From the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1500-1):
“Illness and suffering have always been among the gravest problems confronted in human life. In illness, man experiences his powerlessness, his limitations, and his finitude. Every illness can make us glimpse death.”
In our Gospel this week, we see a man blind from birth, certainly a very evident illness. And, as we shall see, even his physical blindness is evident. IN another Gospel passage, we encounter a blind man who cries out to Jesus, calling Him “Son of David,” thus invoking God’s promise to David of an everlasting kingdom. But here, we see how Jesus – of His own initiative – approaches this blind man, and uses his illness as a teaching moment for His disciples. As unpleasant as our sufferings can be – especially this isolation we are experiencing because of the virus pandemic – Jesus can use this as a teaching moment for us. In our Gospel, Jesus teaches that this man’s blindness was not the result of any sin of his or his parents’ – as was commonly presumed – but that the power of God may be made evident. This man’s powerlessness, his fragility is a mode by which God shows forth His power. And certainly Jesus also uses that creative power of God when He cures the blind man by means of dust and spittle. The ancient Jewish belief was that GOd created man from the dust of the earth and His own spittle. So Jesus here is shown demonstrating the power of God.
The Catechism goes on (1501):
Illness can lead to anguish, self-absorption, sometimes even despair, and revolt against God. It can also make a person more mature, helping him discern in his life what is not essential so that he can turn toward that which is. Very often illness provokes a search for God and a return to Him.
We began by pointing out that this man’s illness was evident, and that his physical blindness was also obvious to everyone. But there are illnesses and indeed blindnesses that are not so readily evident. The blindness of the Pharisees that accused the healed man of being a disciple of Jesus – their blindness was more insidious because they did not consider themselves to be blind, or ill or lacking in any way. In fact, they even ridicule the healed blind man by calling him a sinner, pointing to that presupposition that whoever has suffering or illness or indeed blindness must have sinned. They completely ignore what St. Paul had pointed out, that “all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God,” including them.
The Catechism points out that illness and suffering can lead to a self-absorption. In those moments we feel helpless, powerless. We have been so used to being in control of our lives, that it is hard for us to readjust. This can also blind us to what we can do, what is within our sphere of influence: more specifically, what we can do for others, especially those around us. Jesus used His power – the power of God – to heal the blind man. He urged His disciples when He sent them out on mission to use the grace of God bestowed on them to bring the Gospel to everyone they meet. They found that they had incredible powers to heal. But the Pharisees used their authority to cast out of worship those who would threaten their own power. They exercised their power in order to preserve their own status. Quite the opposite of Jesus and His disciples.
We may be deprived of certain abilities right now, the ability to socialize, to build community. We are indeed created as social beings, reflecting the image and likeness of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, a communion of Divine Persons. While we cannot right now exercise that God-given gift of socialization, let us use this time to quietly discern what gifts God has given us that we may use to heal, to manifest the power of God in our world. God has graced us with digital technology, and has sent us as Christians to use it for the glory of God. If you have the ability to manipulate this technology (from telephones to computers, etc.), then by all means use it for the glory of God.
All of us can pray – and indeed, all of us are called to pray to God for our neighbor, for our own peace of mind, and for our world, especially to call upon the mercy of God to end this lockdown.
Be assured that during this time of crisis, God is holding us close as the wind and the waves of this pandemic whip around us. Let our faith in Jesus Christ grow, just as the blind man’s faith grew. Know of our prayers for you during this time. And we all look forward to that day when we can reconvene in the House of the Lord.