March 5, 2024 // Perspective

May We Not Be Blind, but See God’s Beatific Vision

“The Lord anointed my eyes: I went, I washed, I saw, and I believed in God.”

The Communion antiphon for this Fourth Sunday of Lent, which shares the Gospel passage of the man born blind, is striking for its echo (and turning on its head) of the famous line of Julius Caesar during his Pontic triumph – veni, vidi, vici (I came, I saw, I conquered). I say “echo” because it is different in words (the Latin is et ábii, et lavi, et vidi, et crédidi Deo) as well as in its meaning, but it reminds me of those famous words.

For Caesar, his phrase was a boast of his power and accomplishments. It had no reference to anyone (not even his soldiers who fought) but himself as the actor of the victory. Thus, Caesar takes credit for something no one person really could. It is a boast that is rooted in pride, especially a bloated ego. The Communion antiphon for this Sunday gives a summary of the various phrases of the man born blind in the Gospel in a way that is equally as impactful as Caesar’s phrase but more effectively communicates who is really responsible for this man’s healing and actions. As the man is questioned, he tells a similar story each time he is asked: Jesus anointed his eyes, and the man followed His instructions. He simply obeyed the commands. He went, he washed, he began to see. And all that action on God’s part led to his belief.

But lest we be distracted, like Caesar, in strictly worldly concerns and actions, we are left with the question: What exactly does it mean for the man to say, “I saw.” Is this Gospel story only about the physical restoration of sight, or is there a deeper meaning to this vision? In the preface of the Mass, we pray: “By the mystery of the Incarnation, He has led the human race that walked in darkness into the radiance of the faith and has brought those born in slavery to ancient sin through the waters of regeneration to make them Your adopted children.” Thus, we see the connection of all four of the verbs the antiphon puts in front of us.

It is, in some ways, the progression of conversion. We have to begin following the command: come. Thus, we walk. But we don’t walk aimlessly; we walk following the voice that calls us. We wash in the pool of water to which we have been drawn: baptism. That sacred bath does not aim itself at physical blindness but the deeper one: spiritual blindness by which we would otherwise be wandering aimlessly in an abyss of self-focused concerns and the illusions of the prince of this world. Then we come to see – vision made possible by the light of faith that helps us see not only the physical world in a new way but also illuminates our hearts (as the Prayer after Communion will pray: “O God, who enlighten everyone who comes into this world, illuminate our hearts, we pray, with the splendor of Your grace, that we may always ponder what is worthy and pleasing to Your majesty and love You in all sincerity.)

Thus, with all of that accomplished by God in our lives, and with our willing and loving response, we can proclaim with the man born blind, “I do believe, Lord.”

Because of Original Sin, we are all born blind, but Christ does not leave us to fend for ourselves. He comes to us, and He ceaselessly works to draw us to Himself so that He can anoint us with oil, command us to wash in the waters of life, and be brought to vision.

But we must remember that our faith ends in vision – specifically, the beatific vision. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us: “Because of His transcendence, God cannot be seen as He is, unless He Himself opens up His mystery to man’s immediate contemplation and gives him the capacity for it. The Church calls this contemplation of God in His heavenly glory ‘the beatific vision’” (No. 1028).

Thus, we can see that the healing of this man’s vision is not simply an earthly concern or action; it has a supernatural goal: the vision of God for eternity. Caesar came, saw, and conquered in the earthly sense – in a way that will fade with this passing world. What he saw is of little consequence in the final calculation of what matters. But the man born blind sees in the only way that matters; he sees with eyes of faith, and that, when perfected by a life lived in union with God, is the only thing that matters. The story that matters is the story of Easter – that God came so we might follow, that God saw us so we might see Him, and that God conquered so we might be saved. It is the story of the man born blind, and it is our story, too.

Father Mark Hellinger is Parochial Vicar at St. John the Baptist Church in Fort Wayne. He will continue to write weekly reflections during Lent.

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