Years ago I heard a story told by a religious sister who recalled a trip to Italy many years previous, when life in her community was semi-cloistered. She was in Rome prior to her final vows and the day came when they were to attend Mass at St. Peter’s. Because of the thinking in those days, religious sisters were not allowed to look up or meet the gaze of others when out in public due to a custom referred to as ‘custody of the eyes.’ The point of this habit - (pun definitely intended) - was to combat temptation and also to have a demeanor of humility. For this sister, the result of maintaining custody of the eyes is that she never really saw the magnificent basilica at all. However, she could tell us in great detail what the pattern of the floor tiles looked like! At the time, I remember laughing because she intended the story to be humorous. But in retrospect, it is tragic because she was in one of the most beautiful churches in the world, the seat of her Catholic faith, and she never saw a thing… except the floor. Having been to St. Peter’s I can assure you that the tiles on the floor are indeed quite nice, but there is great splendor in the architecture, the stained glass, the mosaics, the statues, (not the least of which is Michelangelo’s Pietà), the famous Bernini columns, and the tomb of St. Peter. To have gone all that way and to have seen none of that is indeed heartbreaking.
In the passage about the curing of the blind man the Pharisees had chosen custody of the eyes of their heart. They not only refused to see the miracle in the man’s healing, but they refused to see who Jesus was, and in doing so they also dismissed what Jesus could teach them. Their pride was so puffed up that persisting in their blindness, they rationalized their position by saying Jesus was dangerous, rather than seeing the truth before them. Worst of all, they continued to teach others that their blindness was really sight. Hearts cannot see without love and mercy, and since they lacked these things, they were truly blind!
St. Joseph is the perfect guide for us, too. He is our (foster) father in a way similar to the way Mary is our mother, though I suspect we rarely think of him that way. He was as humble in life as he has been after death, pointing us to Jesus rather than to himself. In fact, in light of the gospel of the blind man and the Pharisees, St. Joseph seemed to have had the most important understanding for one who is a truly great teacher: to never stop learning, and to recognize that a good teacher is not one who simply imparts knowledge to his students but rather is always open to learning from his students, too. The Pharisees biggest flaw, it seems, was to think that they had ‘arrived’ at being wise, rather than to see themselves as guides who were still in need of being taught by God. They felt as though they alone knew the Law and needed no further instruction, hence rendering themselves blind. St. Joseph, on the other hand, taught Jesus in word and in deed, but also was open to learning from his Son. He recognized that he was in the presence of God and never allowed himself to be greater than Jesus. He learned to see with his eyes and with his heart, just as Jesus taught him to do.
Let us ask St. Joseph to guide us as he guided Jesus so that we may grow out of our areas of spiritual blindness and all that holds us bound to sin rather than that which moves us to freedom. This is what we seek during Lent: to have the eyes of our hearts healed once again so that we may see how greatly we are loved, to recognize the gifts we have been given so that we might use them as God intends, and to see the beauty in the hearts of others, loving them as we ought. We can ask St. Joseph, the foster father of Jesus, to lead us to his Son for the healing which we seek and for his intercession so that we may have the courage we need to follow Jesus as a disciple, renewed by our Lenten practices.
©Michele L. Catanese
The first image is a painting called The Healing of a Blind Man by Duccio di Buoninsegna (ca. 1255-1319). You can find information on it at http://www.artbible.info/art/large/795.html.
The photos are mine. The first was taken inside St. Peter's in Rome. It shows the top of the baldacchino which is held aloft by the famous twisting columns sculpted by Bernini over the main altar. For more information go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Peter%27s_Baldachin
The final photo is one of mine from many years ago. It shows a path in the woods behind the Cenacle Retreat Center in Long Island, NY. I chose this photo as a symbol of being led to God by St. Joseph since there is a little shrine at the end of the path where one could go to pray.
The two icons were written by Fr. William Hart McNichols. The first is one of my favorites, called San Jose Sombra del Padre. It can be found at http://www.fatherbill.org/all-categories/product/120-san-jose-sombra-del-padre.
The second is called San Jose en el Rio Grande' and it can be found at http://www.fatherbill.org/all-categories/product/312-san-jose-en-el-rio-grande.
If you are interested in any of these images please go to the links I have provided and you can see how to purchase copies there. You can also find his work at Fine Art America at http://fineartamerica.com/profiles/william-hart-mcnichols.html?tab=artwork
Please remember that the icons seen here are used with permission. This is what it says on Fr. Bill's page: All of Fr. Bill’s icons and images are copyright property belonging solely to him. Printing them without his permission is a violation of U.S. Copyright law. We regularly grant permission to use the icons but wish to have information about where and how they are used. Digital transfer fees and publication fees are required for most books, websites and publications that are for profit. Please send an inquiry to: firstname.lastname@example.org