Lenten Reflection from His Holiness: Fourth Sunday

Please forgive me for being a couple of days late for this reflection. Nonetheless, the Gospel for this past Sunday–the fourth Sunday of Lent–was beautiful. Let us begin with what the words of the Holy Father:

The Sunday of the man born blind presents Christ as the light of the world. The Gospel confronts each one of us with the question: “Do you believe in the Son of man?” “Lord, I believe!” (Jn 9: 35. 38), the man born blind joyfully exclaims, giving voice to all believers. The miracle of this healing is a sign that Christ wants not only to give us sight, but also open our interior vision, so that our faith may become ever deeper and we may recognize him as our only Savior. He illuminates all that is dark in life and leads men and women to live as “children of the light”.

It seems to me that this Gospel reading, the story of Jesus and the blind man, is about freedom–though certainly not limited to that. “He illuminates all that is dark in life and leads men and women to live as ‘children of the light'”. Darkness inhibits life. The inability to interact with reality and to be a receptor of the created order fundamentally separates one from an abundant life. Enter Christ.

In Christ, the vision of God is granted to man–He is the visible image of the invisible God, writes St. Paul. The foundation of reality, Light, becomes incarnate, and in that Incarnation becomes, too, a human passage into the Divine being. Christ is the Savior because He establishes peace and relationship between man and God: He holds all things together, recapitulates creation, brings her to the Creator & Lover, the Father. And in this Filial embrace, the human person wakes up. Her eyes open, and suddenly the entire universe becomes a vestige of the living God. Such a person, therefore, sees reality. Without that internal gaze into the Divinity, reality is limited to the physical senses of the subject. But with an opening of the heart to the infinite one, totally incarnate in Jesus Christ, the subject becomes intimately involved with otherness, and so the absolutized world of the subject actually becomes a universe of otherness, through which there is immense potentiality for knowledge, relationship, and growth. Then in that life that is fundamentally relationship, the humanity of the human becomes more and more transparent to the divinity of God. Grace is simply bountiful. That is the abundant life. Or at least so it seems. What is important is ontological transformation, a Theocentric ego, and true sight that is internal and divinely inspired. I propose that this is freedom because the self is no longer constricted in her cocoon, but becomes a self ontologically involved in God’s life that is infinite.

Another significant aspect of this Gospel is the topic of belief. Pope Benedict XVI has long been interested in this topic. It plays a significant role in many of his writings. For Benedict XVI, it appears that faith and belief are intertwined with what is hitherto stated: “faith is located in the act of conversion, in the turn of one’s being from worship of the visible and practicable to trust in the invisible…it signifies an all-encompassing movement of human existence” [1]. “Belief is wedded to ontology” [2], and because ontology comes from creative thought that is free, belief–which is the anthro-orientation toward Theos–links ontology with divine freedom, the primordial source of human existence. An existential attitude informed by the Spirit of the Lord inspires the man who is free. And in that sense, I think that belief signifies an “all-encompassing movement of human existence”, for in that free state, the Spirit becomes almost like a principle of gravitation such that the human self enters into a divine passover into God: a movement, not of the autonomous “I”, but rather with a sacred “Thou”, of love toward creation and upwards into God–the Father of Lights (Jm 1:17).

[M]an comes to himself by moving out beyond himself. Jesus Christ, though, is the one who has moved right out beyond himself, and thus, the man who has truly come to himself… It is openness to the whole, to the infinite, that makes man complete. Man is man by reaching out infinitely beyond himself, and he is consequently more of a man the less enclosed he is in himself, the less “limited” he is. [3]

Consequently and accordingly, all of this articulates a theology of humility. In Christ, God manifests that humility is not just significant, but, I suggest, innate or elemental to the expression and being of Himself. He reveals who He is, and in His supreme revelation of the Son, He exemplifies the superiority of humility–perhaps the greatest paradox of the Christian faith, namely, that the fullness of life is in the renunciation of it, that the self is discovered not within the self but in an exodus of the self toward God and creation, that human identity is not magnified in greatness but in littleness, and that the Most High is infinitely in love with lowly creatures. In Christ, Ratzinger describes that “God has entered forever into coexistence with us… [He] is now flesh of our flesh, bone of our bone. God is one of us… God has become one of us and so he has become the truly nameable, standing in coexistence with us” [4].

Thus, the very foundation of the Christian story, which is Love, has an even deeper foundation, and that is humility: “[T]hough he was in the form of God, [he] did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:6-8, emphasis mine). Certainly the absolute primacy of love is never to be overlooked. My suggestion is simply that the denial of the self requires humility, that is, it requires one to identify himself not in his cocoon of self-existence or self-subsistence or self-construction, but rather that his identity and indeed the fullness of life itself exists fundamentally in the order of otherness. And woe to me if I dare renounce myself for the sake of the ego; only with humility, through which the Lord operates in and through us, may I become gift to–and so love–others.

And with this principle of humility, that principle which puts others before the self all for the favor of God and His glory, I want to briefly return to the Gospel of the Fourth Sunday of Lent:

“While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva, and smeared the clay on his eyes, and said to him, “Go wash in the Pool of Siloam” —which means Sent. So he went and washed, and came back able to see. (Jn 9:5-7)

Without moving into deep theological and exegetical reflection, of which I am certainly incapable, I want to simply draw attention to one last point. The blind man can represent each human being, and therefore each one of us exists to manifest the works of the Lord. What is beautiful about this passage is that the Lord uses the earth to anoint the man, and with it makes clay. He takes us back to Genesis. Just as the “earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss” in Genesis (1:2), so man became such and God again sent the light–in Person, in fullness as Incarnate–to establish order and peace and goodness. So, Christ leads those to whom respond to Him into humility, that is, into the ground of the earth, the primeval clay that He made us with, and in that humble descent, He sends us to cleanse ourselves in waters–the Baptismal experience–so that we may see the Light, adore the Light, and with Him, under the inspiration of the Spirit: be it to the world for the glorification of the Father.

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1. Ratzinger, Introduction to Christianity (San Francisco: Ignatius, 2004), 88. NB: This book was originally written in 1968.

2. Ibid.,119

3. Ibid., 235

4. Ibid., 133, 135

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