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ST. FRANCIS OF ASSISI AND THE MAN BORN BLIND

March 26, 2017
DEAR FRIENDS:
         Many of us are familiar with the story of St. Francis and the leper (cf. Tomas de Celano, “First Life of St. Francis,” 17). In the early stages of his conversion, as he was riding through a dense forest, St. Francis was struck by a foul odor, a stench beyond belief: it was a leper, hiding, trying to keep his distance from any human contact.
       In the early-to-middle- Middle Ages (St. Francis lived from 1181/2-1226), lepers still suffered the opprobium, the contempt and exclusion of their biblical counterparts. Francis, driven by the insanity of that love which St. Paul qualifies as “moron,” “moria” (cf. 1 Cor 1: 25: “To moron tou theou sophoteron ton anthropon estin” = “The madness of God is wiser than human beings” = i.e., the Cross), approached him and kissed him.
       Francis had a good pair of eyes: he saw the suffering, despised, rejected and discarded Christ in that leper. In today’s Gospel, we read, not about a leper, but about a man born blind. Such people suffered from a similar social stigma: the reasoning of retributive justice, common in ancient Israelite theology (though challenged by the Book of Job, 350-500 years B.C.E.), argued that either he or his parents, or ancestors, must have indulged in some awful sin.        Such, at least, is the way Jesus’ disciples were wired, by a merciless and sclerotized interpretation of the law, to interpret and judge the man they bump into (cf. Jn 9: 2). Jesus challenges their myopic hearts, unable to see through the man’s affliction the splendor of God’s image and likeness (Gen 1: 26). Jesus heals the man, and then disappears for a while, leaving the now-healed blind man to emerge as a sort of biblical Thomas Aquinas, deftly using his sense of logic and an impeccable, and radically subversive, re-interpretation of the Law, to confuse his accusers. 
     In the end, reflecting the background of the later “birkat-ha-minnim” controversies(“The curse against the heretics,” i.e., the “minnim,” Jews converted to Jesus), emerging in the post-war years after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., the Pharisees throw the man out (Jn. 9: 22: cf. 7: 49, 16: 2). They are blinded by their own self-seeking, culpably ignorant, manipulative, arrogant interpretation of the law – after all, the blind man did not belong to them, the Pharisees, the “perushim,” the “separated ones,” rather, he was a card-carrying member of the “am-ha’aretz,” the rabble, the accursed ones (cf. Jn. 7: 49).
     Like Jesus’ adversaries in today’s Gospel, so many of our parish Catholics fail to see Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of Man, in the poor, the hungry, the migrants, the discarded of our opulent societies. They are only concerned with their own petty, myopic understanding of the law – In their arrogance, lust for power and wealth, their culpable ignorance and racism they ignore the only Law there is: Love of God, with all our heart and power, and love of neighbor, especially those whom Jesus loved preferentially, those with whom He identified Himself: cf. Mtt 25: 31-46: “For I was hungry . . . for I was an alien . . . and you fed me (or not), welcomed me (or rejected me).
     Mary, Mother of Wisdom, you who, at the foot of the Cross, could see Redemption where all others saw destruction, you who, where all others saw only a broken man, His life ebbing away with each passing second, saw Resurrection and healing rapidly approaching, teach us to see your Son in the faces of all the victims, all the crucified of history.
      Oremus pro invicem
Sixto
AT THE SUNSET OF OUR LIVES, WE WILL BE JUDGED BY LOVE
St. John of the Cross
“Sayings of Light and Love,” 59
WE WILL NEVER LOVE ENOUGH
Bl. Charles de Foucauld
Letter to Marie de Bondy,
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