What Do Jesus Christ and Sherlock Holmes Have in Common?
The Sixth Wednesday of Ordinary Time.
Lessons from the primary feria, according to the ordinary form of the Roman Rite:
• Genesis 8: 6-13, 20-22.
• Psalm 116: 12-15, 18-19.
• Mark 8: 22-26.
Lessons from the dominica,** according to the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite:
• I Corinthians 9: 24-27; 10: 1-5.
• [Gradual] Psalm 9: 10-11, 19-20.
• [Tract] Psalm 129: 1-4.
• Matthew 20: 1-16.
8:30 AM 2/20/2019 — Of the different accounts contained in the Gospels of our Lord healing someone who’s blind, the one we read today occurs only in Mark, a slap in the face to those who mistakenly claim that Mark’s Gospel was the most primitive, with it’s material being used by the other evangelists. And a fairly strange account it is, too, easy to misunderstand, because our initial reaction might be to think our Lord was, somehow, losing his grip, as the cure doesn’t seem to take completely the first time, with the man’s sight restored only partially, and our Lord having to apply the miracle again.
In effect, this account—as with so many events recorded by Mark—is highly metaphorical. As we’ve discussed many times before, our Lord’s cures are always two-fold in nature: either a lesson is to be taught or some defect in faith is to be addressed; in this case it’s the latter. Our Lord cures this blind man in stages because the faith of this man was weak—notice he does not seek out our Lord himself, but is brought by others—and our Lord wanted to cure not just the body, but the soul. To see nothing and then to see only shadows is, in itself, quite an improvement, but our Lord wanted him to have not only physical sight, but have a clear and penetrating gaze that would enable him to see everything, including the truth about himself. Most likely, the very first thing this man ever saw with clarity was the face of our Lord.
What happened to this blind man can help us to understand the nature of our own spiritual blindness. Many of us, at some point in our lives, have been in the position of not being able to see the one essential thing in all of life: the face of Christ present around us. Our Lord often spoke about this sort of blindness when He told the Pharisees they were blind (cf. Matt. 15: 14), or when He referred to those who had eyes but did not see (cf. Mark 4: 12; &, John 9: 39). To see what is good, to see God in the midst of our ordinary daily tasks, to see our follow men as children of God, to see what is truly helpful to our salvation and what is not; this is great gift!
Consider what would have happened if our Lord had left the blind man in the first stage of his cure. He would have gone from seeing nothing to seeing something, and probably would have presumed that that’s what being sighted was all about. He would have presumed that the shadows he saw were what things really looked like. The truth of reality would still be hidden from him, but he wouldn’t know it. And that is exactly how many of us see the world spiritually speaking. We’re not completely blind, but we make the mistake of thinking that how we see the world and God and our relationship to them is all there is. Our spiritual sight is there, but it’s dim, and we can scarcely make out the good that lies on the horizon of life. And because we’ve never seen anything in any other way, we’re not aware that what we see is blurred, and we end up questioning and second guessing God.
When I was in the third grade, no one could understand why a seemingly intelligent young boy was having such trouble in school, until one day someone decided to take me to the eye doctor, who put a pair of glasses on my face. The next day, when I went to school, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing: I had no idea that it was possible to actually read the black board from the third row. And in just this way, there are Catholics who do not understand clearly the presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, the immense worth of the confessional, the infinite value of a single Mass. The soul in which has been awakened an appreciation for the interior life begins, little by little, to see what it could not see before, and begins to grow in grace every day. It’s never a question of not seeing, but rather of actually looking at the right things. As Sherlock Holmes said to Dr. Watson so many times: “You see everything, but you notice nothing.”
Our Lord once said, “The eye is the light of the whole body, so that if thy eye is clear, the whole of thy body will be lit up; whereas if thy eye is diseased, the whole of thy body will be in darkness” (Matt. 6: 22-23 Knox). He’s not Arthur Conan Doyle the eye specialist making an advertisement for his failed ophthalmology practice; He’s our Blessed Lord, warning all of us not to take our initial vision of the world at face value, but to cultivate a spiritual outlook, so that we can truly see the world and ourselves clearly through the eyes of faith.
* In the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite, yesterday was the first day of the pre-Lenten season known as Septuagesima, named after the first of the three Sundays that comprise it. The purple of Lent is already worn, and the Gradual psalm is supplimented by an additional psalm called the Tract, with the Alleluia already suppressed. In English speaking countries, this season is sometimes called “Shrovetide,” because it ends on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, which is often called “Shove Tuesday.” A pre-Lenten season is preserved in every Christian Church that has a serious liturgical tradition, even the more traditional brands of the Anglican and Lutheran communions; in the Churches of the Byzantine Tradition, it's called the Triodion. It was eliminated in the ordinary form of the Roman Rite during the reforms following the Second Vatican Council, making the ordinary from the only major liturgical tradition not to observe it in some way.
** In the extraordinary form, ferias outside privileged seasons have no lessons of their own, with the lessons from Sunday being repeated.