Healing of the Blind Man. Carl Bloch, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Removing the Scales

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Bonnar (new)When I was a parish priest, I was pretty “religious” about my day off. For example, when my parents were alive, I would do an overnight each week. I always came back to the parish refreshed, renewed and reinvigorated.

Mom and Dad have been deceased for 20 years. Thanks to my sisters, I still have a place to go that feels like home and offers rest and relaxation. Now that I am a bishop, I do not get home as much. Nevertheless, when I do return for an overnight stay, it is always revivifying.

One of the treats of staying at my oldest sister’s house is visiting with their shih tzu, Murphy. Murphy is now 9 years old. I notice she is more tentative about jumping and doing steps. It is obvious that Murphy’s eyes are not what they used to be.

What is happening to Murphy is something I believe all of us humans can appreciate. As we grow older, our eyesight tends to diminish. Perhaps you discovered this fact during your most recent eye exam when the optometrist fitted you for glasses or, worse yet, progressive lenses. Maybe it is time for cataract surgery.

Recently, I was watching the Golf Channel and the commentators were speaking about the possible comeback of golf great Tiger Woods in the aftermath of his devastating car accident. One of the commentators speculated that Tiger will never be the same because, at his age, his eyesight is naturally not the same. This diminishing of the eyes has real implications for reading the greens and putting. Winning in golf is all about putting.

A few months ago, I invited The Priest contributor Father Richard Delillio, who writes Homily Helps for us, to do a workshop in my diocese for the clergy on preaching. In his first presentation, Father Delillio referenced the healing of the blind man at Bethsaida. Jesus uses spittle, touches the man’s eyes and the man is healed. Father Delillio defined preaching as an exercise that seeks to remove the scales from people’s eyes. While preaching is often viewed in the context of hearing, the goal is for the hearer to see and continue the path of ongoing conversion. I must confess that Father Delillio invited me to change my perspective on preaching to the point that I now focus more not so much on what the faithful need to hear but what God wants them to see.

At the same time, however, I was humbled by Father’s insight because it got me thinking about my own vision, or lack thereof, and the scales that are in my eyes that prevent me from seeing what God wants me to see. What is more, if preaching is a way to remove the scales, how do I, as a preacher, seek to have the scales removed from my own eyes? Obviously, this is a question for all of us priests to ponder. It is not as if we hear homilies every day. We are usually preaching the homily. So how do we ensure that we are not preaching in our blindness?

Thanks to the wonders of technology and the internet, I believe we can all become more intentional in listening to homilies of our brothers. Perhaps online we can identify someone who speaks to our heart and listen to their homilies. Our Christian tradition is also replete with many published homilies from some of the greatest of preachers. As a young priest, I would often read the homilies of Father Walter Burghardt. The Office of Readings, from time to time, features sermons from the saints.

When we do find ourselves at a Mass and are not the one who is preaching, perhaps we can pray a special prayer to listen attentively to what is being said so that the scales of doubt, fear, anger, cynicism, self-righteousness, arrogance and clericalism, just to name a few, can fall from our eyes.

I think it makes perfect sense why Holy Mother Church, in her wisdom, mandates that we priests participate annually in a five-day retreat. It is also understandable why spiritual direction, days of recollection, spiritual reading and support groups are highly recommended. If we are to become true shepherds and watchmen, we need to see.

Amid all our summer plans, I hope we can all renew our commitment not only to preaching but also to looking after our own eyes. It all begins with a prayer, “Lord, please let me see” (Lk 18:41).

BISHOP DAVID J. BONNAR, editor of The Priest, is bishop of the Diocese of Youngstown.

 
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