“ … it is so the works of God might be made visible …” (John 9:3)
I began Lent this year celebrating Ash Wednesday Mass with a group of special needs children, the children’s caregivers, and nine students from Spring Hill College, at a place called “Gift of Hope” in Jamaica. As we traced a cross of ashes on their foreheads, it seemed a contradiction, because how could these children be anything but innocent?
Yet, we could not but be conscious that these children had been abandoned and left at the facility because they were regarded as cursed, disabled by something sinful or evil.
We like to think that such attitudes, evident in the question of the disciples in the Gospel about the blind man (“Who sinned, him or his parents, that he was born blind?”), as antiquated and superstitious. But places like Gift of Hope exist in Jamaica, and in our own cities and towns, because such children are frequently discarded.
Sometimes it is true that their parents believe that they are being punished by God, and sometimes it’s just an unwillingness or inability to bear the burden of a child who will forever be in need of constant care. One does not have to travel to Jamaica to know that this is true. Those most in need in our society may not be victims of superstition. Worse, they are discarded by a society which, in its desire for pleasure and comfort, would sometimes rather blind itself to the suffering of others, which is both curable and incurable.
What happens, however, when we choose not to be blind, and instead be present to those least capable of even acknowledging our generosity? We learn what it means to be humble, and thus are given the greatest of gifts.
Jesus tells his disciples that the man was born blind not because of any sin that was committed, but rather “so that the works of God might be made visible through him.”
Many of the students shared that this Ash Wednesday Mass, removed from the routine of their home parish, and celebrated amongst such a distinguished group of guests, was one of the highlights of their week. Sure, there was the beauty of focusing our attention for a week not on our many distractions, but on accompanying another in their need. Sure, there was the discovery that these children were not defined by their diagnoses, but were unique expressions of God’s loving creation. We shared our sorrow at their plight, but also enjoyed making them laugh. We found ways to be as uninhibited in playing and loving as they were.
The works of God were made visible through them.
Still, as we stood with them, ashes on their foreheads and ours, we could not but be aware of the inadequacy of only being there to love them for a week. The ashes we shared were a sign not only of our solidarity with them, but also our complicity and participation in a society which, if we let it, allows us to be blind not only to their need, but to the lives of those most in need where we live and move every day.
At that moment, I think we realized that if we weren’t too quick to wipe those ashes away from our memories, this Lent could be different. We could free ourselves from our unexamined prejudices about the poor and the broken. We could commit ourselves to no longer be blind to those that our society would make invisible. We could seek forgiveness and help from each other and from the God who placed us at the beginning of Lent in a holy community, including us, through which the works of God might be made visible, a community that helped us discover that we were also in need of healing.
~ Reflection by Mark Mossa, SJ
Father Mark Mossa, SJ, is campus minister for spirituality and faith formation at Spring Hill College. He offers retreats for young adults throughout the country. He has authored or co-authored three books: Already There: Letting God Find You; Saint Ignatius Loyola—The Spiritual Writings; and Just War, Lasting Peace.