Correcting our Impaired Vision

03-26-2017From the Pastor's DeskRev. Msgr. Ellsworth R. Walden

One of the sad things to see in the news is the number of people who are stopped or arrested for DWI. There is also a lesser charge that is also serious called DWAI or driving while ability impaired. Impaired vision or impaired mental or physical skills not only limit us, but in all too many cases cause serious harm to others as well as to those impaired. In today’s Gospel we have the account from St. John of the cure of the man born blind. His lack of vision was from birth, not through any fault of his own. Ironically the religious leaders who are involved in trying to downplay and discredit Jesus have the ability to see with their eyes, but are blind in their minds and hearts. Like DWI, this is an account of a self and willful acquisition of an obstacle that blinds us not only to the power of God in Jesus, but also to the vision that only Jesus can bring into our minds and hearts.

We can look at our world and ask, “Where is God in all that is going on?” Chaos and terror continue to destroy lives in the Middle East. Abortion continues to take the lives of more than 2,500 children in the womb each day in our nation. Our elected officials in Washington do not seem to be willing to put aside differences and work for the good of all the people in our nation. Realistically we have to say there are so many signs that we are not a God-centered nation or a God-centered world. The more we ignore Him, the more we fall into the darkness that only leaves us empty, fearful, frustrated, and pessimistic. The more we ignore God and His Way, Truth, and Life in Jesus, the less peace, hope, and willingness to get involved.

Lent is our personal and communal time to look into our lives and “see” the presence of God. As I mentioned in previous columns about Lent, I am once again reading “The Return of the Prodigal Son” by Henri Nouwen. This inspirational book looks at the three main characters in this parable after Nouwen had spent days sitting in front of a painting of this return by Rembrandt. Not only does Nouwen look at the father and two sons, he also looks into the mind of the artist Rembrandt. Where was Rembrandt in his life when he painted this work of art? Nouwen also looks into his own life and sees how he and all of us have assumed the roles of the father, prodigal son, and elder son at different points in our lives. What ultimately happens is that Nouwen leads us from the undisciplined passion of the prodigal son through the hard hearted and unloving elder son to the father. The prodigal son was in a very selfish, self-centered frame of mind. He wanted to live life to the full now. While there was a brief fling with wine, women, and song his lack of discipline brought him back to his senses. Having come to his senses after living with his impaired ability to see who really loved him, he came home. At this point he saw (his impaired vision was restored) how foolish he was and how he no longer deserved to be his father’s son. Knowing his father was such a good man, even with their hired help, he hoped to get a job from him so he could at least have the basics in life. How surprised and overwhelmed he had to be when his father saw him coming from a distance and ran out to welcome him home. There was no anger, disappointment, or rejection on the father’s part, only joy that his son had come home. The father refused to let all that is angry and spiteful in our hearts to impair his life-giving love for his son.

Can we “see” God loving us that much? What other point is there in this parable? We go to confession, confess our sins and do our penance. But even before we think about encountering Jesus in this sacrament of healing, God our Father is waiting to welcome us with open arms. He sent us His Son, Jesus. One of Nouwen’s insights is that Jesus is THE PRODIGAL SON. Jesus, the Son of God, took all the love God has for us and brought it into this world. At times He was ignored and rejected, as we see in today’s Gospel. But He never stopped loving. The treasure of His love was not wasted nor spent in vain. Jesus never had His ability impaired to see what His love could and would do as long as He sought to do the Father’s will and love us. Yes, He was crucified, but even on the cross His ability and desire to love was not impaired by injustice, rejection, betrayal, or hatred. He never wasted His time, energy, or talents, but only used them to love, forgive, and bring us into God’s life as His children.

The father of the prodigal son also went out to bring the elder son into the celebration. How easy it is to identify with the elder son. He was a “good boy” always faithful to his father, but he could not “see” how much his father loved him. Nouwen says, “The harsh and bitter reproaches of the elder son are not met with words of judgment. There is no recrimination or accusation. The father does not defend himself or even comment on the elder son’s behavior. The father moves directly beyond all evaluations to stress his intimate relationship with his son when he says: “You are with me always.” The father’s declaration of unqualified love eliminates any possibility that the younger son is more loved than the elder.” As we look at ourselves, the words we say when the host is held up to invite us to receive Jesus in the Eucharist come to mind: “Lord I am not worthy.” No we are not worthy of God’s love or anyone else’s love. Love is a gift that is not earned, deserved, or owed to us. It is the gracious gift of another person to us. During this Lent, I invite you to find some time to “look and see” God’s love and blessing in your life. That will fill us with humble joy and gratitude.

I close with this quote from Nouwen’s reflection in the above mentioned book: “The leap of faith means loving without expecting to be loved in return, giving without wanting to receive, inviting without hoping to be invited, holding without asking to be held.” That is the love we see in the father in this parable and expands our ability to “see” more clearly how much God loves us. Lent is a wonderful time to get beyond our “impaired vision” that keeps us from living life fully and completely as the beloved children of God.

Fr. Wald