The beginning of true change is in the way of looking

Fr Paolo Consonni, MCCJ

LENT 04 Sun Year A

The miracle described in the Gospel of this fourth Sunday of Lent (Jn 9:1-41), the healing of a man born blind, is symbolically linked with the Sacrament of Baptism.  Christ anointed the blind man’s eyes with mud made of His saliva, and then told him to wash in the pool of Siloam. The catechumens too go through rituals of purification before Baptism. After having washed their sins and being immersed in the Light of Christ, the newly-baptized finally see the merciful face of God, the dignity of their existence and the destiny God has prepared for them. Toward this destiny of love, we must orient concrete actions and choices. On the contrary, the more our hearts and minds are blinded by falsehood, misconceptions, and illusions, the less we will be able to make wise decisions.

The book, The Road Less Travelled by psychologist M. Scott Peck, a bestseller during my youth, used the metaphor of the “inner map” to describe how we orient ourselves in life.  Each person has an inner map which includes our world-view, the values we uphold and the perceptions through which we judge events. If the map is true and accurate, we will generally know where we are, where to go and how to get there. If the map is false and inaccurate, we will easily be lost.

To keep our personal and collective maps of reality accurate requires effort, discipline and honesty. Since our lives and the world around us keep changing, our inner maps always need to integrate new information. To keep this task ongoing, one must be totally dedicated to truth, practice self-examination and be willing to be personally challenged by reality, which infallibly unmasks both – not just the lies we have been told but also the lies that we tell ourselves.

Since he was born, the blind man in the Gospel had been told that his blindness was God’s punishment for his own sins or those of his parents. He believed those words. In his inner map, he was simply a beggar, a cursed person of no value to anyone, even God.

Similarly, the Pharisees had centered their own maps of reality on Moses’ Law, to which they strictly adhered. They felt they were the “righteous ones” blessed by God for their fidelity.  As we know, the Law of Moses played a vital role in the relationship between God and His people; but when deprived of its spirit, it became unable to reflect accurately God’s plan of Salvation for humanity. The Pharisees’ inner maps had therefore incomplete coordinates.

Jesus’ miracle was literally an eye-opening experience for the man born blind. Not only did Jesus heal his eyes but prior to that, Jesus’ words had already changed his map of reality: “Neither this man nor his parents had sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him” (Jn 9:3). For the first time in his life, the beggar became aware that God cared for him and that his life had a higher purpose: to reveal God’s Glory! The following confrontation with the Pharisees reveals the extent by which his world-view changed. Uneducated, he was able to uphold the truth when asked to deny it by those powerful Pharisees: “One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see… if this man, Jesus, were not from God, he could do nothing.” (vv. 25,33).

The Pharisees, holding on to their outdated maps of reality, where instead in a state of total denial: “We know that this man is a sinner… We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” (vv. 25-29). Pope Francis once said that “when somebody has an answer for every question, it is a sign that they are not on the right road. They […] use religion for their own purposes, to promote their own psychological or intellectual theories […]. We are not the ones to determine when and how we will encounter him […]  Even when someone’s life appears completely wrecked, even when we see it devastated by vices or addictions, God is present there”. (Gaudete et Exsultate 40-42). Using a powerful expression, the Pope said that these people “seek to domesticate the mystery”.

The change which occurred in the heart of the man born blind, and, in contrast, the stubbornness of the Pharisee, help us to understand the real meaning of the Lenten journey of conversion (in Greek, metanoia), which is not simply changing opinions or behaviors, as much as letting our minds be “remade” by seeing reality (which must necessarily include suffering and difficulties) bathed in God’s light, mercy and love, so much so that we cannot but exclaim: “Lord, I believe”, as the former blind person did at the end of the Gospel.  The beginning of a true change is in the way of looking. We ask this Grace for the catechumens who are going to be baptized at Easter, and for ourselves too!

(Image: veerasak