After reading this essay title, Tom Petty fans are probably humming the chorus to one of my favorites of his. The second Sunday of Advent, indeed ALL of Advent, is about waiting. Each week, we light the candles of the Advent wreath to commemorate the 4,000 years God’s People waited for the Messiah. For a child, however, Advent can be a sort of “holy countdown” to the main event—Christmas and Santa. When you are little, the waiting truly IS the hardest part of December.
As I get a little older and the more commercial and secular Christmas becomes, the more I treasure Advent. It’s as if the Church has given us extra time to prepare for the sacred season. It’s like when you have guests coming over for dinner, and that 5 PM work meeting has been canceled. Suddenly, you have a little more time to prepare and be ready to welcome your guests with calm and joy. This is the gift of the season.
I love everything about Advent—the readings, the colors, and especially the music. Today’s reading from Isaiah is particularly beautiful. It starts with words of comfort—desperately needed when Isaiah wrote them, and especially now, given the trauma of terrorism and loss of life in the Holy Land. How can we respond to these words? Isaiah gives us a roadmap—to prepare the way of the Lord by dedicating ourselves to loving Him and our fellow neighbor. We should measure our holiday hustle against these benchmarks: do our activities help us better love God and serve our neighbor? If not, maybe some of them this year and see how it affects our view and experience of Christmas.
What are some concrete ways to do this?
Get to know God better. In addition to Mass during Advent, commit to attending one of the educational events at St. Ignatius. Reading the Bible is another way to better understand God and His plan for us all. This can be daunting, but this year, I have done The Bible in a Year on the Hallow app. You can start any time of the year and go at your own pace—each session is about 22 minutes. Doing this over the year has helped me recognize the readings in Mass and their overall place in salvation history. Finally, find God through the experiences of others of faith. In working on the Mary Project, an interfaith discussion of Mary from the Catholic and Muslim traditions, I have seen the faithfulness of Mary and the presence of God in our world through a different lens, and I am making new friends, too!
Sing a new song. Advent has arguably some of the most beautiful music of the season. Take some time and learn a new hymn and ALL its lyrics. Be sure to sing in Mass no matter what you think of your musical ability! My favorite is Comfort, Comfort, O My People, which is like today’s reading. One beautiful setting is the video by Ignatian Scola on YouTube. St. Augustine said, “He/She who sings prays twice.” Think about that the next time you are in Mass! Be sure to attend one of our parish’s Christmas concerts—today at 3 PM and December 17th at 3 PM. Both are beautiful and have ample opportunity for audience participation.
Reach out to your neighbor. Yes, there is plenty of opportunity for charitable donations this time of year, but in addition to those, reach out to family or friends you haven’t heard from in a while or a neighbor down the hall. Invite a friend feeling overwhelmed by the holiday to Mass or one of our concerts.
Each of these is a way for you to do a little bit to make straight the highway for our God. Happy Advent…happy waiting!
— Simon Vinocour McKeever, Chair, Ignatian Interfaith MinistryDecember 3, 2023 Essay: Spiritual Treasure
[This First Sunday of Advent, St. Ignatius Loyola Parish celebrates the RCIA Rite of Welcome, acknowledging a group of adults as they formally begin their journey toward becoming Catholic. This essay is written by Steve and Etra Rancourt, who were received into the Church at last year’s Easter Vigil.]
Recently, our family has been captivated by a television show that involves a group of friends searching for various gold treasures around the globe. The adventure on which these friends embark is both rewarding and challenging. It causes them to question many aspects of their lives prior to this adventure. When I think about our journey of becoming Catholic and part of St. Ignatius Loyola Parish, it can also be described as a treasure hunt, but one of the spirit. The parables below from Matthew speak to this spiritual treasure:
“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it.” (Matthew 13:44-46).
