Amazing Grace in a Time of Crisis
I Was Blind But Now I See
[Singing] “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found; was blind, but now I see.”
There’s something about that song... It is the rare Christian who cannot identify with it. We are attracted to more than a nice melody. The words also find a resonance in each of our hearts.
Did you ever notice that the words come right out of today’s Gospel! The Gospel is about a blind person who comes to clear vision and seeing persons who turn out to be blind. This is what the formerly blind man says to the Pharisees, “I know this much: I was blind before; now I can see.” What is obvious to the formerly blind man is unseen by those who are supposed to recognize the truth revealed by God, the religious leaders of that time. Jesus clarifies for his listeners that it is not the blind who are sinners, but those who refuse to see.
It really marks a wonderful miracle of God --an “Amazing Grace”, if you will.
Here is a man blind from birth—a man who has been reduced to begging to get by. No doubt he had long ago lost hope that he would ever see. He did, however, have an advantage over the other group that suffered from blindness. He knew he was missing something! The Pharisees did not.... They didn’t understand that to have a relationship with God we will always have to be willing to face the hard truth about ourselves, to let go of what may be comfortable, to be changed.
Is it possible that God will be using this previously unimaginable situation that we are now passing through with this deadly virus in order to bring a new vision to us? In one of God’s great paradoxes the blindness that the man in the Gospel had experienced all his life became for him the path to new vision and new life in Christ. Had he not been blind he would not have been so ready to see.
I remember a youth retreat program that I took part in as a young priest. One of the highlights of the weekend was when we placed blindfolds upon the retreatants. At first, watching them carefully, we invited them to find their way around the room. Filled with the pride of youth they set out with a confidence that soon proved unfounded. They were totally disoriented. We had to save them from walking into walls and other obstacles. Then we asked someone, without speaking, to assist them. In a short time they came to trust the one who was guiding them and they began to even maneuver steps with relative ease. As we reflected with them after the experience we hoped they would come to understand that in this human condition there is some blindness in all of us. We need others! We need God!
How will our vision be changed by this experience of the pandemic? Will the recognition of our human frailty lead us to put our confidence less in human beings and more in the One who does not change or have an end? Will the fear we are experiencing lead us to a greater trust in the One who alone can calm our anxiety and console us? Will our sense of isolation lead us to set time aside so that we can connect more deeply with the God who is always with us? Will we come to understand more fully our interdependence upon one another?
The truth is that things could go either way. This experience could make us more like the blind man that received his sight or more like the Pharisees who simply used the encounter with the work of God to reinforce their blindness.
Let us pray that God will use this difficult and challenging time as only God can—to bring good out of evil. Be confident that Jesus, who heals our blindness, will be at work among us now more than ever. Trust that God will work through us who have sought to have our sight restored even more powerfully.
God chooses those like us who are weak because the weak are most likely to be able to recognize that without God’s help….they are blind.
The Joyful Season of Lent
Well here we are again in the midst of these 40 days of penance and prayer, sacrifice and fasting, giving up and almsgiving! We began on Ash Wednesday with the ashes that were placed on our foreheads signifying our repentance and the awareness that we are dust and to dust we will return.
By this time you may be wondering, as I often do, when it will be over. When will Holy Week run its course replacing the difficulty and drudgery of Lent with the alleluias of Easter?
If this is the way we are feeling about Lent we need to perform a Lenten makeover! Does Lent rightly include the elements of sacrifice and self-giving I alluded to earlier? Absolutely! But there is a surprise lurking underneath the ashes of this holy time. It is 40 days of amazing grace, 40 days of new vision and new self-understanding, 40 days of newly claimed power over the sins and the inertia that often dominate our lives! Lent invites us to enter into a new focus on that which truly matters and God's action in our lives. Lent reveals how God can transform us and make us clearer signs of His presence in the world.
Lent is like a spiritual powerhouse of diet and exercise that, over the course of 40 days, can put us in peak form set in place patterns that, God-willing, can free us and place us on a trajectory into the Kingdom of God.
The first Preface of the Mass for Lent says it better than I ever could:
"For by your gracious gift each year
your faithful await the sacred paschal feasts
with the joy of minds made pure,
so that, more eagerly intent on prayer
and on the works of charity,
and participating in the mysteries
by which they have been reborn,
they may be led to the fullness of grace
that you bestow on your sons and daughters."
Did you notice any reference to sorrow and sadness? With such great potential for blessing in our lives Lent should not be seen as a time of woe. Quite the contrary!
Let's get after it! Joy awaits!
Most Rev. Mark J. Seitz