In this week’s Gospel from John 9, we hear the story of the man blind since birth who Jesus heals. Using earthy language that helps us to feel like eyewitnesses to the scene, the gospel writer tells us that Jesus “spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva, and smeared the clay on his eyes,” then told the man to go wash his eyes in a pool. Once he had done so, the man was able to see for the first time in his life. In the aftermath of this miracle, the man’s neighbors do not believe it is him, and then Pharisees throw him out of the temple, insisting that he still is a sinner (since in Jesus’ time physical impairments like blindness were thought to be the result of sin). Hearing that this has happened to the man, Jesus seeks him out and reveals to him that he is the Son of Man, and the formerly blind man declares his belief in Jesus as Lord.
In the past two weeks, I have written about two of the three traditional Catholic Lenten practices: fasting and abstinence and almsgiving. As I read this week’s Gospel in light of my attempt to better embrace the season of Lent, I have a new image for the work that engaging in Lenten practices does for our spiritual lives. These practices of fasting and abstinence, almsgiving, and prayer (the third practice of the triad) are like the dirt and saliva mix that enable the blind man to see. Applied to our lives this Lent, these practices help us see anew and continue to support our ability and desire to profess our belief in God our Creator, Jesus our Redeemer, and the Holy Spirit our sanctifier.
Here is a simple example: Last Friday, our family was traveling to Iowa to visit relatives. As we prepared to stop for lunch at the place we always stop along our route, a restaurant that specializes in meat, we remembered it was Lent. This led us to ask Siri where we could order a fish sandwich close by. Certainly, this small decision about lunch did not change our lives. However, even this relatively simple process of breaking our normal habit did get me thinking about the easy access to food I usually enjoy and the wide variety of food that I eat. While I was choosing among a plethora of decent options for lunch that day, millions of people in the United States and around the world were going hungry. For people living in poverty, fasting may not be a choice, but rather a forced option. For those living in food deserts, an area in which there is little or no access to affordable, fresh, and healthy food, they may be forced to eat fast food or food from convenience stores (two options that are a treat for me on a road trip, not a necessity) that do not provide proper nutrition. When I voluntarily fast or abstain from meat, it helps me recognize the hunger and suffering of others in a new way and inspires me to search for ways to demonstrate Christ’s love in the world—from donating food to food shelves to writing letters to politicians to support just economic and political structures that enable people to provide food for their families.
Similarly, the practices of almsgiving and prayer also help us see our lives anew in Lent. As we make decisions about where to give our money and how much to give, we may have occasion to examine our finances, to see what heart of our family life is revealed by where our treasure goes. When we give away some of our money, we may better remember that the treasure we accumulate on earth is not what will bring us happiness today, nor what will bring us salvation at the end of our days. When we pray, we recognize that we are not the gods of our own lives and put our trust in the ways in which God cares for us, for all human beings, and the whole of creation. When we pray, we honor God as God and allow ourselves to be open to God’s vision for our lives and for our world.
May it be that this Lent we are willing to get our eyes dirty, as we apply the muddy practices of fasting and abstinence, almsgiving, and prayer to our lives. May it be that when we wash our eyes in the pool of Easter joy, we will realize we have already begun to see anew.