The alternate gospel reading for this Sunday is about a blind man who is healed by Jesus. (John 9) There is more going on in the passage than first meets the eye. What we realize upon reflection is that the real issue is spiritual blindness and not merely the physical healing of the man. Just as the blind man had to go and wash in the pool in order to see, it seems that to have sight we have to do more than simply desire it. We must put in the effort to receive the freedom which comes with it. It is one thing to see with one’s eyes, but it is quite another to see with one’s heart. Jesus wanted to ensure that the people who were witnessing this scene would understand that to be a person of faith means that we allow God to heal that which blinds us. We need to see the reality of who we are and what we are called to do. He also wants us to be healed of our inability to receive His great love, a lack which stems from the fallacies we have believed and the accumulated grime which comes from sin, rendering us blind to one degree or another. Jesus wants us to see with our heart so that we are filled with the same mercy and love with which He is filled and with which He loves us.
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.
The point in telling that story is to emphasize that we need to open our eyes and see. To travel around as if we are practicing custody of the eyes, missing the beauty of that which is around us, would be to miss so very much. The virtue of humility and trying to avoid temptations are good habits to foster, but to get caught up so intensely in these practices, becoming so scrupulous that we lose the ability to see, is simply not wise at all. It is to choose to put on blinders instead of facing the reality of the world, both in its brokenness and in its beauty. And it is to lose sight of Jesus and the call He has given us as His friends and disciples. We cannot serve if we cannot see that which needs healing and love. And if we cannot see, we will miss the presence of Jesus, also.
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!
It is no coincidence that this week we celebrate a saint who saw with the eyes of his heart, one who can teach us much if we turn to him. On March 19 we celebrate the feast of St. Joseph, the foster father of Jesus. Though we know very little about him from the gospels, we can learn volumes about him because St. Joseph was the model of manhood for Jesus as He grew up. Along with Mary, he was the first teacher Jesus had in their Jewish faith. He also taught the art of woodworking and the path of mercy and love. While Jesus is fully God, He is also fully human; though Jesus is one with God the Father and is therefore imbued with all that which is God, He also had to learn how to live as a man in first century Palestine. Growing into manhood is what St. Joseph taught Jesus, and the lessons were ingrained forever within Him.
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.
St. Joseph can be our guide to spiritual sight also. We can allow his humility to guide us through life, recognizing that others are children of God just as we are, so that we never put ourselves ahead of them. We can learn to be the opposite of the Pharisees, recognizing that we always need to learn and never ‘arrive’ fully until we are in the next life when all is revealed to us. St. Joseph kept Jesus from getting ahead of Himself. That is, he kept Jesus grounded as a boy and as a teenager growing into manhood, teaching Him how to be responsible, how to toil at a trade, and how to live as a man of faith according to the Law with mercy and love. He modeled how a man is a good husband to his wife and a good father to his children. All this was to prepare Jesus for His future ministry, something Joseph would never live to see.
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.
May we learn from St. Joseph how to see with the eyes of our heart so that we may serve those around us in humility and love! May we be open to learning from those with whom we share daily life! May we learn to keep our eyes open to the beauty of the world around us, but also to those who are wounded and need love in whatever form that entails! May we have the desire and the courage to ask for our own hearts to be cleansed so that we may have renewed spiritual sight! And may we see as Jesus sees with a heart tempered with compassion, mercy, and love! Let us continue to meet in the heart of Jesus! Peace!
©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
Heart Speaks to Heart