Consecrated to the Heart of the Redeemer under the patronage of the Theotokos and Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.

29 March 2014

Signs of Life

I was a precocious lad. As a tween and a teen I used to read all kinds of stuff that wouldn’t be expected of kids my age; fortunately a substantial quantity of it was religious. I got hold of pre-Vatican II missals and prayer books, which contained prayers such as this one from Saint Augustine: Domine, noverim me, noverim te, nec aliquid cupiam nisi te. “Lord, may I know myself, may I know you, and desire nothing else but you.” Early on it struck a chord with me: aside from the endeavor of knowing God and knowing oneself in God, what else is there, really? 

Well, you may retort, there’s everything: shelter, health, education, employment, relationships, and all the rest. Scriptural snippets are fine and dandy, but did you ever wonder about the backstory and the follow-up of the people in these Gospel scenes? Like us, they had a life, with all that entails; but we scarcely hear of it. We hear their encounter with Jesus, which the evangelist presents in a neat, stylized manner, arguably more appropriate for television or novels than the “real world.” I wonder whether this apparent disparity between biblical stories and people's experience may account for some people’s crises in faith. If so, it certainly prompts them to look deeper.

Even though the Fourth Gospel recounted only seven of Jesus’ miracles (or, as he called them, “signs”), most of them are unique to John, and have a bit more meat to them than the other Gospels’ miracles. Recall last week's labyrinthine discussion between Jesus and the Samaritan woman, which covered everything from the woman's sinful lifestyle to questions of liturgical ritual. Today’s reading resembles a drama with the interaction between the characters, as well as the nuanced, compassionate view of the Pharisees that differs from the Synoptic Gospels. 

By luring us into the stories, Saint John invites us to see ourselves in them, and to offer a response of either belief or unbelief in Jesus. Now that response doesn’t often come instantly, but rather develops through struggles and questions. It’s rarely cut-and-dried. The blind man himself moves from calling Jesus “a prophet” to calling Him “Lord,” a process that involves arguments and persecution.

In fact, we may come to see the entire history of the Church, and our own history as well, as what persons in recovery call a "spiritual awakening": the mysterious process of coming to see and believe in the Lord Jesus who alone can heal the blindness of our hearts, if we but open them to Him. Jesus does not expect us to do this without any fear, just without any deceit. Thus does Saint Paul encourage the Ephesians to “live as children of light,” trying to “learn what is pleasing to the Lord.” He further directs the listener to “expose…the fruitless works of darkness,” the heart’s movements of pride, anger, lust, greed, gluttony, sloth, and envy that account for our spiritual blindness. As we bring these things, as we bring our very selves, to the Lord’s healing Light, we can begin to recognize our true selves, as Samuel recognized David, as God’s beloved and anointed one.

Ego sum lux mundi; ego habeo lucem parvam

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