16 February 2011

What if I don't want to see the Light?

6th Week OT (W)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Joseph Church, Ponchatula

The early Fathers of the Church were deeply influenced by a philosophical system called neo-Platonism. Basically, this system is a revised version of Plato's views on reality and how we come to understand that reality. Compared to today's highly technical, nearly mathematical philosophies, neo-Platonism might be better described as literature, that is, a literary or imaginative way of getting at what's really real and how we know it. One of the key doctrines of neo-Platonism is that humans are enlightened by the divine, the darkness of our ignorance is illuminated by divine light. In the capable hands of our Church Fathers, “illumination of ignorance” becomes a metaphor for “salvation by Christ's light.” When Jesus heals the blindness of some poor soul, he is not only curing them of a physical deficiency, he's bringing them toward salvation as well. Given all of this, why does it take Jesus two times to heal the blind man in today's gospel? Why didn't he get it right the first time? Like the healing of a physical injury, the healing of the injury to our relationship with God is not always a “one and done” deal. Coming back to God takes some work on our part.

Catholics recognize that “getting right with Jesus” is not simply a matter of “accepting Jesus into your heart as your personal lord and savior.” Salvation is not a switch with an on and off position. Nor is salvation like pregnancy: either you are or you aren't. A well-worn metaphor for salvation is the Difficult Path, a long, treacherous road that leads from the valley to the mountaintop. Starting the hike to the top is not the same as being at the top. Another good metaphor is the Party Invitation. God sends out invitations to His heavenly banquet, inviting everyone to party with Him forever. Some accept and arrive on-time. Others accept but never get there. Others toss the invitation and still others reject it outright. What's common to all these metaphors is the idea that we are free to come to God or not. We can start the hike, continue on, and arrive safely—with God's help. Or we can stay in the valley or head back down the mountain if we want. Same goes for the invitation. We are invited to attend the party; we are not compelled. Salvation like healing can be a long, painful process b/c the work—the day to day labor—of being healed, of being saved is our work, how we choose to follow the orders of the Divine Physician.

The blind man is probably not healed the first time b/c he didn't receive Jesus' healing for what it is: a gift. All sorts of perfectly reasonable objections to being healed probably popped up in the man's mind. If I am healed, I won't be able to beg in order to make a living. I'm used to being blind; it's who I am. Do I really want to see the world such as it is? As sinners, we make many of the same sorts of objections to being saved. I really like my favorite sins; I don't want to give them up. I'll be ridiculed at work if anyone finds out that I'm a Christian. Being charitable, hopeful, faithful is difficult. God demands way too much! And so, salvation comes slowly. The light of Christ creeps in, around the edges, and it slowly dawns on us that living in God's love is the only way to live. Once we realize that God's love shines constantly, that the light of His mercy never sets, and we stop testing the limits of our hope in Christ, we open the door to our heart and receive His light. Opening that door is our work, the day to day labor of allowing Christ to illuminate every dark corner, every dark crevice of our broken and bleeding lives. The greatest sacrifice we can make to God is the sacrifice of our repentant hearts. That's the key that opens every locked door, the switch that turns on all the lights.

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