Quinquagesima Sunday - Spiritual Vision
By Rev. Thomas J. Gerrard
The miracles of our Lord had for their primary purpose the manifestation of His Divinity. But over and above that, they always carried with them some practical lesson. They each illustrated some particular aspect of redemption. Jesus came into the world to reveal the unseen God. But this was in order that men might know their Father in heaven and in order that they might participate in the work of their own salvation by a loving correspondence with the heavenly Father’s wishes. Hence, Jesus by His works manifested His office as Redeemer.
So is it with the miracle of restoring sight to the blind man of Jericho. First, the miracle was designed to show our Lord’s Divine power over nature. Before the people could properly correspond with His teaching a follow out His commands, they must first believe that He had supreme dominion over them and that He had a right to demand absolute obedience. But even miracles could not force intellectual assent to such truth. There must first be some willingness on the part of the people. Then when the prudence of believing was evident there must be some venture. And the felt need of help will always incline a man to venture in order to obtain it.
The blind man sat by the wayside begging. He had heard of the works which Jesus had done, and in his helplessness, he cried to the son of David to have mercy upon him. When the crowd would hold him back, he cried the more. Then Jesus drew near to him and asked what favor he wanted. He said: “Lord, that I may see.” Our Lord knew quite well that that was what he wanted and that that was what he would ask for. But then our Lord wished to make him an object-lesson to the bystanders. He wished to associate the act of believing with the act of see3ing. He therefore restored sight to the blind man, at the same time saying: “Thy faith hath saved thee.” The humility and persistence in believing in Jesus Christ and His word had led to a restoration of natural bodily vision.
Now it is something like that which takes place with regard to intellectual vision. The principle is enshrined in the formula of “faith seeking to understand” (fides quaerens intellectum). Life is such a complex process that no one can comprehend it. Nay, no man can comprehend the little flower in the crannied wall, else he would know what God and man is. Consequently, every man who thinks at all, must, from time to time, be beset with various problems concerning his destiny. In the natural order he will be as one stone-blind as to the meaning of the various situations. He will sit by the wayside and beg alms of any passerby. He will tell his troubles and difficulties to anyone who will listen to them. But he will never see his way out of them until he turns to the Son of David with something equivalent to that humble prayer: “Lord, that I may see.”
It is usually some great misfortune which first makes us realize the necessity of spiritual vision for the working out of life’s destiny. It may come as an unexpected bereavement. A parent on whom we have depended from childhood, a partner in our calling on whom we have looked as another self, a friend who has been our constant companion and confidant, with little or no warning is taken away from us. Everything has worked so easily hitherto that the change seems unreasonable.
Or again, quite a series of accidents may happen. This accentuates the feeling that one is suffering some great injustice or is the victim of the whim of some unseen power. It makes such an impression that the sufferer asks again and again: “What have I done that I should be singled out for so much punishment.” His worldly comforters assure him that he is no exception to the rule, for it is quite recognized that troubles never come singly.
Such comfort, however, is almost useless. A trouble, or series of troubles, isolates the sufferer if he only looks around him and not above him. There is just a grain of consolation in the thought that others may be bearing as much or indeed more than oneself. What is wanted is a vision of the relationship between the sufferings of others and one’s own sufferings. This is found in the revealed doctrine of the Father in heaven giving His son to suffer for the world, and accepting the suffering of the world in union with the sufferings of His Son.
The revelation, however, has been made to us in a dark manner. It is a dim light quite sufficient to guide us out of the difficulty, and quite sufficient to dispel all doubts concerning our ultimate destiny. Nay, the revelation has been purposely given in a dark manner in order to excite in us that spirit of venture, that determination to trust in God’s word against all seeming contradictions, that very mainspring of religious effort, the will to believe.
Hence it frequently happens that misfortune in the natural order lead us into difficulties of the supernatural order. But a thousand difficulties need never make one doubt. In the presence of some calamity the thoughts may crowd in upon the mind that there is no God, or that He is not good, or that Scripture is not to be credited. These are but tendencies of the natural man calling for the exercise of the powers of the supernatural man. The man possessed of the virtue of faith will, in this situation, excite acts of faith. “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.” Then when the act of faith has been secured, he may reverently seek to find some of God’s reasons. “Lord, that I may see.”
