HOMILY – OCTOBER 25
I began studying canon law at Catholic University out in Washington, D.C., ‘way back in 1979! The campus was abuzz with the exciting news of the upcoming visit of Pope John Paul II, who had been elected less than a year earlier. The Archdiocese of Washington invited all the priests, no matter where we were from, to participate in what was anticipated to be a Mass with a million people on the National Mall, stretching from Capitol Hill west to the Lincoln Memorial. (They needed help with Communion!)
That Sunday morning dawned and the whole city was in holiday mode. Buses and subways were jammed. We waited out in the hot sun for several hours before the Mass started at 4 p.m., but we had interesting seating. About 3 p.m., bishops and other prelates began entering the Mall through the “checkpoint” right near our chairs. Sitting among us was a young, rather newly ordained priest from D.C., whom we had already gotten to know as one of the few men to have made it through seminary studies and been ordained while being totally blind. Father Charlie was of course always accompanied by his beautiful guide dog, and the two of them were a very familiar presence at clergy gatherings in the nation’s capital.
We moved Father Charlie from the third or fourth row back, where he had taken his place, right up to the front row so he could be closer to the action as the excitement was building. The reaction of most of the bishops and other prelates as they came in and looked down and saw the dog lying there went from puzzled (“How did a dog get in HERE?”) to genuine disdain (“How did THAT get in here?”) We were chuckling among ourselves, noting the fact that most of them didn’t observe or didn’t seem to have a clue as to what the dog’s purpose was.
Then, all of a sudden, at 3:45, in walked Pope John Paul II, to a growing wave of thunderous cheers from the million or so people as they caught a glimpse of him. The Pope smiled and waved at us priests, then his eye was immediately caught by Father Charlie and his dog. The Holy Father went directly over to Charlie and grabbed his hands. He brought them up to his own face, and let Charlie “see” the Pope with his hands and fingers in a way that none of the rest of us could. It took Charlie only about five seconds to get his “picture” of the Pope through his sense of touch, but in those five seconds the eyes of all the rest of us were blurring with tears. “Dear God,” we were saying joyfully to each other, “it took the Pope himself to really recognize what was going on there with Charlie and his dog! It took the Pope himself to see the truth of the situation. What a beautiful gesture!! And all the rest of the bishops came in and were only concerned about protocol.” And then one of the priests jokingly piped up and said what the rest of us were thinking: “Shows ya THEY’RE not infallible, doesn’t it?” We all laughed. Charlie laughed. I think his dog laughed.
I think about St. John Paul, and Father Charlie, and his dog whenever we have the story about Jesus and the blind man. Most of us feel sorry for people who cannot see with their eyes. Father Charlie could “see” the Pope with his hands and fingers; and yet, how can you “see” something as glorious as a Lake Michigan sunset with hands and fingers? There are some things that the sense of touch just can’t adequately convey. Well, now, let’s turn that around. How can we “see” something as glorious as the Kingdom of Heaven with the eyes of this body? There’s an infinite number of things that the sense of sight just can’t adequately convey. Can you imagine the angels and saints saying among themselves, “Poor guys, if they could only see what WE can, they’d understand. And maybe then they’d make the right choices.”
Well, don’t count on the latter. Remember Jesus’ warning in the parable about the rich man, and the poor man Lazarus, that if the rich man’s brothers didn’t pay attention to Moses and the prophets, they wouldn’t believe even if someone rose from the dead? That’s kind of where we’re at. If we can’t appreciate the beauty and power of God and believe his Word with all the powers of the senses he gives us, we’ve deliberately stifled our vision, whether we see with our eyes or our fingers. Similarly, we can stifle the vision of our hearts by refusing the vision, the gift of faith, and making up our minds that if we can’t “see” it with our eyes, it doesn’t exist. And even if we HAVE the gift of faith, how often do we make the wrong choices because we blind ourselves with sin? How we each need to call out to the Lord with the man in the Gospel, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me!”
And he will! Our God is so anxious to eternally show us things that “eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it entered into anyone’s heart.” Whether we “see” with our fingers and hands or with our eyes, the vision that we call faith tells us one thing: “Child of God, you ain’t seen NOTHIN’ yet!!!”