I was blind and now I see. Or Both.

I wrote this as a talk I was supposed to give to a group of men in my parish, a meditation of John Chapter 9, “I was blind and now I see.” I figure since I took the trouble to write it up, I’d post it here, especially since it is a message I need to hear fairly frequently:

As is usual when I am supposed do something like this, I prayed over this theme in Adoration.

God chose to start off by showing me the various ways I am Blind:
· Distraction: Focused on something else (ADD child)
· Overload: “Snow Blindness” Too much going on to focus (overwhelmed – unable to pick which voice to listen to)
· Agenda: Confirmation Bias. We see things as we are, not as they are.
· Persona: Masks, Reputation. Wanting to project a persona distorts the way we interact with the world.(wanting to be intellectual or sophisticated blinds me to the wisdom of simple faith)
· Truth itself – Being “Right” can be an insidious source of Blindness. Have a new hammer and everything looks like a nail…

“Seeing” can be a source of blindness.

Jesus said to the Pharisees: “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin, but now because you claim that you can see, your guilt remains.”

Beware of being right. Usually I find that if I am assured of how right I am about something, it is almost certain I am blind to something important that I am missing. Even if it is compassion and mercy for those who are “wrong.”

I was impressed by the lyrics from Steve’s theme song he wrote for us, something like “If I don’t see you then take my sight away.” Wow. That is some wisdom – if it is not Christ we see then it’s better to be blind than be “right.” Sight can only be restored, as with the young man in our reading, via an encounter with the living Christ. That’s why it’s so important to pray. Without prayer I am, we are, all blind.

I was inspired by the discussion from last week, how “blindness” and “sight” is not an either/or proposition. How we can be both blind and see at one time. How “sight” comes in varying degrees, in different ways. We all have our clear and blind spots. That’s the wisdom form this group.

That to me is some deep wisdom. Two apparent opposites held at the same time in harmony and tension.

Jesus was big on giving us such paradoxes to live with. He was always challenging us to hold two seeming opposites in harmony and tension:

Death/Life (paschal mystery)

And, in John chapter 9, Sight and blindness. At the same time. In harmony and tension.

I want to say two 50 cent words to you and then I want you to immediately forget them. It is the idea behind them that is important:

Kataphatic and Apophatic

Our Catholic faith has a Kataphatic and an Apophatic tradition. The Kataphatic tradition concerns itself with statements of positive belief. It’s where our Church’s Creeds and Catechism come from. It is the source of Doctrine and Dogma and all Church teaching. Insofar as our faith is “right” about God, that comes from the kataphatic tradition.

The apophatic tradition comes from recognizing the overwhelming incomprehensibility of God. It focuses on what we do not know and cannot know about what God does and who He is. It’s closely aligned with the mystical tradition in the Church. When Jesus told us to be like the little children, when he praised the meek and the poor in spirit, he was coming from the apophatic side of things. Insofar as our Church is humble about the “rightness” of its teaching, that comes from the apophatic tradition.

Okay, you can forget the words now. What’s important is that we hold these two ideas as important, at the same time, in harmony and tension. Be blind and see at the same time.

To have one without the other is dangerous. But we like to flirt with danger by having preferences for one or the other.

Some people prefer the kataphatic tradition, Shorthand for them might be “conservative” Catholics. Stereotypically, they embrace all things dogmatic and are quick to proclaim and defend the teachings of the Church. They attend “Fullness of Truth” conferences, go to hear Scott Hanh speak when he’s in town. They trust the Magisterium of the Church and are a little skeptical of the “watered down” Catholicism of the mystics.

Some prefer the apophatic tradition. Shorthand for them might be “liberal” Catholics. They tend to prefer direct experiences of God over “Churchy” experiences. Some describe themselves as “Spiritual but not Religious”. They read Thomas Merton and go to hear Richard Rohr speak when he’s in town. They like a little eastern spirituality mixed in with their Catholicism. They tend to be wary of the structure and rules of the Church and and seek “contemplation”.

Both are right. Both are wrong.

Insofar as we prefer one tradition and think the other tradition is a little “wonky,” we are blind. If we see these traditions as “sides” in a conflict in the Church, we are blind.

The correct answer is “both” in harmony and tension. If we are naturally drawn to the one “side,” then our faith demands that we come to know the “other side” as well and work to hold them both in our own lives. In harmony and tension.

I would say I have been and am one of those liberal catholics. I came back to the Church as an adult through the mystical tradition. I started seeking spiritually in my twenties through Buddhism and was directed back to my very own faith via the writings of guys like Thomas Merton. My challenge was to learn enough about my faith to overcome my prejudice against “churchy” things and people and embrace my whole faith. I am still working on it. I used to describe myself as spiritual but noit religious. I now realize there can be no such thing if you follow Christ.

My beloved Thomas Merton, the “patron saint” of liberal Catholics everywhere, says this:

“The Dogmas defined and taught by the Church have a very precise, positive meaning which those who have the grace to do so must explore if they would live an integral spiritual life…”
“The understanding of Dogma is the proximate and ordinary way to contemplation.”
“Everyone ought to breathe the clean atmosphere of orthodox tradition and explain his belief in correct terminology.”

“YET true contemplation is not arrived at by an effort of the mind… God gives true theologians a hunger born of humility, which cannot be satisfied with formulas and arguments, and which looks for something closer to God than analogy can bring you.”
“This serene hunger of the spirit penetrates the surface of words and goes beyond the human formulation of mysteries and seeks intellectual solitude and interior poverty, the gift of supernatural apprehension which words cannot signify.”

That is the key idea – the GIFT of apprehension. Everything God reveals to us through scripture and Church tradition is a GIFT from Him. It would be rude of us to downplay it or refuse it. It is incumbent upon us to study it, to teach it when called, to live it.

Yet God also makes available to us GIFTS of contemplation – direct experiences of Himthat go beyond words and ideas. And we would be negligent to not seek God beyond where our positive statements of belief can take us.

Faith involves holding these two things in harmony and tension. Our Church is built upon mystery, important places in our faith where reason will not help us, where we need to have different ways of seeing and knowing. Insofar as we only have one way of seeing, we are blind.

Insofar as we do not develop our knowledge of church teaching, we are blind. Insofar as we do not develop our capacity to encounter God with different ways of seeing, we are blind.

Good thing we have each other to help each other. All of us have our blind spots.

All this stuff about theology and mysticism, belief and experience of God, is, as Thomas Aquinas said “all straw” if it does not lead us to the person of Christ and transform the world in tangible ways.

The words of our theme were spoken by the blind young man when he was badgered repeatedly by the Pharisees about what he thought the origin of his healing. He said to them: “I don’t know, but I do know one thing — I was blind and now I see.”

Hard to argue with results. The blind man had an encounter with Jesus that transformed him. It was hard to argue that Jesus had power – the results were right there for all to see.

And all these beliefs and all this prayer, all this “being right” and having “direct experiences” of God – if it gives us genuine sight – comes down to results.

I dunno, all I know is that I was blind and now I see…

So I leave you with this: We as Christians are supposed to provide the world a real encounter with Jesus Christ. So how is the world different because of our beliefs and our prayer? Are the hungry fed? Are the lonely comforted? Are sinners and enemies loved and forgiven? Can anyone say by encountering us that they were blind but now they see? At least a little bit more?”

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