The Only Cure for Our Spiritual Blindness is Holiness

Over 21 years ago I made my canonical retreat that was required before being ordained a transitional deacon. We were studying the Letter to the Romans in the retreat conferences and came upon a particularly difficult passage early in the retreat. The retreat master, an older priest and well known scripture scholar stopped his train of thought, perhaps perceiving we were having difficulty and said, “Do you know what is the biggest obstacle for us in understanding the Word of God?” I was expecting a geeky answer like, “We don’t know enough Greek,”  or “We haven’t studied the Historical Critical Method carefully enough.” But the priest pleasantly surprised me we he paused, looked around the room and then said, “The biggest obstacle we have to understanding the Word of God is our sin.”  He was (and still is) Fr. Francis Martin. He went on to encourage us in the discipline of study but warned us that all the study in the world could not be of great help, indeed it could be of harm, if we did not have a clean heart. I have respected him ever since and listened on tape  to probably two dozen other priest conferences and courses he preached and taught. He became one of my principal teachers through his tape ministry though I was never formally enrolled in a class he taught.

Scholars, academicians, even unbelievers to some extent can tell you what a biblical text is talking about, but only the holy, the Saints, can tell you what it means. Fulton Sheen was famous for saying toward the end of his life something to the effect, that we have tried in modern times every possible way to build up the Church: committees, study groups, task forces, seminars, advanced degrees in every sort of theology and religious study. But there is only one thing that we have not tried and that is holiness. He went on to recommend that every priest commit to make a daily Holy Hour.

This past week in the Office of Readings from the Breviary the following reading reminded me of all these things:

If you say, “Show me your God,” I will say to you, “Show me what kind of person you are, and I will show you my God.” …..God is seen by those who have the capacity to see him, provided that they keep the eyes of their mind open. All have eyes, but some have eyes that are shrouded in darkness, unable to see the light of the sun. Because the blind cannot see it, it does not follow that the sun does not shine. The blind must trace the cause back to themselves and their eyes. In the same way, you have eyes in your mind that are shrouded in darkness because of your sins and evil deeds. A person’s soul should be clean, like a mirror reflecting light. If there is rust on the mirror his face cannot be seen in it. In the same way, no one who has sin within him can see God. But if you will you can be healed. Hand yourself over to the doctor, and he will open the eyes of your mind and heart. Who is to be the doctor? It is God, who heals and gives life through his Word and wisdom…. If you understand this, and live in purity and holiness and justice, you may see God. But, before all, faith and the fear of God must take the first place in your heart, and then you will understand all this. When you have laid aside mortality and been clothed in immortality, then you will see God according to your merits.— From the book addressed to Autolycus by Saint Theophilus of Antioch, bishop

So there it is, holiness, a the fear of the Lord are the only way to really see at all.

There was an option this past Sunday in Parishes where the Second Scrutiny was celebrated to the Gospel of the Man Born Blind. In a pivotal moment Jesus smeared  his eyelids with clay and sends him to the Pool of Siloam to wash. He comes back able to see. When asked how he came to see he says, in effect, “I went, I washed and now I see.”  This is Baptismal theology even if in seminal form. We cannot see until we are washed. In the end it is Baptism, Confession and a holy life by God’s grace that give the greatest light. One of the great theologians and Fathers of the Church St. Cyprian experienced the vision that Baptism and holiness brings:

And I myself was bound fast, held by so many errors of my past life, from which I did not believe I could extricate myself. I was disposed therefore to yield to my clinging vices; and, despairing of better ways, I indulged my sins…But afterwards, when the stain of my past life had been washed away by means of the waters of rebirth, a light from above poured itself upon my chastened and now pure heart; afterwards, through the Spirit which is breathed from heaven, a second birth made of me a new man. And then in marvelous manner, doubts immediately clarified themselves, the closed opened…and what had been thought impossible was able to be done(“Letter to Donatus,” 4).