One such treasure has been the RCIA program. The teachers brought us to the Gospel. Each week was its own adventure, where you travel to a new destination. The vivid imagery contained in the verses made it feel as if we had been there in person a millennium ago. Oftentimes, the classes would result in us debating or helping each other understand the more complex lessons under the night sky on the walk home. The readings, handouts, and textbook were helpful guides to deciphering how the teachings of Jesus apply today. Faith has opened an entirely new dimension in our lives. We still have a lot to learn. We are grateful that St. Ignatius Loyola has so many engaged clergy and parishioners to help continue the exploration.
Another treasure we have discovered at St. Ignatius Loyola is the Interparish Religious Education Program (IREP) and Liturgy of the Word for Children. The teachers present lessons on humbleness, charity, gratitude, & forgiveness told through the Bible in an engaging and understandable manner. It is truly a unique and rare experience that is hard to find elsewhere. It is a privilege for our children to be able to attend these programs that help build character.
The most surprising treasure of all has been the experience of participating in Mass. Not until we experienced it for ourselves could we fully appreciate how transformational spending this time in personal reflection, communal fellowship, receiving the Eucharist, prayer, and rejoicing could be. The choir, homilies, community, and Communion Rite provide the map to guide us toward encountering Jesus in the Eucharist.
Once Mass concludes and we depart from the Church, we are ready to begin our week—inspired again. We know that we will not be perfect disciples in the days ahead, but we feel that each week we return to Mass, we are one step closer to the treasure buried in the field or the fine pearls of the parables.
In the spirit of the season, we thank you all for the love and support the parish community has shown our family. We thank the Lord for guiding us up the steps and through these doors. We pray for the RCIA Catechumens and Candidates experiencing this journey in the Welcome Rite today. Amen.
— Steve & Etra Rancourt, St. Ignatius Loyola Parishioners/2022 RCIA GroupFrom the Pastor: Vision Statement Implementation Plan
I am delighted to inform you that the Vision Statement Implementation Plan was distributed at all Masses on the weekend of 18-19 November. With its publication, we now begin the task of bringing to life the vision that we have for our parish.
The path before us will not always be easy, but by embracing the implementation plan as a shared responsibility, together we will succeed in creating the paradigm of what it means to be a parish church in the 21st century. We will taste and see the joy of discipleship.
Our goal is praiseworthy. It is easily within our reach if we work together. Please join us in this endeavor to bring greater glory to God through the ways in which we live and celebrate what it means to be parishioners of the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola.
Let us pray that the Holy Spirit guide us in all our actions as we begin the process of implementing our Vision Statement.
God bless you!
— Fr. YesaloniaNovember 26, 2023: Order, Carry, Feed, Bless
Today’s feast has quite a handle—“Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.” What a dramatic title! Pius XI instituted this solemnity in 1925, as a response to the rise of secular, nationalist governments that threatened the rights and privileges of the church. But what does this image of Christ king-of-the-universe mean to us who live in an (arguably) advanced democracy in the 21st century? We might imagine Jesus as the archetype of the “Good King”, or a good leader, whose role-modeling we can bring to our stewardship of family, community, and church. To lead in the imitation of Christ is to fulfill four essential tasks—order, carry, feed, bless.
Good leaders are a source of order, not disorder. They create a sense of safety, stability, and reliability. Jesus extended a safe, loving embrace to people whose lives were riddled with disorder and fear—for example, the woman caught in adultery, or poor blind Bartimaeus. Jesus’ very presence instilled a spirit of love, acceptance, and hope. We have the power to order forces as well within our own small circles. We can do this by being steady, discerning, compassionate, even-tempered, sober, gentle, and consistent.
The Christ-like leader does not expect others to carry him but seeks instead to carry. Jesus certainly had fears and anxieties of his own, but he did not make those the center of everyone’s attention. When he was overwhelmed by the demands and expectations people placed on him, he would retreat in solitude to pray. These periods of spiritual renewal with his Heavenly Father enabled him to be totally present to his family of disciples. Promising rest, Jesus invited others to bring the burdens they carry to him, the one whose “yoke is easy and burden light” (Matthew 11:30). We live this principle when we tend our spiritual, psychological, and emotional health so that we can be more authentically available to others. More importantly, we do our forgiveness work so that we’re not transmitting unresolved pain and resentment for others to carry.
