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 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 God’s presence. 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. You could be cynical and say that is just the goodness of human nature, but with faith we see something different. We see the power of God’s spirit at work. What gives people the strength to die for a good cause? Their faith. God inspires and gives us the strength to keep going, even when it’s difficult.
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 church,’ 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 mystery as a priest and sometimes I find that difficult too because all of us want to be accepted.
Having said all that, I have no doubt that God is acting in their lives and will continue to 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 is healed he then comes to believe that Jesus is Lord. The miracles that Jesus worked did more than just heal the person. These miracles were also 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. God had to fit into their picture. But God often acts outside the way we think things should happen. The religious leaders were confined to a narrow understanding of God. You could say that they had a blindness of the heart. The blind man, on the other hand, was physically blind, but he had an openness of heart. Not only did he come to physically see, but more importantly he came to believe.
We have a particular understanding of what it means to believe and how we should express that faith: namely by going to church, praying and loving our neighbor. 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. That doesn’t mean it’s wrong. It is just different.
The next generation may not understand God in the way 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 God by living our faith as well as we can.