St Albert the Great
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Ss Domenico e Sisto, Roma
As students and professors learning and teaching in a Catholic university, the idea that we must believe in order to understand is not all that controversial. Understanding is not limited to the accumulation, dissection, and explanation of facts about the material world. Central to the humane project of reasoning about the world is our right and duty to make ethical judgments and good moral choices. We cannot call ourselves human beings (much less Christians) if we begin our investigations of the world with the idea that all we need to do is observe, collect, and explain in purely empirical terms. How do you chronicle the genocides of Rwanda w/o reaching a moral judgment? How do you explain the holocaust of legalized abortion w/o challenging the ethics of medical science? “Seeing” for Christians cannot be a cold, clinical exercise in objective observation. Because we first believe, we understand. We first believe that we are loved creatures of a loving God, then we understand what it means to slaughter innocents, to experiment on the physically disabled and mentally challenged, to subject others to state persecution, torture, and exile b/c of their race, religion, or ethnicity. Our belief is not a political ideology nor is it a philosophical position. Our belief is the same belief embodied in the blind man who cries out to the Lord, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me. . .please let me see!” Our hope comes in Christ's answer to the man, “Have sight; your faith has saved you.”
We need to pay attention to the ordering of events in this gospel story. The blind man hears that Jesus is coming. He cries out. The man is brought to Jesus. Jesus asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” Believing that Jesus can heal his blindness, the man pleads for pity from one whom he trusts will show him the compassion necessary to open his eyes, so pleads to see. Jesus tells him 1) “have sight,” then 2) “your faith has saved you.” Faith comes first, then sight. Had the blind man wanted to wait until his sight was restored before he believed, he would still be blind. But b/c he first believed, his world is illuminated by faith and now he “sees as” a follower of Christ.
As students and professors learning and teaching at a Catholic university, we follow along behind the great Christian minds of our tradition. We “see as” followers of Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas who were themselves followers of Christ, and by submitting to the truths of the faith and right reason, we mold not only our intellects but our hearts as well into Christ-shaped instruments for doing the work of divine love in the world. Therefore, our most profound prayer is the plea of a blind man, “Lord, please let me see!”
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