Jesus did not feed off the adulation and attention of others. He wanted all to shine, to do their indispensable part in preparing for the coming kingdom of God: “Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father” (Matthew 5:16). We do as Jesus did when we support others in using their gifts and talents to serve God’s dream for the world. The good leader nurtures and nourishes the student, then rejoices when surpassed by the pupil, and is content to recede so the other may shine.
Finally, the good leader is a source of blessing; she blesses more than she curses. Jesus was blessed by his Father as the “beloved son in whom I am well pleased,” and he bestowed blessing in turn on each of us. We have the power to bless others when we affirm their gifts, welcome them, let them know that they are seen and heard when we speak well of them. I recall the blessing of an older Jesuit colleague at my first teaching job when I was only a few months out of college. As the school year began he took me aside to tell of his gratitude for my presence in the community, how he could see that the students were quickly warming up to me, and that I had the “gift”. For a frightened, inexperienced young man, to hear these words of affirmation from a respected senior was the definition of a blessing!
As we pray today with and to Christ the King, may he give us the grace to order, carry, feed, and bless, as he does. His kingdom draws nearer, his people experience healing, and his vision of peace unfolds when each of us seeks to exemplify the traits of Jesus, the “Good King”.
— Brian Pinter, Pastoral AssociateNovember 19, 2023 Essay: War is a Defeat for Humanity
In his message for the World Day of Peace on January 1, 2000, Pope John Paul II wrote: “Wars generally do not resolve the problems for which they are fought and therefore, in addition to causing horrendous damage, they prove ultimately futile. War is a defeat for humanity.” As we witness the conflict between Israel and Hamas, the ongoing war between Ukraine and Russia, as well as the conflicts that have not garnered the West’s attention, it is difficult to deny the truth that war is, indeed, a defeat for humanity.
At the outset of Christianity, the use of violence was considered irreconcilable with the gospel of Jesus Christ. One of the earliest Christian theologians, Origen, wrote: “We [Christians] no longer take up sword against nation, nor do we learn war any more, having become children of peace for the sake of Jesus, who is our leader.” In time, of course, the Church came to articulate a theory in which the use of violence could be considered just under carefully delineated circumstances. This was the “just war theory.” The just war theory had two components. The first sought to define the conditions under which military force was justified. The second sought to define how such force may be used in an ethical manner. A war could only be considered ‘just’ if the requisite conditions necessary for military force were present and that military force was used consistent with the ethical criteria of a just war. In the just war tradition, military force could only be deployed as a means of last resort, and that force could only be deployed in a way proportionate to the wrong that was done. Every effort had to be made to avoid the killing of non-combatants.
After witnessing firsthand the progressively greater destruction wrought by wars throughout the twentieth century, the Catholic Church returned to its roots and began to reject the use of military force as a just means to resolve issues between or within nations. In his encyclical, Pacem in terris [Peace on earth], Pope John XXIII wrote: “It is contrary to reason to hold that war is now a suitable way to restore rights which have been violated.” More recently, John Paul II wrote: “Today, the scale and horror of modern warfare…makes it totally unacceptable as a means of settling differences between nations. War should belong to the to the tragic past…” Benedict XVI focused on war and violence as an assault on human dignity: “To put one’s trust in violent means in the hope of restoring more justice is to become the victim of a fatal illusion. Violence begets violence and degrades man.” Pope Francis continues in this tradition by calling for a renunciation of violence and responding to evil with the weapons of truth and love.
