To See Distinctly
Not too long ago I had an experience that gave me some insight into a particular gospel passage. It came in the form of a laser procedure to remove some cloudy buildup in one of my eyes which had accumulated a few years after cataract surgery. To do this painless procedure the ophthalmologist had to dilate my eye, so although he said I would see more clearly about ten minutes after it was done, the dilation prevented true clarity. My sight was better than it had been, but the vision in the eye was still not as clear as is normal. Thankfully, once the dilation wore off, what had been incredibly cloudy was now completely healed. This experience reminded me of the gospel passage in which Jesus healed a blind man in Bethsaida. After Jesus put His spittle on the man’s eyes, the man said he could see, but indistinctly; he said that people looked like trees that were walking. Jesus laid His hands on him, praying a second time: “his sight was restored and he could see everything distinctly.” (Mark 8:22-26). It may seem odd that the man was not completely healed the first time, but rather it suggests that there was something deeper going on. Jesus fully intended to heal the man, but often growing in wholeness takes time and commitment. A process is much more impactful and revealing then something instantaneous in which we could conceivably learn nothing. Therefore, as we enter into Lent, let us be intentional about trusting in the 40 day process in which our eyes are gradually opened so we see more clearly, make progress in areas that are sinful or weak, and grow in our appreciation and love of the Lord.
The Ash Wednesday liturgy was filled with imagery about things that render our vision unclear, emphasizing the effects of sin upon us.* Interestingly, even the act of receiving the ashes can have the effect of clouding our eyes: sometimes the ashes flake a little, becoming a bit uncomfortable and even somewhat annoying. But that is the point: recognition of our sinfulness should be uncomfortable and annoying. The ashes are a reminder that our vision is filled with the soot of our brokenness, clouding what we see. It is important to note that even after the ashes have been washed off, their presence remains in our hearts; the now invisible ashes serve as a reminder of the areas beneath the surface that are in need of purification and healing. The ash residue in our hearts calls us to name the areas of spiritual blindness we have, (sin and sinful attitudes), which cloud our vision so that we lose sight of who we are called to be and whose we are as beloved children of God. In turn, our penitence and sacrifice allows the Lord to enter into our hearts anew to heal us.
Lent provides the opportunity to recognize the sinfulness that clouds our vision both individually and as a community: the Lenten journey is a call to the entire Church. Therefore, we are encouraged to increase almsgiving and works of mercy so we might look beyond ourselves to benefit the community in need, to minister to the Suffering Jesus in His people. Together at a liturgy, especially during the rite in which we received the ashes, we were called to the profound recognition that we make the journey and proceed in the process of Lent as a people. We are called to pray and sacrifice not only for ourselves and our own personal clarity, but also for the church and the world. The world has numerous areas of blindness which it has allowed to pass as sight; more frightening than anything else is when blindness is seen as vision, and sin is seen as virtue. Thus, we need to pray and work toward clarity both for ourselves and for our society in the face of accepted blindness.
Jesus often confronted the Pharisees for that very reason. They were good men, but they had become blinded by their own hubris. We are basically good people, too, but if we want to avoid that kind of insidious pride and instead grow in awareness and wholeness, we must first accept that we are like that blind man of Bethsaida, that we need Jesus for healing to obtain greater clarity in our minds and hearts. It requires prayer, reading and reflecting upon the Scriptures, penance, and almsgiving (sacrifice and works of mercy). It is also good to be aware that if we are to stand against the sinful areas in our culture, we will need much fasting and prayer to persevere in faith and in living as true disciples of Christ. And remember, while Lent encourages fasting and abstinence, there are many important ways to fast besides omitting meals: “This rather is the fasting I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; setting free the oppressed,… sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless, clothing the naked when you see them and not turning your back on your own.” (Isaiah 58:6-7)**
Fasting, abstinence, prayer, and almsgiving help us to gain the clarity we need to grow in love individually and also to be an instrument of healing for the wider community. God has always desired our hearts to be filled with mercy and love; hearts filled with mercy and love are hearts attuned to the Heart of the Savior, Jesus Christ. And hearts attuned to the Savior are close to Heaven, where, as St. Paul says, we will see distinctly. (Paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 13:12-13)
May we desire to see the way of God more clearly! May we accept the process of Lent, giving the time and commitment required for our growth! And when the process does not seem to make sense, may we trust in Jesus for complete healing! Let us meet in the heart of Jesus! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
* The first reading at the liturgy, Joel 2:12-18, and the receiving of the ashes are examples of the imagery that shows the effect of sin. Of course, it is also our need for penitence.
** What God spoke through Isaiah is much the same as what Jesus taught in Matthew 25. Jesus said these actions are essential to our spiritual life. We now refer to them as the Corporal Works of Mercy.
1. Painting, Healing of a Blind Man, by Duccio di Buoninsegna (1308-11).
2. Painting, Composition, by Mark Rothko (1959).
3. My photo of people gathered at Mass, a community coming together for worship.
4. Painting, Works of Mercy, unknown.
5. Image, Heart of the Mother, by Fr. William Hart McNichols. You can find this at https://fineartamerica.com/featured/heart-of-the-mother-252-william-hart-mcnichols.html
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