ Others said, ‘No, he only looks like him.’ The man himself said, ‘I am the man.’

They brought the man who had been blind to the Pharisees. It had been a sabbath day when Jesus made the paste and opened the man’s eyes, so when the Pharisees asked him how he had come to see, he said, ‘He put a paste on my eyes, and I washed, and I can see.’ Then some of the Pharisees said, ‘This man cannot be from God: he does not keep the sabbath.’ Others said, ‘How could a sinner produce signs like this?’ And there was disagreement among them. So they spoke to the blind man again, ‘What have you to say about him yourself, now that he has opened your eyes?’ ‘He is a prophet’ replied the man.

‘Are you trying to teach us,’ they replied ‘and you a sinner through and through, since you were born!’ And they drove him away.

Jesus heard they had driven him away, and when he found him he said to him, ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’ ‘Sir,’ the man replied ‘tell me who he is so that I may believe in him.’ Jesus said, ‘You are looking at him; he is speaking to you.’ The man said, ‘Lord, I believe’, and worshipped him.

BROTHERS and sisters, the gospel in this 4th Sunday of Lent talks about blindness as a spiritual disease. Jesus told the Pharisees they were blind. He called them blind guides and blind fools. But it is not just them. He also called his own disciples blind when He exclaimed: “Are your minds completely blinded? Have you eyes but no sight?”

Jesus may be calling us spiritually blind right now. How else can we describe what is happening in our community right now? The panic buying and the hoarding of goods—most especially toilet papers, sugar, flour, rice or pasta! Despite the assurance of manufacturers that we have enough. This can also be said on the insistence of some, despite knowing that they may be carriers of the virus, to mingle with the rest of the community instead of self-isolating themselves. Or to insist on doing what we want and getting what we want despite the restrictions placed by legitimate authorities whether in health, public order and yes, even in the religious life.

This is blindness—a spiritual blindness because at the heart of it is the deadly sin of pride—the insistence of focusing and prioritizing the self, the Incurvatus in se or curving in on itself, as St Thomas Aquinas puts it. The deadly sin of pride drives this blindness because all that matters is me, my comfort, my security, my survival. In another sense pride blinds us to the reality that we are not in control. God is. But pride rejects God as the orienting centre from which and toward which we live, and substitute Him with something else—almost invariably the self—as that centre.

How then will we take Jesus’ diagnosis of our condition? Will we become defensive, or will we thank Jesus for telling us the truth? The Pharisees got angry at Jesus for calling them blind. They blinded themselves to being blind. They resented the man cured of blindness and threw him out of the synagogue. They even tried to impose blindness on everyone else. The Pharisees became so blind that they became darkness. As darkness, they hated the light. They hated Jesus, “the Light of the world”, and demanded He be crucified.

Spiritual blindness is degenerative. It turns the heart into a heart of stone. It erects walls of indifference and impatience. It turns into darkness and violence. On the other hand, the light that Jesus gives us is the gift of compassion, the ability to suffer with the poor and the vulnerable; the desire to pull down walls and build bridges, to heroically seek the good of the other.

Brothers and sisters, we must admit our spiritual blindness, especially in this trying and difficult times. And we must ask Jesus to heal us. Otherwise, we will hurt and even crucify our Healer and those whom He has healed of spiritual blindness. Let Jesus heal you from being blind to your spiritual blindness.

Our Cinderella Story

Ash Wednesday (A) 2020

Jesus said to his disciples:

‘Be careful not to parade your good deeds before men to attract their notice; by doing this you will lose all reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give alms, do not have it trumpeted before you; this is what the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win men’s admiration. I tell you solemnly, they have had their reward.

But when you give alms, your left hand must not know what your right is doing; your almsgiving must be secret, and your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you.

‘And when you pray, do not imitate the hypocrites: they love to say their prayers standing up in the synagogues and at the street corners for people to see them. I tell you solemnly, they have had their reward. But when you pray, go to your private room and, when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in that secret place, and your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you.

‘When you fast do not put on a gloomy look as the hypocrites do: they pull long faces to let men know they are fasting. I tell you solemnly, they have had their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that no one will know you are fasting except your Father who sees all that is done in secret; and your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you.’

WE all know the story of Cinderella, right? A daughter of a loving father but became a victim of a wicked stepmum and stepsisters. She was made a slave; forced to sleep in the ashes. In fact, that is how she got her name—Cinderella, ash girl. Eventually, somebody rescued her—the fairy godmother—turned degradation into glory and freeing Cinderella from slavery and helping her to be the bride of the prince. If we try to reflect the story of Cinderella, we might recognise ourselves with her.

We are children of a loving Father. Yet we are enslaved. Although our enslavement was not primary the doing of somebody else but most of the time, our own choosing. I am enslaved to sin, to self-centredness and selfishness, slaved to laziness, to fear. I am—we are—controlled by advertising, by social expectations, by wrong notions of what is truth, faith and love or by wrong notions of what constitute happiness. We are created into the image and likeness of God and we are called to eternal joy, but we prefer to be enslaved—crouch in the debris of burnt-out hopes and dreams. We prefer to live in ashes.

Today we smear ashes on our foreheads as a reminder of who we are. “Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return.” That means of course, that I will die and decay—we all will. But it also describes our whole life till then. As the Canadian psychologist puts it: life is suffering. We are all Cinderella. But is that it? Are ashes our whole story? Is that where the similarity ends? Is there a godmother who will save us?

Well, welcome to Lent, a time to reflect on our ashiness and our salvation. From now on till the start of the Sacred Triduum we will remember that we are Cinderella sitting in sin. But we are also called to remember the great invitation and promise. “Repent and believe in the Gospel!” Yes, Lent reminds us of the horrible reality of what life could be without God. Emptiness. Nothingness; “Remember that you are dust” could be the whole story—our whole story. But Lent also insists that there is a way out of the ashiness of our lives. In fact, it has already been given, through baptism. The Prefaces for Lent speaks of “this joyful season.” Our loving Father already rescued us through Jesus Christ. All we to do is to want, to respond to the call of conversion, to respond to His invitation.

Brothers and sisters, as sons and daughters of a loving Father we will renew our claim to that heavenly inheritance at Easter. We know that ashes are not the whole story. But many others think they are. So Lent gives us a chance to taste the emptiness of their lives—by prayer, fasting, and almsgiving— so that we will be motivated to share the good news with them that they, like we, are invited to leave our ashes behind and take part in a glorious dance of joy and an unlimited future in God’s love.

In the end, Ash Wednesday and Lent is trying to tell us that we can and we will live happily ever after.