The Church’s repudiation of violence as a means to redress wrongs that individuals and nations have suffered was first tested with the invasion of Ukraine by Russia. It has been further tested by the barbaric assault by Hamas on Israel. In the case of the war between Ukraine and Russia, our Church holds out the hope that a just and peaceful resolution can be achieved that will end the senseless suffering this war has inflicted on so many. In the case of the conflict between Hamas and Israel, our Church is deeply concerned with the disproportionate suffering of the civilian population in Gaza in Israel’s response to what was an unspeakably horrific assault on Israel’s own civilian population. Particularly painful is the large number of children killed in Gaza—4000 as of early November, with 1250 missing. It is clear in both cases that war is, indeed, a defeat for humanity—a wound that, even if it heals, leaves a lasting, ugly scar.
— Fr. Mark Hallinan, S.J., Associate PastorIgnatian Social Justice Essay: Building Tiny Home #2 on the Lakota Sioux, Cheyenne River Reservation
A group of six volunteers from St. Ignatius Loyola joined 13 YMCA Alumni for Wave 5 of the National Y Service project to the Cheyenne River Reservation in Dupree, South Dakota. It is here on the YMCA Council of the Seven Fires site where we built Tiny Home # 2 of four homes to be constructed.
The weather this year was sunny and warm with not much wind, so we were able to construct Tiny Home 2 during the week there with 19 pairs of hands. This year, we also had a forklift truck to help secure the panels and speed up the construction.
No special skills are needed to construct these SIP (Structural Insulated Panels) tiny homes. Under the direction of the Y Volunteer Construction manager, George Painter, from Lake George, New York, the panels were caulked, aligned, and nailed in place by 19 volunteers, mostly YMCA affiliated, from around the United States.
Two volunteers, Mike Turner and Mark from Ohio, who have extensive building knowledge, guided our enthusiastic group each day. St. Ignatius Loyola volunteers sprung into action every step of the way. Kathy McCulloch learned to caulk, Kevin Byrnes’s tall height provided much-needed assistance in many areas, Marianne Huntington climbed ladders and swung a hammer, and Xiomara Larios & I caulked and used a drill this year!
Dana Dupris and Ben Elk spoke to the volunteers about the history of the Cheyenne River Reservation and their childhood. Dana was five years old when he was taken away from his family to attend a boarding school. He spoke about the horrific treatment they faced every day and how those running the boarding school tried to “scrub the Indian” out of them. They cut their hair, they could no longer speak their language, and wear their cultural clothes. Despite this harsh treatment, Dana lives in gratitude. He is faithful to the Creator Spirit and learned there is no room to get angry. It does no good getting angry.
Recapping our service immersion trip to the Cheyenne River Reservation is poignant during November, Native American Heritage Month. All Americans need to be reminded that the Indigenous people of America were already living here before the European settlers arrived.
It seems like we need to ask ourselves tough questions: How can we help reconcile and heal the immorality that was done to our Native Americans? How can we learn about their cultures? Maybe you will be the hands and feet, as Jesus compels us, to help build a Tiny Home on the Cheyenne River Reservation and meet the Lakota people.
Come and join us next September as we build Tiny Home #3!
Contact Jean Santopatre, Pastoral Associate, for more information at [email protected].
If you would like to donate to the Y National Tiny Home Service Project, please visit https://national-service-project.constantcontactsites.com/giving.
— Jean Santopatre, Pastoral AssociateNovember 5, 2023 Essay: Remembering the Dead
November has traditionally been the month when the Church remembers in a special way all the dead—all those who have fallen asleep in the hope of the resurrection and all who have died in your mercy: welcome them into the light of your face (from the second Eucharistic Prayer of the Mass).
Last Wednesday, on the Feast of All Saints, we honored what scripture calls “the great multitude which no one can count”—all the dead, canonized or not—who have reached human fulfillment and who live now in the face-to-face vision of God. Surely, that great multitude includes people we have known—some of our own deceased relatives and friends.
Last Thursday, we celebrated the feast we used to call the Feast of All Souls. In recent years, All Souls Day has come to be known as the “Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed.” There was good reason for the change in name. We remember complete persons that day, not just their souls. These were individuals not quite prepared at the time of their death to come into the presence of God. They left this world with “unfinished business,” so to speak, and require some purgation and growth to fully participate in the glorious life God has prepared for us.
