Four years ago my daughter began the lengthy process of adopting a small boy from Haiti. There were legal hurdles, lost paperwork, visits with U.S. government officials, social workers and judges, multiple trips to Haiti to visit with the Haitian government and the child, and of course, the four year worry that something would go wrong. As a grandmother I experienced with my daughter the trials, the waiting and finally the joy which was involved in the process. At the beginning of June my daughter flew to Haiti for the final time and came home to Texas with Shamma James McDonald.
The Baptism, which each of us experienced whether as infants or later in life, brought us into the family of God and made us His adopted daughters. God waits patiently for each one of us to accept His invitation to join His family. God prepares for each of us a path for our journey to Him and provides us assistance whenever we have need of His help. As each one of us accepts God’s invitation and becomes part of His family, He rejoices, much as my own family rejoiced when the adoption process for Shamma was completed.
In the book “Life of the Beloved” by Henri Nouwen, a now deceased Catholic priest, we read: “From all eternity, long before you were born and became a part of history, you existed in God’s heart. Long before your parents admired you or your friends acknowledged your gifts, or your teachers, colleagues, and employers encouraged you, you were already “chosen”. The eyes of love had seen you as precious, as of infinite beauty, as of eternal value…Long before anyone heard us cry or laugh, we are heard by our God who is all ears for us. Long before any person spoke to us in this world, we are spoken to by the voice of eternal love…The truth…is that I am the chosen child of God, precious in God’s eyes, called the Beloved from all eternity, and held safe in an everlasting embrace…This truth is not simply an inner truth that emerges from our center. It is also a truth that is revealed to us by the One who has chosen us….”
Does the fish soar to find the ocean,
The eagle plunge to find the air–
That we ask of the stars in motion
If they have rumor of thee there?
Not where the wheeling systems darken,
And our benumbed conceiving soars!–
The drift of pinions, would we hearken,
Beats at our own clay-shuttered doors.
The angels keep their ancient places–
Turn but a stone and start a wing!
‘Tis ye, ’tis your estrangèd faces,
That miss the many-splendored thing.
But (when so sad thou canst not sadder)
Cry–and upon thy so sore loss
Shall shine the traffic of Jacob’s ladder
Pitched betwixt Heaven and Charing Cross.
Yea, in the night, my Soul, my daughter,
Cry–clinging to Heaven by the hems;
And lo, Christ walking on the water,
Not of Genesareth, but Thames!
Chapter 7 Gospel of John
Have you ever visited St. Helen’s Church when no one else was there? Perhaps you quietly slipped in the back door and found your way to a pew, tiptoeing so as not to disturb anyone, even though you see no one else in the Church at this hour. As you begin to pray, you can sense in the falling dust motes and warm colored light streaming through the windows around you, the sights and sounds and smells of the many liturgies which have been celebrated in this sacred space. These sense impressions, you think to yourself, are a reminder of the Presence of God. Just a little beyond you, resting in the Tabernacle, is our Risen Lord. You realize, almost as though it is a surprise, that He has been waiting patiently for you, loving you, calling to you, although you don’t remember hearing His Voice. But you are here, in His Presence now, feeling His Peace and His Love. And you rejoice in the amazing blessing which has been given to you.
I wondered this week if the ancient Jews had these same feelings. Not on the days of the community celebrations when throngs of worshipers filled the Temple, but on those quiet days, perhaps even late in the evening, when someone visited the Temple alone, thinking of their God present with His people in the Holy of Holies just beyond the thick curtain. How then, we might ponder, did the ancient Jews miss that moment when their loving God was visibly present with them? Do we miss our God here with us when we come to Mass and absentmindedly find our way to a seat, greeting others along our way? Do we often forget that our Risen Lord is present at that very moment in the sacred space of our Church?