Only after baptism did some things make sense and seem possible for Cyprian. For me too, I have come to understand some things only after many years of prayer and growth. Daily Holy Hours, daily mass and the liturgy of the hours, weekly confession, only then do some things clarify and does that which had been in darkness come to light. Studies have had their place in my life to be sure, But only the path to holiness (combined with study) can ever really bring light.

We’ve tried everything! How about holiness? …..Prayer anyone?

Here’s a video I put together on the beauty of prayer especially before the Blessed Sacrament. It is set to the words of a beautiful Eucharistic Hymn “Jesus My Lord, My God, My All”  directed by the late Richard Proulx.

18 Replies to “The Only Cure for Our Spiritual Blindness is Holiness”

  1. I have done the Bible Studies, and talks, and even daily mass and I agree with you – sin does make you further away from the Word of God. I also feel bad if I get distracted thinking about work and personal problems during Mass. My pastor did say that it’s ok if you can’t stop thinking about it and by thinking about it during Mass it is one way of showing God your vulnerability and asking for His help.

    My other biggest issue with my spirituality is in my emotions. Going to church after work may seem like I’m a hardcore Catholic (considering the amount of time I put in at work and my attempts to pay attention and look poised after a long night shift), but at Mass I am often distracted, sleepy, and depending on what I experienced during the shift, sometimes emotionless (numb). I just hope God sees I am trying to be holy even though I am definitely not looking, feeling, or acting my best coming to Mass after work!

    1. Yes, Katherine, Keep showing up. God knows how weak our minds are. I can only say that over the years its gotten better for me. But surely I’ve a long way to go before a fully disciplined mind is mine.

  2. Excellent article Father. During this Lent I have really tried to look inside myself. Not only to acknowledge my sinful behavior but the motivation behind it. Among my many self discoveries, I found some “old sins” lying dormant. I had never truely confessed them and realized until I did so they were going to haunt me and keep me from coming closer to Our Lord. For example, in the past I had a tendency to go over my bosses head. Even though I thought I was doing what was best for the company, it was still prideful. After confessing these sins of the past I felt a sense of relief that I had never felt before. There really aren’t words but for lack of a better term I felt lighter, like a weight had been lifted. Simply put, my faith grew that day and I have even more determination to grow and a stronger will to persevere. I know we still have time left in Lent but I want to thank you because your posts have really helped make this a blessed season. From your blog on making a good confession, to this one. They have been very insightful and a true blessing for me to read. Please keep up the good work and I pray other Priests recognize and follow your example. There is alot of pain and confusion in the world today. All we have left, I believe, is our Lord Jesus Christ and we need our Priests to guide us. You’re an example to your bretheren and credit to God and I thank you. God Bless you.

  3. Keeping holy faith is a life style. When a person works out the body, the muscles stay conditioned. Likewise, I believe it is necessary to excecise spiritual faith by praying where we talk to God, and by reading a Catholic Study Bilbe (which has proper interpretation), where God talks to us. Reading 30 minutes a day the writings of the Chruch Fathers such a Thomas Aquinas, Jerome, Augustine of Hippo, and St. Catherine of Siena, helps to understand the deep meaning of worship to the creator. Also,Jesus of Nazareth by Pope Benedict XVI, is good study material. They teach the intellect is the eye of the soul, and faith is the pupil of that eye. The soul mystically sees God though the medium of love, and faith. Love of one’s neighbor is demonstration of true love for Jesus, because this is His doctrine. God requires we follow the steps of Christ crucified, and loves us in proportion to the love we give him. Being retired, I have time to say the Stations of the Cross 5 times a day, and have been doing so for several years now, and I truely feel a very close encounter with the God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob, through our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. “Your Word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path (Psalm 119:105).” As Catholics, we need to know, explain, spread, and defend our belief in the teaching of true Church of Jesus Christ, and prepare our children, who will be the next generation of the Faithful. God bless you Msgr. Pope for you many and diverse subjects which keep our interest active, and help us to grow spiritually.