The Church has given the name of Purgatory to this final stage of preparation for ultimate union with God. This is not a place of punishment for sin, a kind of hell, but rather a state of completion and healing. From its earliest days, the Church has encouraged prayers for the dead in the belief that our prayers can be efficacious in helping to bring the dead to the bliss of heaven.
These two days that begin the month of November are among the best reminders we have of the Church’s consoling teaching on the communion of saints—one of the articles of faith mentioned in the Nicene Creed that we profess at every Sunday Mass. Our Christian belief in the communion of saints holds that there is a vital connection between the living and the dead.
All of us who make up the Church on earth, all the saints in heaven, and all the dead who have not yet come to complete fulfillment in heaven are intimately related to one another. And death does not, and cannot, sever this connection.
Just as death is not the end of life, death is not the end of a relationship with a loved one who has died. Let me quote a letter I received from a parishioner whose mother had died: “We Christians have the astonishing belief that our dead are not cut off from us and from life. But that doesn’t take away the grieving. How great is the void death creates! Yet I am aware of the continuing presence of my mother, be it ever so subtle and gentle like the softest light, but consoling and strengthening.”
This daughter’s experience is an example of Catholicity in its greater extension: our communion with loved ones, deceased as well as living. Hopefully, the month of November, with its longer and darker nights, will serve to unite us more closely with all the dead—with the saints and the not-yet saints who have gone before us into the dark night of death, believing in life everlasting.
— Fr. William J. Bergen, S.J., Senior PriestOctober 29, 2023 Essay: Saints in the Making
When I first introduced myself at the Wallace Hall Family Mass, I asked the congregation if any Canterbury School alumni, aka Saints, were in the crowd. I had just spent a year teaching theology at Canterbury School in New Milford, Connecticut, and thought perhaps I would discover a common connection. There was not a peep from the Mass-goers, and I pivoted, responding: well, it seems we’re all saints in the making.
This week is Halloween, the Solemnity of All Saints Day and All Souls Day. In medieval England, the festival, All Saints Day, was known as All Hallows, and its eve is still known as Halloween. The period from October 31st to November 2nd, All Souls Day, was known as Allhallowtide. Centuries later, we continue to celebrate, venerate, and pray, commemorating those who have passed just as our liturgical year ends. We pray to saints we know, to those we believe have entered eternal life, and for the souls that need our prayers. How glorious to participate with saints in the making.
All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit …This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be a real and costly love. — C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory (1942)
Seeing the faithful working among us against insurmountable odds is hopeful; both hope and charity were on display at the Courageous Women of Faith event on October 12th. On that evening, the following were honored: environmental activist Molly Burhans, human rights activist Sr. Jeannine Gramick, civil rights activist Diane Nash, and immigration advocate Sr. Norma Pimentel. Their incredible work was commemorated with the conferral of the Mary Magdalene Award to each honoree and the unveiling of large-scale banners of the women, created by artist Julie Lonneman.
Women’s Voices invites you to join us on November 16th at 6 PM in Wallace Hall for Discovering Women of Our Faith Tradition: The Scriptures and the Saints, Dinner and Dialogue with Dr. Teresa Berger, Ph.D., Professor of Liturgical Studies & Thomas E. Golden Jr. Professor of Catholic Theology at Yale University School of Divinity and Dr. Paul Lakeland, the Aloysius P. Kelley, S.J., Professor of Catholic Studies and founding director of the Center for Catholic Studies at Fairfield University. Please join us to be inspired by a discussion of the faithful and saints who came before us. Most importantly, seek those who are committed to God’s work and join them in the communion of Saints.