There was a movie some years ago entitled “Jesus of Nazareth”. In one of the scenes soon after the beginning of the film, we see the young couple, Joseph and Mary with the infant Jesus in Mary’s arms, approach the Temple. It is a special, sacred day for this small family, for on this day they will present their infant son to God, as is prescribed in the Law. They are approached by a wizened old man whose name is Simeon. We read in Luke, Chapter 2, verses 25 – 35: “Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him …… Simeon took Jesus in his arms and praised God, saying, “Lord, now let your servant go in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel”… then Simeon blessed Mary and Joseph and said to his mother Mary: “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against, so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed….”
In chapter 7 of the Gospel of John we begin to see the opposition to Jesus growing, the dissension that Jesus has brought, fulfilling Simeon’s prophesy of so many years ago. There are some, present in the Temple during this great feast of Booths, who wonder if Jesus is the prophet who will come in the last days, or if he is the Messiah long promised. Some say that Jesus is possessed by demons; others say that Jesus’ teaching is too hard, that He is asking the people to do things forbidden under the Law. The people argue about where Jesus was born, or if prophets can come from Galilee. Many present know his parents – Joseph and Mary, while the Messiah is meant to have unknown parentage. The authorities of the Temple complain that Jesus heals on the Sabbath. They contend that Jesus makes Himself equal to God by calling God “His Father”. They wonder where He has gotten His knowledge, as He does not quote learned Rabbis of the past. So the Jerusalem Temple, a place once thought to be a holy and sacred space, has become a place of arguments and contention, just as old Simeon prophesied. Even among the leading scholars of the Temple are some who are coming to believe that this Jesus of Nazareth is the very One they have been waiting for, but their questions and comments are silenced by those scholars who disagree with them.
Unlike the ancient Jews, we do not have to question who Jesus is or where He was born, for we know those answers. The loving Lord of creation has come as He promised, and He is here, resting in the Tabernacle, waiting for us, to give us His very Self. While studying this lesson I have come to see myself a little differently, perhaps a little too argumentative, almost like the ancient Jews. So this week I resolve, when I attend Mass, to clear my mind of complaints about the music, or the children crying in the pews, or the lady seated next to me with strong perfume, or the people who leave early. I resolve only to rejoice in my Lord, who is present here with us. And I will remember and hold close to my heart that this space of worship is a sacred space, reserved for sacred and loving thoughts, and not a place of contention. For the Christ, the Holy One of God, has come and has brought salvation with Him. And He is loving me into life.
What an amazing chapter this is! Like the Samaritan woman in chapter 4, we see an ordinary, simple person beset by the trials of life, who is found by Jesus, healed and brought to faith in Him. Karen and I both loved this lesson. We hope you do too.
I remember when I was a child, how my sisters and I would blindfold one another and lead each other around, trying to understand what it must be like to be blind. I remember how often we would trip over small stones along our path, or feel disoriented as we walked blindfolded. Remembering this simple play acting has led me to think a long time about this particular story in the Gospel of John.
Those of you who have been around infants know that babies are not born with an ability to see perfectly. When a child is born, she sees only black and white and shades of grey. Color comes later. Most of the baby’s vision is blurred. A baby learns to focus by studying the faces of those closest to her. Eventually, a baby will notice bright moving objects, and at about two to four months, follow the object by moving her eyes instead of her head. A baby must learn to use both eyes together, and her brain must learn to ”translate” the information sent by the eyes into usable information, which helps the child interact with and understand the world.
The miracle of Jesus with the man born blind becomes even more spectacular than we may first think, as we reflect on this information. It was not just a matter of the man’s eyelids being closed, or the man having cataracts. No matter why the man’s eyes did not work, the man’s brain was not functionally connected to his eyes. I am astounded when I think about this. Jesus opened the man’s eyes and connected all those neural pathways, so that when the man washed the mud from his face, he looked around and understood what he was seeing. At least, that is how I interpret the miracle.