It is the part of the Christian apologist to be as ready as possible with all such reasons as are available. The ways of God are inscrutable in the sense that we can never fully comprehend them. But they are not inscrutable in the sense that we cannot sufficiently apprehend them for all the practical purposes of the spiritual life. We can always see, for instance, but whatever God does is the offspring of His most holy Will. If therefor, our misfortunes compel us to realize this truth that God’s Will is at the root of all things then there is a meaning and a purpose in them of eternal value. But in order to see this, we must open our eyes. The process is moral as well as intellectual. Nay, it is the very action of God upon our souls. Our part of the process is but a correspondence with his grace. The truth may e set forth by the preacher, but God alone can make it effective in the soul of the hearer. And that action of God is a grace which is given in answer to prayer. Jesus asks: “What willst thou?” The blind man answers: “Lord, that I may see.”
We must not, however, always wait for some misfortune to overtake us before we open our eyes. The whole of life is constant struggle with darkness. We were all born in the double darkness of sin and ignorance. We have therefore laid upon us the duty of cultivating our spiritual vision for the purpose of over-coming this double darkness.
With regard to the darkness of sin our efforts towards the light will be efforts towards a better understanding of God’s law. There are first principles which even the most uncultivated can understand. God must be done and evil avoided. Then come the primary dictates of the natural law. After the natural law comes the revealed word of God. Frequently cases of conscience will arise in which the individual finds it difficult to make a satisfactory judgment. Hence it is that God has committed His law to the keeping and to the interpretation of the Church. And just as in the State there are experts in the law, so also in the Church. The clergy are specially trained to explain the Divine law from the pulpit and to administer the Divine law in the confessional.
Here then is a wide field for the cultivation of spiritual vision. When I listen to the sermon at Mass on Sunday, so I listen in a carping and critical spirit? Or do I listen in the spirit of humility, as one who is anxious to learn something? The carping, critical spirit is just the thing to make spiritual vision dimmer. The listener ties himself down to his own limitations. Whereas if he begins by acknowledging his limitation, he may hope to get beyond them. If he will only make a humble ejaculation at the beginning of every sermon, “Lord, that I may see,” then invariably he will go away from church a wiser man.
Even more important is the spirit of docility necessary in the confessional. The penitent who thinks he is always misunderstood, the one who does not see the necessity of avoiding certain occasions, the one who has an over-wrought mind and hardly knows it, all need a clearer vision, a vision at least clear enough to see the advantage of expert advice. When-ever there is a tendency therefore to resent the pastoral advice given in Confession or even a tendency to pass it over as a formality, then the penitent may profitably place himself in the position of the blind man of Jericho and approach the Sacrament with the prayer, “Lord, that I may see.” If the mind has been darkened by sin it must be enlightened by the free gift of grace.
The exercise of spiritual vision may be extended to the ordinary affairs of life. Our daily business has a relationship to eternal life. Do we see that relationship? Do we make effort to try to see it? This habit of mind is cultivated by taking into consideration our eternal destiny whenever we are making some important choice. For instance, a youth is choosing a profession for himself. He will consider first perhaps what suits his natural likes and dislikes. He will consider secondly how far likely he is to make a living or a fortune at his profession. But if he is to have a clear vision for his judgment as to what is best for him ultimately, he will also give every consideration t the question as to how far the proposed profession will help or hinder his eternal salvation. “Lord, that I may see.” That ought to be one’s prayer before deciding whether to be a priest or a layer, whether to be a doctor or an actor, whether to be married or single, whether to go abroad or to stay at home.
All these efforts may be summed up on the one principle of arranging our actions with a view to our final end. The wise man is the one who has the widest and longest foresight. The wise general is he who can take in at a glance a great strategy and arrange means for carrying it out. A great statesman is one who can foresee the effect of various laws on the people and ordain only those which tend to the greatest happiness.
But each Christian is endowed with a great wisdom, the very great wisdom of being able to see, even though dimly, the final destiny to which he goes, and to recognize and avail himself of the means of attaining it. The more, however, he sees of this destiny, the more he wants to see. He is still a wayfarer. He must need to rest from time to time by the wayside, Jesus passing by asks him: “What willst thou?” He is still in the land of shadows, and men appear as trees walking. He longs and yearns for a face-to-face vision. He prays therefore in all humility: Lord, that I may see.”