In his Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander Thomas Merton recounts a spiritual experience he had while standing on a crowded street corner: “I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realisation that I loved all these people.” He found them “walking around shining like the sun.” Merton’s writings are sprinkled with accounts of encounters with the divine. He never searched for such experiences, was initially suspicious of them but welcomed them as a contemplative grace and blessing. His commentators say that the event on that street was one of the most striking revelations in the history of spirituality. It happened on March 18, 1958, sixty five years ago this Saturday.
The cure of the man born blind reminds me of the Thomas Merton experience. This gospel account is put together with great artistry. “Once again, like last Sunday, we have a long gospel passage. It’s better to read it in its entirety because the writer has cleverly woven three stories into one, each interacting with the others and shedding light on them like the different colours of a painting. In your reflection follow up one story at a time, the one that happens to touch you right now.” – Michel de Verteuil. The gospel story is about a man born blind who gradually comes to the point where he spiritually recognised the one who opened his eyes and worshipped him. ‘Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.’
The gospel writer has Jesus point out the meaning of the cure as an instance of light coming into darkness. The story begins with a blind man who, after a lifetime of sitting in darkness, gains his sight. It ends with the Pharisees who have blinded themselves to the light and plunged themselves into darkness. In the face-off between the once blind man and the Pharisees the man’s knowledge of Jesus deepens while the Pharisees fail more and more to see the truth of who Jesus is. The various levels of interrogation correspond to the levels that searching people often go through in their quest for Christ.
Many good people who go about their daily lives live in a kind of spiritual darkness. They say they get nothing out of Sunday Mass….until something happens that makes them wonder if there’s something more to life than their experience to date. They start thinking, researching, talking to others, and eventually come in a new and personal way upon the gospel message and Jesus Christ. The Spirit of God leads them gradually to recognise Jesus who said, ‘I am the light of the world,’ in response to those who asked why the man was born blind. Everything then comes to be seen in the light of Christ – meaningful, significant, purposeful.
One of the traditions of St. Patrick that has come down is his awareness of Jesus. His prayer was suffused with his image. “After Patrick’s death,” writes John Scally, “the prayers he used were woven into a song called St Patrick’s Breastplate which is one of his enduring legacies to us today.” It includes these words: Christ be within me, Christ be beside me, Christ be behind me, Christ be before me. The prominence of the person of Christ in Patrick’s writings strongly suggests that he, like many saints and mystics after him, experienced a relationship with Christ that was deeply personal, life-giving and life-changing.
Fr. QQ – 03/07/2023

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