  4. I have for most of my life avoided confession, and only in the past few years come to realize how important it is. But knowing I should go, and actually going are of course different things. This year I was determined to take advantage of the “Leave the Light On” program and go to confession every week during Lent. It has not been easy, but not for the reasons I expected. Getting myself to the church has not been a problem, except when the weather made it harder. Even making an examination of conscience has not been that difficult, as I have learned several tools for that in the last few years (a couple of them from this blog-thanks!) But going up to my pastor, and saying to him, “Well I did this AGAIN, and that AGAIN, oh and the other thing AGAIN, is difficult, pride wounding, and my analytical mind tries to tell me, “This is pointless if all you do is repeat the same litany over again.” But something amazing has been happening. The last time I went, I expressed this difficulty to my pastor, and with his help, and God’s, I began to see myself and my sins more clearly. And I have truly felt His Grace when I have been tempted, helping me to not repeat my mistakes, as I have never been able to do on my own. I know my story is nothing new here, but if anyone who reads this doesn’t know the power of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, I am one more witness that this power is very, very real. Thanks for all your challenging words Msgr.

    1. Mike, Thank you for your post. I have felt this very same way: same sin to be confessed over and over, until finally there is clarity and that sin no longer has me bound (for now). All this because of God’s merciful heart of course. Striving toward holiness everyday with the Holy Spirit leading the way.

  5. Beautiful! I would like to pass this on…Are your meditations under copyright protection? I’m in the habit of passing on any personal meditation/writings with the source identified. I looked through the web site, but could not find any. Thank you

  6. no one who has sin within him can see God

    “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?”
    He will answer them, “Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.”
    (Mt 25:44-45)

  7. We cannot do it ourselves. It is only with grace that we see with the eyes of the heart, that we see truly, as God sees, rather than the false and counterfeit world of illusion in which we live, where evil is seen as good, good is seen as bad, true beauty is seen as plain, what is truly meaningless is seen as beautiful, freedom is seen as slavery, bondage seen as freedom, the lie is seen as true, and the truth seen as an unjust, harsh lie.

    It is only with grace, but that grace is freely offered to all who will but ask for it . . . and accept it. Ah, that’s the hard part — accepting it.

    In his homily for Epiphany, Pope Benedict spoke of being able to truly see when it comes to scripture —
    Although the few of Bethlehem have become many, believers in Jesus Christ always seem to be few. Many have seen the star, but few have understood its message. Scripture scholars of Jesus’ time knew the word of God perfectly. They were able to say without any difficulty what was to be found in Scripture regarding the place in which the Messiah would be born, but, as St. Augustine says, “as the milestones (that indicate the way), they remained inert and immovable” (Sermo 199. In Epiphania Domini, 1, 2).

    Hence, we can ask ourselves: What is the reason that some see and others do not? What is it that opens the eyes and heart? What is missing in those who remain indifferent, from those who indicate the way but do not move? We can answer: the excessive certainty in themselves, the pretension of knowing reality perfectly, the presumption of already having formulated a definitive judgment on things, thus making their hearts closed and insensitive to the novelty of God. They are certain of the idea they have of the world and do not let themselves be moved in their deepest being by the adventure of a God who wants to meet them. They place more confidence in themselves than in him, and they do not consider it possible that God, being so great, can make himself small, that he can really come close to us.

    In the end, what is missing is genuine humility, which is able to submit to what is greater, but also the genuine courage that leads one to believe what is really great, even if it is manifested in a defenseless child.

    Lacking is the capacity to be children at heart, to be amazed, and to come out of oneself to undertake the way indicated by the star, the way of God. Nevertheless, the Lord has the power to make us able to see and to save us. Therefore, we want to ask him to give us a wise and innocent heart, which will allow us to see the star of his mercy, which will lead us on his way, to meet him and be inundated by the great light and the true joy that he has brought to this world. Amen.

    1. Wow – great quote! Especially:

      “excessive certainty in themselves, the pretension of knowing reality perfectly, the presumption of already having formulated a definitive judgment on things, thus making their hearts closed and insensitive to the novelty of God.”

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