— Kate Noonan, Director, Interparish Religious Education ProgramISJ Essay: Recommendation Letters From Heaven
St. Ignatius Parish recently hosted an event this past summer for City Relief, a mobile outreach organization that offers people experiencing poverty and homelessness some hot meals, socks and blankets, personal products, and connections to resources for housing, employment, and health care. Thank you, Father Yeslaonia and Father Hallinan, for providing parish facilities and your ongoing support for City Relief. A growing group of parishioners volunteer and donate to support City Relief. Our fellow parishioner, Nick DiOrio, had served with City Relief as Senior Officer and Community Outreach Director for City Relief. He is transitioning to new work.
I volunteer regularly with City Relief. I spoke at the event about my own City Relief experiences. When people ask why I volunteer, I think of Reverend James Forbes, a long-time rector at Riverside Church on the Upper West Side. Dr. Forbes often said that no one gets into heaven without letters of recommendation from the poor. That statement resonated with me long after I read it several years ago. I hope City Relief and our Friday Friends help me with those letters.
I often volunteer on Fridays at the City Relief 14th Street site. At the St. Ignatius event, I shared my stories about my interactions with my Friday Friends. I want to share with my fellow parishioners some of the most amazing people I have had the good fortune to know on a personal level.
A frequent guest is John, a college professor in Pennsylvania, when he took his students to New York City for an extended field trip. He fell in love with the Statue of Liberty and resolved to someday live in the Big Apple. He relocated to Manhattan, where he now lives near 14th Street. John compares City Relief to the US Post Office with its motto Neither Hail Nor Rain Nor Sleet Nor Snow Nor Gloom of Night Shall Keep These Couriers from Their Appointed Rounds. John tells me the time when New York City suffered a bitterly cold day with snow on the ground two years ago. He did not think City Relief would be out on such a brutal day. The easily recognizable blue and white City Relief truck made it in time for the 11 AM coffee and soup. John added, “City Relief is dependable and reliable, and I know I can count on them in hot or cold weather, in summer or winter.”
Another regular Friday Friend is Dennis (AKA Turtle Man), who often comes to 14th Street with a shoe box under his arm and his pet turtle, Danielle, inside. Imagine the scene when he opens the shoe box and takes out Danielle, who scurries along 14th Street. Only in New York on a hectic street will you see this treat. Dennis is especially proud that he nursed Danielle back to good health. Many of our parishioners reading this may know Dennis because he often helps dispose of trash on Park and 84th Street. When Dennis had a bout with cancer, parishioner Anne Melanson requested prayers for Dennis at all the Masses. Dennis is more than a Friday Friend. He is also our caring neighbor who makes life more pleasant for all of us. Thank you, Dennis, for being who you are and letting our parish know your sense of humor and friendly disposition.
Chris, another guest, travels from Brooklyn. He walks down 14th Street with that typical glazed facial appearance we all have as we meander the streets of New York. When Chris sees the City Relief truck and the tables and chairs all set up, he smiles because he knows he can count on a lively chat, hot coffee, and soup in an environment of respect and dignity. Chris may live an isolated and turbulent life, but he knows one constant — City Relief!
And then there is the friend who makes everyone laugh as he shows off his t-shirt emblazoned with Older Than Dirt, But Still Above Ground. I don’t even know his name, but he, too, in his own way, adds to the sense of family.
Another Friday Friend is William, a Navy veteran who served in the First Gulf War. William and I have bonded over our love of trains and schools in Queens County, where we grew up. If you know William, you don’t need City Mapper or the MTA Transportation App. He can tell you how to get from Point A to Point B in a New York minute. He will even tell you whether to get on the train in the front or back car. It is a gift, and he shares that gift so readily. What I admire about William is his uncanny knack for making everyone he talks with feel so special. He oozes gentleness and decency. Despite William’s many health issues, he is more concerned for others than for himself. That is William’s special gift to the world., and I am privileged to receive that gift when he visits Friday Friends. Thank you, William, for being you.
