WELCOME: To the latest email recipients of "First Impressions," the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, Ipswich, MA.
PRE-NOTE: Today’s reflection is by Patricia Bruno, OP, a San Rafael, Ca. Dominican sister. She writes "Stories Seldom Heard," a monthly meditation on the scriptures, which you can find on our preaching webpage.
"The very act of lighting a candle is a prayer." This is one ofBrother David Steindl-Rast’s reflections on the power of light. Brother David, a Benedictine monk, was born in Vienna, Austria. He is internationally known for his active participation in interfaith dialogue and his insights on the interaction between spirituality and science. The simple practice of lighting a candle with intention can help us focus on the Light of Hope instead of despair; the Light of Compassion, that replaces isolation; the Light of Mercy, that opens our eyes to the presence of grace in our lives. "The very act of lighting a candle," witnesses our commitment to resist the darkness of conflict, violence and poverty that covers so many places in our world. "The very act of lighting a candle" is a sign of our desire, like the man born blind, to see clearly.
The story of the man born blind is more than a story of his blindness. The story also reveals the blindness of Jesus’ disciples, the community, and the temple priests. The man’s blindness is a state of being not an ethical statement about his sinful behavior. Because of that, it is our story too, since blindness is a part of the human condition. The passage is quite long and has many ironical twists. The blind man never asks to be healed, but Jesus heals him. Before he receives his sight, his life is difficult, but he is rather inconspicuous. Once he becomes sighted, his life becomes complex. He finds himself and his family at the center of a harsh temple dispute. Those who claim to have sight are blind. The story is filled with questions and judgments. These are not just for us to observe, but also for us to answer and to resolve within ourselves.
The community’s blindness is curious. Some neighbors aren’t even sure if the cured man is the same man, "who used to sit and beg." He lives in their town, but socially he lives on the periphery of society. Is it because of his lack of social status that his neighbors do not recognize him? No doubt he is wearing the same clothing after his cure that he had always worn. Could they not recognize him because they only identify him by his disability? Is his only identity that of a sinner: someone quite different from themselves? Since he begs they must have given him some coins, but it makes us wonder if they ever took the time to really see him? It seems that their sight is not as clear as they think. Often, those who think they have sight deceive themselves. Perhaps here, we should stop and ask ourselves how well we see those who live on the periphery of our lives? Do we ever take time to notice them or speak to them? How well is our sight when it comes to seeing as Jesus saw the blind man that day?
The neighborhood people are not the only ones living in darkness. The disciples and the temple priests share a long tradition. Illness and misfortune were considered signs of God’s disfavor and punishment. We hear this attitude expressed when the disciples question Jesus. "Rabbi, who has sinned this man or his parents…?" We hear it again boldly stated in the harsh judgment of the temple priests. But that is not the only time we hear this attitude expressed. Sometimes, even today, when bad things happen to good people some people question: "Why is God punishing me? I go to church. I say my daily prayers. I serve at the soup kitchen in our parish. What have I done wrong?" Yet, we know that prayer and good works are not magic potions that protect us from personal or communal pain and darkness.
The blindness of the priests is particularly troubling. They are supposed to be the wise ones in their religious tradition. They are the ones who, through prayer, fasting and desire for wholeness, are the watch persons of the Promised One. What is behind their lack of insight? The newly sighted man’s dialogue with the priests and his questioning of them are bold. He invites the priests to engage Jesus in a conversation to find out who he is and from where he comes. Why do the priests not listen? Why do they not seek Jesus out to question him? Is it fear that holds them back? Do they fear losing their authority, or the drastic changes belief in Jesus would cause in their lives? They have the power to forgive sins and to release people from their social and religious stigma. Are they, like the parents of the man, afraid they will be ostracized from their temple community and their families? Is the cost of sight, believing in Jesus, too great to pay? Even for us blindness has its advantages. Often seeking the truth in difficult situations, whether it concerns world events, or making decisions in our own personal lives, can be painful. The truth might set us free to be more authentic, but are we willing to pay the cost?
The story of the man born blind is also about discipleship: listening and responding. As we listen to the story we begin to understand, along with the blind man, how important it is to listen carefully to Jesus and trust his words. Without knowing who Jesus is, the man allows this stranger to touch him and put mud on his eyes. When Jesus tells him to go to the pool of Siloam, he goes. Perhaps it is because he is in great need, but his docility is courageous. As he goes through the cleansing of the mud, the opening of his eyes, the harsh conversations with the community and priests, his integrity shines. He speaks only the truth he knows. Step by step small revelations lead him to the One who is the Truth. As we listen to his story, we hear the voice of a true disciple and we can question ourselves. Where, or whom, do we need to see more clearly?
