Sunday, April 03, 2011

Blindness as a State of Mind—and Heart

Marc Paskin

(Fourth Sunday of Lent (A): This homily was given on April 3, 2011 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read John 9:1-41.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Fourth Sunday of Lent 2011]

We all know that blindness is a physical condition. But what many people are not aware of is the truth that Jesus alludes to at the end of today’s gospel: that blindness can also be a state of mind—and heart.

Blindness as a physical condition is usually beyond the victim’s control. It’s not something for which he or she is personally responsible. The person in question is either born blind—as the man in today’s gospel story was—or they become blind because of a disease or accident.

Blindness as a state of mind, however, IS under the sightless person’s control; it IS something for which the blind person is personally responsible—as Jesus makes very clear in this gospel reading, with respect to the Pharisees. They refused to “open their eyes” to the fact that Jesus had been sent by the heavenly Father, and that his miracles were performed by the power of God, with the Father’s approval.

Jesus says to them, “If you were blind (that is, physically blind), you would have no sin; but now you are saying, ‘We see,’ so your sin remains.” (In other words, “You have made yourselves blind in mind and heart, and for that you are personally responsible before God.”)

It is a wonderful thing when this kind of blindness is healed in a person. It’s something to thank God for; it’s something to rejoice in. On that note, the other night I happened to see an episode of the new ABC program, “Secret Millionaire.” This is a show that tells the stories of wealthy people—millionaires—who want to give away some of their fortune to help needy people and worthy causes. For some, I suspect, being this generous is a new experience. And so they go incognito and work at minimum wage jobs and at charitable organizations, in the process establishing friendships with some poor and well-deserving people. Then, toward the end of the shows, they reveal their true identities and give some money to each deserving group or individual. The amount of money they donate must total at least $100,000.

In the episode that I saw, a successful real estate investor from California named Marc Paskin spent a week living like a poor person in a run-down, one bedroom house on the east side of Detroit—an area with a bad reputation for crime, drugs and gangs. During the time he was there, he only had $50 to spend on food and other personal needs (since that’s the amount of welfare assistance that a single man over 55 receives these days in the city of Detroit).

Needless to say, it was not an easy task for this man who could normally afford almost anything. But, in the midst of it all, he met some very good people who are currently trying to make a positive difference in their struggling communities. One was a 28-year-old father of three named Randy, who volunteers for the “Man Network”—an organization of concerned citizens that helps patrol his neighborhood in Detroit, where violence and crime are rampant. Randy does this because one day many years ago when he was just a little boy he heard some gunshots outside his front door. He then heard his mother scream. When he went out to investigate, he found his dad bleeding to death in his mother’s arms. His father had been shot in a drive-by shooting. He died that night on the way to the hospital.

Marc also met some members of the Young Detroit Builders, an organization that helps young adults get away from drugs and crime by getting them back to school and by teaching them carpentry skills.

He met a former limousine driver and current dialysis patient named John Cook, who founded a little company called “Really Living,” to provide poor medical patients with free transportation to get to their doctor’s appointments. Through this contact he met a young dialysis patient named Courtney, with whom he was very impressed. She’s only in her mid-20s, but she’s already had a kidney transplant, which unfortunately failed. She hopes to get another kidney in 3 or 4 years, but until then she’ll need dialysis. In addition, she also has a 2-year-old daughter with some very severe medical problems. Marc asked her at one point what she would wish for if she had 3 wishes. In a response that clearly demonstrated her selfless love for her child, Courtney said she wouldn’t want anything for herself. All she would want is for one wish to be fulfilled: she would want her daughter to be happy and healthy.

In the end, Marc revealed his true identity to everyone, and with tears in his eyes he gave them checks that ranged from $10,000 to $40,000.

It was great to see how appreciative these people were to receive these special and unexpected gifts. But what was even more important, at least in my mind, was the effect that this experience had on Marc Paskin, the millionaire. During the course of one, short week, his eyes were opened to many things: the needs of the poor; the struggles of the chronically ill who don’t have any health insurance; the difficulties that are experienced by those who are trying to overcome addictions; the difficulties that are faced by good people who are trying to help the poor, the sick and the elderly. His final words on the show were a witness to the fact that at least some of his blindness to these realities has now been healed. He spoke these words tearfully after he gave Courtney a gift of 20,000. He said, “I see what she’s going through, and, you know, she breaks my heart; and I wanted to do something nice for her and help her life. . . . Not everybody has money they can give away, but everybody can give some of their time, and some of their love to people, and it would be a better world if everybody would do that. It’s time to give back.”

Hopefully Marc Paskin will continue to "give back" in the future.  Hopefully this is just the beginning for him.

In one way or another, all of us are afflicted with some blindness during the course of our lives--even if we have 20/20 vision.

Some are blind in the ways that Marc Paskin was blind: blind to the needs of others; blind to the suffering of the poor, the sick and the elderly; blind to the good things that many people are already doing in our communities to try to help those in difficult circumstances.

Or we can be blind in other ways:

• Blind to the love of God

• Blind to our own self-worth

• Blind to the true meaning of life here on earth

• Blind to the sanctity of human life

• Blind to the dignity of the human person

• Blind to the serious sin in our life

• Blind to the need we have for God’s mercy

• Blind to the reality of what marriage is—that it’s the union of one man and one woman in a lifetime commitment of love (that type of blindness afflicts many people right here in our own town!)

All this having been said, my suggestion is to say this simple prayer to Jesus when you go back to your pew after receiving Holy Communion: O Lord, help me to recognize whatever blindness is present right now in my mind and in my heart, and help me to do whatever I need to do to be healed of it. Amen.