So what have I learned from my City Relief service? I have learned something no prestigious law degree nor Ph.D. could teach, and that is to never judge a book by its cover. Chris, John, the Turtle Man, and William are just a few of my Friday Friends. They have made me a better person. They helped me clearly see the Jesuit value of seeing God in all things and the whole idea of Jesuit accompaniment. I hope they will give me the letters of recommendation I need for heaven.
If you or other parishioners are seeking your own letters of recommendation for heaven, there are many available opportunities at City Relief (www.cityrelief.org). You can also contact me through our parish ministry, Ignatian Social Justice, at [email protected].
— Terry QuinnOctober 22, 2023 Essay: “I See People Looking Like Trees and Walking”
In Mark’s Gospel there is a story of an encounter between Jesus and a blind man. The blind man’s friends brought him to Jesus and simply asked Jesus that he touch their friend. Jesus led the man outside, spat on the ground, and wiped his muddied spittle on the eyes of the blind man. He then asked him, “Do you see anything?” The blind man answered, “I see people looking like trees and walking.” After wiping the eyes of the blind man a second time, his sight was restored and, in the words of the evangelist, “he saw everything distinctly” Mark 8:22-26.
Sitting at my computer to write this essay, this scriptural passage came to mind as I prepared for cataract surgery. Of course, it is nothing as serious or dramatic as the cure of the blind man, and God willing, the use of the surgeon’s spittle will not be used during the surgery, but it does remind me of the precious gift of sight and the importance of faith in seeing things distinctly. My vision may have been blurred physically, but how has my vision been blurred in other ways? Do I ever see people looking like trees? Perhaps it depends on where I choose to fix my gaze.
At times, our vision is blurred for any one of a myriad of reasons. If you depend on eyeglasses and put them aside, even for a moment, you know what it is like. What was so familiar becomes a shadow of itself. When firmly perched once again on the bridge of the nose, a whole new world opens. The familiar becomes mixed with the possibility of discovering what may have been missed before. Similarly for those whose cataracts have “ripened,” like mine, what was lost in soupy silhouette will be brought into sharper focus through the replacement of an old lens with a new one.
When we look at the world or ourselves, what do we focus on? The narrower the focus, the greater the likelihood we will fail to see what is on the periphery. What lens do we use when we look either outward or inward? Our biases can stealthily infiltrate our vision, catapulting us into making a quick judgment as a matter of convenience or habit. In other words, we see people or ourselves looking like trees, stick figures walking in a murky world of shadows. At times, gaining clarity of vision may require surgery, replacing the lens through which we encounter the world.
Pope Francis has called to the Vatican delegates from around the world, now meeting at the Synod on Synodality, to take a closer look at the church today, to widen their focus so that it includes those who have been marginalized both by society and the church. He invited members of the laity, priests, members of religious orders, and representatives of other faith traditions, to join the bishops of the church and participate in the month-long sessions of the Synod on Synodality. In preparation for the Synod there were local diocesan meetings throughout the world. These meetings were listening sessions intended to inform the ongoing discernment process. To those who participated at the local level and at the Synod itself, and, in fact, to all Catholics, the Pope offers a new lens to replace the lenses of the past that have mired the church in scandal and abject clericalism. It is a lens of compassion, forgiveness, and mercy. This is indeed the lens through which the Pope has approached the world throughout his papacy.
More than a miracle story, the blind man’s encounter with Jesus invites us to examine what we see in the ordinary routine of our lives. A patina of faith will only cloud our field of vision. We will focus only on the things that we want to see. The periphery will be filled with people looking like trees and walking in the background of our own narrow world of self-interest. Like the second wiping of the blind man’s eyes, when we allow ourselves to be touched by the healing presence of Jesus in our lives, we will have the ability to look deeper and see things distinctly without the impairment of the faulty lenses of ego, prejudice, and judgment. Our world will be encountered anew.
With God’s help, we, like the friends of the blind man, will lead others to be touched by the love and healing presence of Jesus. We will walk side by side with other people of faith to proclaim with joy the kingdom of God.
— Dennis J. Yesalonia, S.J., Pastor