Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance but the LORD looks into the heart.
Maybe the lament I hear the most from people goes something like this: the world is full of sin and evil; life is hard; there is pain in my life, and there is suffering in the world; so, I do not see God in the world, and I do not see God in my life. Most of us, I imagine, have said these or similar words to ourselves at some point in life or another, and with good reason. Life is often hard, and the world is a broken place. But we should see God at work in the world, and in our lives. We really should. What I want to say about these kinds of laments is that we have a problem: we do not see as God sees. We see by way of appearances. But we are called to look into the heart, and there see the work of God.
The story of the man born blind is a story of healing that turns into a story of conversion. The healing of the blind man matters, but the conversion of the man’s heart is the reality that matters most. The conversion of the man born blind takes root slowly over the course of the story. First, he understands Christ as just an ordinary man who has accomplished some great work of healing. Then, after further reflection, he understands Christ as a prophet. Finally, meeting Christ for a final time, the man confesses Christ as his Lord; he acknowledges that Christ is the Son of Man. And what is the cost of the man’s belief? He is exiled from the community. The man who was blind from birth comes to see Christ with the eyes of faith, and in an instant his life is changed forever. There is a change in outward appearance for the man born blind; his physical sight really is restored; he receives the gift of a miracle. But the greater miracle concerns the matters of the heart. The man born blind now lives as a child of the light, to use the language of St. Paul. A light that produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth. There is a miracle of the heart.
These kinds of miracles, miracles of the heart and not of appearances, take place every day. Have you ever known a person fighting the worst kind of addiction, someone who yearns for a freedom that only Christ provides? There is a miracle of the heart. Maybe you know someone who grieves the loss of a loved one and yet holds fast to the joy and the hope that comes from faith? There is a miracle of the heart. Many people suffer from anxiety or depression yet persevere in following Christ; others sell what they have to the poor for the sake of Christian discipleship. There is a miracle of the heart. Some people suffer from the worst kinds of poverty, living as victims of violence and injustice, and yet find a way to do the work of love in their family, or in their community. There is a miracle of the heart. Not too long ago, I met with a young person battling an extreme illness, an illness that might become terminal, and all this person wanted to know was how their pain and suffering might become meaningful, serve some greater purpose. There, right in front of me, was a miracle of the heart.
I asked this young person to pray with today’s Gospel. Remember how the story begins. The disciples see a man blind from birth and ask a question:
“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?"
Jesus answered, "Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him.
And I told this young person that to see someone confronting that kind of illness, to see someone asking how their pain and suffering might become meaningful, serve some greater purpose, is to see the glory of God made visible. There is no other satisfactory explanation.
These kinds of miracles, miracles of the heart and not of appearances, take place every day. The world is more than a place of sin and evil. The world is a theater for divine action, and our lives become the instruments through which the glory of God is revealed. A thought came to my mind reading the story of the man born blind: how astounded must the disciples have been at the faith of this man. The disciples are witness to a conversion, to a miracle of the heart. The life of the man born blind becomes an instrument through which the glory of God is made visible to Christ’s own disciples.
And then another thought came to mind. Imagine the hard realities of life in the ancient world: poverty, war, violence, illness, political oppression, slavery, and every other kind of evil. And now imagine how many times, because of their relationship with Christ, the disciples must have witnessed a conversion, a miracle of the heart, in a world otherwise defined by sin and evil. Take a moment to ask yourself how it was possible for St. Peter, living in a broken and painful world, to say of life with Christ: Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy. Those are the words of a man who has witnessed the glory of God made visible; the words of a man who sees as God sees, who looks into the heart, and who does not see by way of appearances.
Placed before us is a choice: we can see by way of appearances, or we can look into the heart and see as God sees. The world in which we live is consumed by matters of appearance. Most people, it seems to me, look out into the world and see the sin and the evil; too often it is the brokenness and the suffering that holds our attention. And when the brokenness and the suffering hold our attention, life becomes very hard for us: we become filled with anxiety; we struggle with anger; we find ourselves overwhelmed by attitudes of suspicion and doubt. There is a different way for us to see the world as Christians; we do not need to be consumed by matters of appearance.
What does it mean to see as God sees? What does it mean to look into the heart? The answer to those questions is given to us in the story of the man born blind. His suffering is real, and his pain matters. We cannot ignore those realities and tell ourselves that we now see the world with Christian clarity. But the suffering and the pain of the man’s life do not define him, and there is the Christian difference. The man born blind meets Christ, and in a single day his life is changed forever. He experiences the grace of conversion. And for the disciples, for those who lived in a relationship with Christ, for those who followed Christ, the life of the man born blind becomes a way through which the glory of God is made visible. The disciples witnessed a miracle. And what we need to know is that these same miracles of the heart take place every day. We are now the disciples of Christ. We live in relationship with Christ, we follow Christ, and we get to see the glory of God made visible through moments of grace and conversion in a broken world. We get to look into the heart, and we don’t need to see by way of appearances. The work of God in our world is extraordinary.
Homily preached on March 18th/19th at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary