The other day I was talking to a young man, in his early 30s, who is very driven and accomplished. He was a good student, doing very well in his career and aiming for his best in whatever he gets into.
In the course of our conversation, he made a very thought-provoking point: “I am afraid that, given my drive, always aiming for more, I will never be satisfied. Nothing will ever be good enough after a while.”
It made me stop and mull over what he said. No, I did not give an answer. I told him a story instead.
I told him that, at the end of the day these past few weeks, I find myself praying. The past few weeks have been marked by many challenges and stress, but there are blessings in those situations which I am grateful for.
I realize now, more than ever, that there is a grace that we can pray for that allows us to assume a basic stance in life—one filled with a sense of gratitude. It is this grace that allows us to give back.
The young man’s dilemma is representative of a fundamental human problem. God gave us so much—freedom, talent, opportunities—and at times, or quite often, we forget. We become victims of our own success. We become blinded.
Spiritual blindness and the light of faith are two themes in this Sunday’s Gospel and readings.
It is interesting to note that the man born blind is the one and only person in the Gospels whose affliction is from birth. We also note that in Scripture, illness is associated with sin.
The man born blind raises the question of what we normally refer to as original sin; he was born blind, thus, was he born with sin? It tells the reality of our concupiscence, an inherent orientation toward sin.
It is this concupiscence that comes into contact with other elements or temptations that leads us to spiritual blindness. We no longer see the graciousness of life and God in the ordinary, in the day to day; “nothing will ever be good enough” and it becomes a distorted desire for “more.”
Last Friday I was talking to some of the participants in a public service workshop before our first session. We were teasing one another about the need for more money, more gadgets, more resources, to do our work.
Then the teasing turned serious and we all agreed that the greater danger, more than the material things—the insidious element—is the ego that may not necessarily desire for what is outright bad or evil, but want “more” that leads to spiritual blindness.
As our novice master used to remind us, we often do good things with mixed motivations, sometimes with impure motivations. Along the way we grow. We are purified.
This is the process of the blind man. He slowly realizes who Christ is. When first asked who healed him, he simply refers to Christ as “he,” a man. Then, when asked by the Pharisees what he had to say about “him,” he responds, “He is a prophet.” Because of this, he was thrown out by the Pharisees.
Then he encounters Christ again. Christ asks, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” And the man answers, “Who is he sir that I may believe in him?”
“You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he,” Christ replies. And the man is transformed: “I do believe, Lord!” The man’s blindness is completely healed. But it is not simply the healing of the physical blindness. He has seen the light, Christ the Light, and his spiritual blindness, likewise, is no more.
This is now the greatest gift and blessing: recognizing Christ in our life, his presence in the day to day.
This is the most effective antidote against the ego. This is the source of light and faith; and it is the source of our gratitude and joy. It is, like the man born blind, an encounter with Christ.
Let me end with an excerpt from Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium, The Joy of the Gospel”:
“Thanks solely to this encounter—or renewed encounter—with God’s love, which blossoms into an enriching friendship, we are liberated from our narrowness and self-absorption. We become fully human when we become more than human, when we let God bring us beyond ourselves in order to attain the fullest truth of being.
Here we find the source and inspiration of all our efforts at evangelization. For if we have received the love which restores meaning to our lives, how can we fail to share that love with others?”