Who was the blind man? What was his life like before he met Jesus? Using our imaginations we can visualize a little about him. He was poor and unable to work – we know this because he had to beg. He lived with his parents, for he could not take care of himself. He had probably never been inside the Temple, as he would be considered a sinner and unclean. Though his religious education was likely provided by his parents, when speaking with the Pharisees, he was sure of who God was and how He acted. He knew that sometimes prophets were given the grace and power to heal others. He says that God does not listen to sinners, but He listens to those who do His Will. The man born blind was likely dirty to look at, often knocked about by the crowds which milled around the Temple, pushed out of the way by those who considered beggars a nuisance. The man born blind was totally dependent on the good will of others.
Did Jesus need to use mud to heal the man? No, of course not. As the Navarre Bible comments, “Jesus works through the medium of matter to produce effects which exceed anything matter can do. Like the Sacraments, Jesus confers on matter the power to spiritually regenerate man.”
Though the Pharisees question the blind man and others about him at length, this poor and simple man knows what has happened to him. He repeats his story over and over again – “I was blind, but now I see”. The man born blind knows that no one has ever cured someone like him. The man born blind will not deny the fact of his healing, even though the Pharisees banish him from the Temple. The man born blind will not deny the gift of God that has been given to him.
The man born blind has been found by Jesus – not once, but twice. His life will never be the same. He has been given freedom to be the man God created him to be. He has been given knowledge of the reality and love of the Son of God. The man born blind has made his choice – to believe in and worship the Son of God.
After the extended investigation the Pharisees, too, are left with a choice – to see Jesus as He truly is, or to continue to be blind to the Glory which has come into their midst. And what about me? Can I see myself in the man born blind or even the Pharisees? Are there times when I have tried to hide the truth about myself or others? Does this story shine light on my own spiritual journey? Who or what has God used to open my eyes to His incredible love? How can I allow the love of Christ to reach out and heal me? There was so much to be found and reflected on in this Gospel story.
“I will lead the blind on their journey; by paths unknown I will guide them. I will turn darkness into light before them, and make crooked ways straight. These things I do for them, and I will not forsake them.” Isaiah 42:16
Remember if you have any questions, call Karen or me. We welcome your calls. We look forward to seeing you on Tuesday.
May the study of this chapter bring you many blessings,
Franciene and I hope that you are enjoying this wintry week and the next lesson in our study. This beautiful image of the Good Shepherd is probably one of the best-loved and most comforting images in the Bible.
In Chapter 10 Verse 3 we read that “the sheep hear His voice, and He calls His own sheep by name and leads them out. When He has brought out His own, He goes before them, and the sheep follow Him, for they know His voice.” We believe that He specifically calls each of us, and then remains with us always. Isn’t that a comforting and pleasing image to us?
A footnote in my Bible reminds us that for Jesus to call us each by name is such an amazing mark of intimacy and familiarity. I have often thought about how personal and individual our own call is from Jesus in our lives, but how we can still turn away from His voice if we choose not to listen to or follow Him. But to think that He calls us each “by name” reminds us that He knows us so completely – even our innermost being – and He loves us with a personal love that is as if we were the only person who existed for Him.
Jesus tells us “My sheep hear my voice. I know them and they follow Me.” These words assume an existing relationship because Jesus uses the word “my” as the possessive adjective before the word “sheep”. And this personal and familial relationship, which was begun at our Baptism, leads us toward eternal life and promises that those who hear Jesus’s voice will not perish or be snatched away form His care.
I like to think that after our Baptism, each of us hears Jesus’ gentle voice in a way that is tailored specifically to us – to our personalities and to the particular circumstances of our life – and that we allow Him to lead us to the pastures He has chosen for us, and that we remain in His care. We know that He leads us each by different paths, but we are all part of His pasture where He nourishes and protects us. The challenge for us, I think, is to continue to make the effort to focus on His gentle voice in our noisy world, as He continues to call us toward Himself.
I hope that we can each find some time this week as we study this beautiful chapter to strive to listen to that gentle voice in our souls, and that we can keep our eyes fixed on our Good Shepherd, so that we can follow Him always.
Franciene and I hope that you are enjoying this lesson, and – as always – feel free to call or email either of us with any questions. We look forward to seeing you next Tuesday!