Deacon Cornell’s Homily


1 Sam 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a
Ephesians 5:8-14
John 9:1-41


March 29-30 2014 Fourth Sunday in Lent, Cycle A

"Open my eyes Lord. Help me to see like you."

Both the story of the man blind from birth and the story of the anointing of David remind us how differently God sees things from the way humans see things. Being married has taught me how differently men and women can see things, as well. The real danger, both to humans in general, and husbands in particular, is thinking that the way I see things is reality and every one else's way is not. The book Chicken Soup for the Soul has a story about Charlie Boswell, who was the National Blind Golf Champion 13 times, that illustrates this another way.

Charlie Boswell was blinded during World War II while rescuing his friend from a tank that was under fire. He was a great athlete before his accident and in a testimony to his talent and determination he decided to try a brand new sport, a sport he never imagined playing, even with his eyesight . . . golf! Through determination and a deep love for the game, he became the National Blind Golf Champion! He won that honor 13 times. One of his heroes was the great golfer Ben Hogan, so it truly was an honor for Charlie to win the Ben Hogan Award in 1958. Upon meeting Ben Hogan, Charlie was awestruck and stated that he had one wish and it was to have one round of golf with the great Ben Hogan. Mr. Hogan agreed that playing a round together would be an honor for him as well, as he had heard about all of Charlie's accomplishments, and truly admired his skills.

"Would you like to play for money, Mr. Hogan?" blurted out Charlie.
"I can't play you for money, it wouldn't be fair!" said Mr. Hogan.
"Aw, come on, Mr. Hogan...$1,000 per hole!"
"I can't, what would people think of me, taking advantage of you and your circumstance," replied the sighted golfer.
"Chicken, Mr. Hogan?"
"Okay," blurted a frustrated Hogan, "but I am going to play my best!"
"I wouldn't expect anything else," said the confident Boswell.
"You're on Mr. Boswell, you name the time and the place!"
A very self-assured Boswell responded "10 o'clock . . . tonight!"

One of the fascinating things about today's Gospel is the process by which the man born blind moves from beggar to believer. I think that process is one that applies to all of us, even today. At the start he is the lowliest of the low. The notion that sickness or tragedy was God's punishment for the sin of the person or his or her ancestors was a very real notion in Jesus' culture. Therefore, no righteous person would have anything to do with such a person for fear the sin would wear off on him or her.

In the beginning, the man born blind does not know who Jesus is. Unlike in other healing stories, he does not cry out for Jesus to help him, nor does Jesus ask him what he wants from Jesus. Jesus takes the initiative and cures him. When the man born blind is first challenged, he simply acknowledges the facts: "I was blind and now I see!" And when asked how he came to see he says, "The man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes and told me to wash them in the pool of Siloam." Then he continues to be tested, he reflects on what has happened to him, and is able to testify that Jesus is a prophet. After more badgering, he stands up to the authorities, which is more amazing than our culture of disrespect can ever understand, and states his faith in Jesus at the expense getting thrown out of the the synagogue. Finally, he recognizes Jesus as Lord, and worships him. When we reflect on this progression, especially in light of Jesus' condemnation of the Pharisee's attitude, I think there are three important points that can help us see things differently.
The first is to know that we are blind. Archbishop Fulton Sheen used to say that it used to be that only Catholics believed in the Immaculate Conception; now everyone believes they are immaculately conceived, completely sinless. I know Fr. John and Fr. Walter have spent some alone time in the confessionals these past Wednesdays. How can we explain the fact that most Catholics do not celebrate the sacrament of Reconciliation except by recognizing that most Catholics, like most people in our culture, do not think they have sinned. That is what made Pope Francis' self characterization as "a sinner" so news worthy. Since we all see how sinful everyone else is, we can only assume that we are blind to our own sins. And like Ben Hogan, we will lose our shirts for what we can't see.
The second point is that our faith must be built on a personal experience with Jesus Christ, rather than on a book, or a Church, or a set of beliefs. All of those are important but only as ways of understanding and knowing Jesus Christ more intimately. Very often the reality of that personal encounter with Christ is down and dirty - how would you like someone smearing dirt mixed with spit on your eyes? And we should never confuse personal with private. We are called to this personal encounter with Christ in community.
The last point is that our faith only grows by exposing it to the test. That is almost impossible to do in our culture of disbelief where religious talk is banned from the public forum. Where can you say what you believe, out loud, so you can find out what you really believe? And until you speak it, you might have belief but you will not have faith.

I pray we all learn in the deepest part of our being that we are blind and need the light that Jesus brings. I urge you to talk about your faith, with your family, with your friends, with acquaintances, with those Jehovah's Witnesses. Yes, you may be thrown out of some places that do not like that kind of talk. But we can all take heart that Jesus will always find us, as he found the man born blind, and he will give us the strength and the vision to acknowledge him as Lord and savior. In fact that is exactly what the New Evangelization is all about; seeking out those who have been thrown out of the synagogue and letting them encounter the Body of Christ.

"Open my eyes Lord. Help me to see like you..."

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