11 September 2015

The blind cannot lead the blind

23rd Week OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Notre Dame Seminary, NOLA

It's a week after the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington. I'm in my second year of theology, and I want revenge. My turn to preach vespers rolls around the weekend after the Towers fell. The lectionary requires me to preach on Luke's account of the Widower's Mite. I can't do it. Instead, I go to Zephaniah and read: “I will sweep away man and beast. . .I will make the wicked stumble; I will eliminate the people from the face of the land. . .[the nations will be] A field of weeds, a salt pit, a waste forever. . .[pouring] out upon them my wrath, all my blazing anger; For in the fire of my passion all the earth will be consumed. . .I have cut down nations. . .I have made their streets deserted. . .Their cities are devastated, with no one dwelling in them. . .” Smiling, I imagine the A-10 Warthog and the FA 18 Hornet strafing villages; Tomahawk and Stinger missiles laying waste to terrorist hideouts; and tanks and Humvees rolling over barbarian strongholds. To me, the wrath of God smelled like thermite and American gunpowder. But as I took comfort in my revenge fantasies. . .I remembered: I am a follower of Christ, a vowed religious. Is vengeance mine to dispense? Do I judge righteousness? What does the teacher say? What does he teach?

Jesus asks us, “Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit?. . .Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own?” No, Lord, the blind cannot guide the blind, and I notice my brother's blindness b/c it is easier to make myself the judge of righteousness than it is to submit myself to judgment. I judged my nation's enemies in 2001 and appointed myself their executioner. They attacked us. They murdered us. They destroyed families. They caused billions of dollars in damage and started two obscenely expensive wars. More lives lost. More families destroyed. More money wasted. And we here at home began to dismantle our free republic in the name of safety and security. Vengeance blinds. The self-righteous need to return hurt for hurt leaves everyone hurting and no one to do the healing. As an American, I needed a clear and aggressive response to foreign terrorism. I needed vengeance. But as a follower of Christ and a vowed religious, I needed ____________. What did I need? I cannot be greater than Christ my Teacher. But can I be like him? Can I say and do all that he teaches me to say and do? Can I forgive? Can I pray for the terrorists? Can I see my own splinters and remove them before looking for splinters in my enemies' eyes? The blind cannot guide the blind. And the sinful cannot lead the sinful to righteousness. I know this. 
Like Paul, I can confess: “I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and an arrogant man. . .” But I cannot say that “I have been mercifully treated because I acted out of ignorance in my unbelief.” I believed in 2001. I knew Christ in 2001. I was not ignorant in 2001. And I still wanted vengeance. I was mercifully treated despite my sin, despite my disordered passions. And I learned that academic degrees, religious vows, priestly ordination – none of these insulate us from the splinters we gather in the world. None of these compel us to dig these splinters out. What – rather, who – will prompt us to examine our judgments carefully; to consciously, actively search for the splinters that blind us? Christ. And only Christ. “The grace of our Lord has been abundant, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” 
We cannot lead others to places we've never been. We cannot guide others to righteousness if we ourselves dwell in anger, greed, envy, lust, or pride. We cannot lead from power, from compulsion, from manipulation or fear. If we will lead others to Christ, we must be like Christ, like our Teacher. We must lead with abundant mercy, faith, and love. When the Towers fell on September 11, 2001, a splinter found its way into my eye. I drove it deeper and nurtured a need for revenge. But Christ – in his mercy – removed that splinter. Now, I want to be like my Teacher. Lord, save the sight of your servant.


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  1. Too bad that St Pius V was not as holy as you and decided to avenge Christendom at the Battle of Lepanto. I despair of modern Christians, even the most conservative of whom seem to be infected with the suicidal blindness of liberalism and dhimmitude.

    1. Andro, these are my thoughts about my own spiritual weaknesses, etc. Never do I make any connection to the responsibilities of the civil authorities.