Posted by: Fr Chris | May 8, 2021

Last Sunday of Easter: Man Born Blind

My Weekly Confession: Letting Light in the Window
Christ touches the eyes of the blind man

Today is the last Sunday of the Easter season – this week we will have Ascension Thursday, which begins the nine-day preparation for Pentecost.

Easter is meant to be disturbing- the holy women went out to the grave to mourn and to finish their task of anointing the body of Jesus. Instead, there are angels giving a completely unexpected message and an empty tomb. They ran back to the city to announce the news to the apostles, who of course refused to believe them. Only Peter and John go out – the leader of the apostles and the youngest – to see for themselves, and they came back bewildered by it all.

The resurrection is meant to challenge us, to disturb us, to make us think, to wonder.

This young man was born blind – that is important. Saint Ambrose points out that

There is, indeed, a kind of blindness, usually brought on by serious illness, which obscures one’s vision but that can be cured, given time; and there is another sort of blindness, caused by cataract, that can be remedied by a surgeon: he can remove the cause, and so the blindness is dispelled. Draw your own conclusion: this man, who was actually born blind, was not cured by surgical skill but by the power of God.

Spiritual Renewal and the Healing of the Blind — Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick
The Man Born Blind is sent to the pool, which resembles the baptismal font

Some of the Pharisees can’t accept this because Christ made a paste of clay, working on the sabbath, and they go to his parents, sure that this cannot be their son, or that surely, he was not born blind. Other Pharisees accept the miracle, precisely because this was not removal of cataracts but giving sight where there had never been sight.

There are several important points in this story:

  1. Out of all of the places in Jerusalem with water, Jesus sent the man to Siloam. The pool at Siloam had two purposes: the practical was that it provided the water that enabled Jerusalem to endure a siege by an army as its water could not be cut off. Spiritually, priests poured water from the Pool of Siloam onto the temple steps “so that it would flow down and out through the Temple to the world outside, and so indicate the way that the Jewish faith would satisfy the world.” Christ uses this water to save the man from blindness, and the miracle will bring about faith in Jesus; He fulfills the mission of Judaism and will save the world.
  • John hints further that the water has a special link with Christ since he tells us that “Siloam,” the name of the pool, means “the One sent,” a frequent description of Jesus. No wonder that in art on the walls of the catacombs the early Christians often depicted the healing of the blind man as a symbol of Baptism.
  • God is the only one who can work on the sabbath according to the Jewish tradition, because He keeps the universe functioning. Jesus has appropriated that to Himself, affirming His divinity and power.
  • Jesus asks the man if he believes in the Son of Man – using the title of the Messiah. The man recognizes Jesus’ voice, and falls down to worship Him and recognizes Him as the savior.
  • At the time of the miracle, believers in Jesus were not being expelled from the synagogues. But when John was writing, that is what was happening. The Church and the Synagogue had split, and Jewish Christians had to decide where to go – follow Christ as God and Man, or stay with Judaism. This addition to the story of the miracle is meant by John to encourage his readers to stay with Christ instead.
  • The last 3 Sundays of the paschal season and Mid-Pentecost are all tied to the theme of baptism and water. Besides recognizing a baptismal theme in this story, readers of John would also be taught that a series of testing may be necessary before sight really comes. Only gradually and through suffering does the man born blind come to full faith and enlightenment. The same thing holds for every generation of Christians.
  • Every generation will also have those who are blind to faith, those who choose to be blind to faith, and those who do not know about the faith.
    The baptized have an obligation to teach all the truth – just as the young man tries to teach the Pharisees themselves.

Do you believe in the Son of Man? We have to move from the baptism we received as babies to a mature faith. Do I believe? This man is able to say Yes, Lord, I do believe.

Now we have to do the same, every year, every month, every day.

The western world has very much lost its way. Western civilization has its roots in the Greco-Roman and Jewish worlds, but grew and flourished through its embrace of Christianity. Today church attendance has plummeted in western Europe and Canada to record lows. In Europe only 40% of people say that they even pray, in Ireland 55% never go to Mass at all. In Canada only 13% of people go to any kind of religious service of any faith. Even in Mexico only two-thirds of the people say that they are Catholic.

In America 55% of Catholics went to weekly Mass in 1965; in 2019 it was 23%.

Coronavirus and the mass closing of churches has just made it worse. In the 1918 flu churches were only closed from August until Christmas. Now people have learned to spend nearly a year watching services online or television.

Every single person here today knows folks who have lost their faith, or who have never had faith. Every one of us has relatives and friends who don’t know Jesus Christ. Each of us can easily fall into the same category, each of us can get lazy, each of us can become blind to the beauty of faith and its mysteries.

Not only that, but how many of us who still have a traditional faith have a mature faith?

Too often when people face a hardship, or learn about a church’s scandal, or things don’t go the way they want, they simply walk away not only from prayer but from God Himself. We have to be brave enough to say “I do believe” and worship. We have to be brave enough to trust even when we feel that we are blind spiritually. We have to be brave enough to love God and those around us no matter what. We have to be willing to put ourselves out there and change the world.

In Africa, 90% of Catholics go to Mass every week. The majority walk for miles, in harsh weather or tough conditions. They understand that at Mass they receive the Body and Blood of Christ – which too many American Catholics don’t believe – and they stay in church for up to two hours at each Mass. We in America need that enthusiasm, that hunger, that desire, that willingness to share our faith with others. This is the last Sunday of the Easter season, and when we come back on Wednesday night or Thursday morning, there will no longer be the song “Christ is risen.” But that disturbing resurrection remains, that disturbing proclamation that God has changed everything continues. The question will be, do we live accordingly? Christ is risen.

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