I grew up in the West of Ireland, where the winters can seem endless because it is so dark for so long. Often it is weeks before we see the sun, but we know it is up there. We know it because we can see the effects of it for one thing. God is something similar. We do not see him, but we know He is there, because we see the effects of his being there. We see people continually inspired to do good, even in the face of strong opposition. We see people willing to suffer to get justice and peace. If you are cynical you may not see God there, but if you have faith, you will.
One of the things that is causing many of us pain at the moment, is the fact that so many of our younger people seem to have lost their faith. Parents are continually saying to me: ‘My children won’t go to mass,’ or ‘my children don’t practice anymore; what should I do?’ Just because they cannot relate to the mass, does not mean that they don’t have faith, or that they are not searching for God. Almost everyone searches for God, but perhaps not in a way that makes sense to us. It is often more a question of them having lost faith in the Church as an institution than anything else and this is very understandable, since most of what they are hearing about it is negative, unattractive and sometimes scandalous. What can we do about it? To be honest I don’t know. It troubles me greatly and I pray continually for them and that God will show us what to do. To most of my generation and younger generations I am a complete alien as a priest and I find that difficult too because it makes me quite isolated.
Having said all that, I have no doubt that God is acting and will act, for two reasons: firstly, because they are also his children. He created them and He is more concerned about them than we are. Secondly because of the thousands of people who are praying for them, including us. God hears our prayers and God knows how and when to respond. We may not appear to see anything, but that does not mean that nothing is happening.
Now let us turn to this account of Jesus healing a man blind from birth. The fact that he was blind from birth emphasizes that giving him sight would be a complete miracle and totally unheard of. Once he has been healed he then comes to believe that Jesus is Lord. The miracles that Jesus worked were not just to show off. They were pointing to who he was and is. When the man is questioned by the religious authorities he is not able to explain what happened or how, but simply that it did happen and that he now believes. He does not have the official ‘education’ or religious knowledge, to be able to know the things of God, and yet he comes to believe. On the other hand the religious leaders of the time had the official education. They were the experts, and yet they could not and would not recognize who Jesus was. Perhaps it was partly their religious knowledge which became an obstacle for them. Because Jesus healed this man on the Sabbath they concluded that he could not be from God, because that was their understanding of how God worked. They had a particular understanding of how God must be, and since Jesus didn’t fit this picture they concluded he could not be from God. Essentially their minds were closed and they didn’t want to know. But God often acts outside the way we think things should happen.
We have a particular understanding of what it means to believe and how you should express that faith: namely by going to mass, praying and loving our neighbour. This is good and important, but that does not mean that God can not bring people to faith in a completely different way as well. The Muslims, Hindus, and many others believe in God too, but they have a very different understanding than we do.
The next generation may not understand God in the way that we do, but we should not lose heart about that. God is just as interested in them as we are. He has created them to be with him in heaven, just like us. Our job is to go on bearing witness to the God we believe in by living our faith as well as we can.
Meanwhile we remember that even if we cannot see God at work, He is still there. Sometimes we cannot see the sun, but we know it is there and so we never lose hope.