In a way, this story is one of the saddest cures in the Bible. The unnamed man receives his sight, but it is a bitter sweet experience. At a moment when everyone should be rejoicing, he finds himself alone and alienated from his former life. His whole life has changed. No longer can he support himself by begging for his daily bread. No longer will his parents take responsibility for him. No longer can he claim blindness as a reason for inaction. In the midst of this confusing and isolating situation he stands alone. "They drove him away (from the temple)." It is then that Jesus seeks him out and finds him. "Do you believe in the Son of Man?" His answer is clear, "’Lord, I believe’ … "and worshiped him."
"Eyes see only light, ears hear only sound, but a listening heart perceives meaning." (1)
As we ponder this story we might want to ask ourselves a few more questions. What is the experience of being born blind? What is it like to live in a world that most people will never experience? What is it like to be born into a situation that we believe can never change?
"The very act of lighting the candle is prayer."As we light our candles during this Lenten season, we might want to pray for insight and a listening heart.
1. Brother David Steindl-Rast
Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/032220.cfm
"Besides restful waters you lead me; you refresh my soul."
On this World Water Day, today’s passage is fitting. Water has great symbolism in our faith. There is the purification that we find in Baptism; the penitential significance when the congregation is sprinkled with Holy Water; a few drops of water being added to the wine in Eucharist to signify the union of both human nature with the divine; and God compared to a fountain of living water. For the ancient Hebrews, the Word of God is synonymous with water. As a general rule of thumb, a person can survive without water for about 3 days. Let us never take for granted the importance of water to our lives and to our fellow human beings.
That is why it is important to support organizations that are working to bring wells to communities lacking a good source of water. One such organization is "Share the Blessings" that builds wells in Uganda. Each year, Share the Blessings strives to achieve goals in basic humanitarian areas of clean water by building at least two clean water wells and by supporting child education. To learn more, go to https://www.share-the-blessings.org/ or contact parishioner, Kevin Green, firstname.lastname@example.org.
It is also necessary to take seriously how climate change is affecting water viability. Already, there are islands in the Pacific where increased salt water tables are destroying fresh water aquifers. In August 2019, a group of Pacific island nations - including Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Timor Leste and Tonga - came together to declare their situation a climate crisis and demand major emitters around the world do something about it. As early as 2030, they say, their lands could become uninhabitable. Last year's Pentagon-commissioned report is one of the few of its kind. Based on current emissions and mid-range scenarios, it suggests that most atolls in the Pacific will be uninhabitable by the mid-century. To read more, go to: https://www.sciencealert.com/pacific-islanders-are-in-a-climate-crisis-as-rising-sea-levels-threaten-water
What to do--The islanders tell us to advocate by "demanding major emitters around the world do something about it." If Christians truly believe that when one suffers, we all suffer, then we must stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters who are on the front lines of this coming water crisis.
Let us all have restful waters.
---Barbara Molinari Quinby, MPS
Director of Social Justice Ministries
Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral, Raleigh, NC
Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for persons on the run. "Faith Book" is also brief enough to be posted in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.
From today’s Gospel reading:
When Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, he found him and said, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?" He answered and said, "Who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?" Jesus said to him, "You have seen him, the one speaking with you is he."
We can not predict or define God’s saving presence in the world. The Pharisees couldn’t imagine that God was present in Jesus, or that the blind man could discern the presence and actions of God better than they could. God is bigger and greater than any of us could imagine. The more profound darkness is to claim to have all the answers. Adapted for our purposes, this Lent we might pose the blind man’s question this way, "Who are you Lord, that we might believe?" For we always are in need of more sight – more light on the "subject!"
So we ask ourselves:
"One has to strongly affirm that condemnation to the death penalty is an inhuman measure that humiliates personal dignity, in whatever form it is carried out."
Inmates on death row are the most forgotten people in the prison system. Each week I post in this space several inmates’ names and addresses. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of them to let them know we have not forgotten them. If you like, tell them you heard about them through North Carolina’s, "People of Faith Against the Death Penalty." If the inmate responds you might consider becoming pen pals.
Please write to:
----Central Prison, 4285 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-4285
For more information on the Catholic position on the death penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing Network:http://catholicsmobilizing.org/resources/cacp/
On this page you can sign "The National Catholic Pledge to End the Death Penalty." Also, check the interfaith page for People of Faith Against the Death Penalty: http://www.pfadp.org/
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