By Jeanette Arnquist
The story about the man born blind (John 9: 1-41, the reading for the Fourth Sunday of Lent Scrutiny) is a story about all of us. There are so many things that are right in front of our faces that we don’t see.
As I am writing this, we in Tucson are getting the first rain in six months. We are in such serious drought conditions that the prickly pear cactus are dying. So most of us are rejoicing and giving thanks to God for the rain. One of my friends who volunteers with the homeless reminded us that many people are wet and cold with nowhere to go because most of the shelters are closed due to the pandemic. Seeing can broaden our perspective to be more inclusive.
Here is another story. Suppose two people are in a room that has an East facing and a West facing window. One is looking out the East window, the other the West. The person looking East sees a river. The person facing West sees trees. A third person enters the room and asks what they see. And so they get into a huge argument, start calling each other blind or a liar or evil. The new person is a friend of the East facing person, so goes along with their opinion, without bothering to look. Then a friend of West comes in and believes West. And so it goes on and on until the room is full of people, each of whom thinks that half of the room is right and the other half is blind, or are liars or evil. Of course, this silly problem could be resolved by everyone going outside and walking around the building together.
The method of Catholic Social Action is “See-Judge-Act,” or as Pope Francis puts it “See-Choose-Act.” Of course, the first step is to see. What we see depends on where and with whom we stand. If we only associate with people who are just like us we run the risk of being blind to the whole story.
In a very real way, we who live in the United States are at a disadvantage. We inhale a culture that emphasizes individualism. Being able to set individual goals, to develop our talents and gifts, to pursue education and to find our own calling is a blessing unknown to most of humanity throughout history. But there is a downside. It is easy to adopt the cultural religion of personal freedom and personal development while we glide past the communal view presented in our scriptures, the view that shapes our theology. It is easy to think that we managed to get where we are all by our own initiative. It is easy to forget that the consequences of our choices impact others in our families, communities and world.
Our individualistic and materialistic views have led to our acceptance of axioms like “More is better,” “Cheaper is better,” and “Being number 1 is what counts.” It is easy to forget that we are one human family, all children of the same loving God. The great gifts we have received come with great responsibility. If we truly look around, we will see that far too many of our brothers and sisters live and die in conditions we can barely imagine. The ravages of poverty, violence and war leave them with little or no resources or freedom.
As St. John Paul II taught us in Sollicitudo rei socialis, solidarity “is not a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people, both near and far. On the contrary, it is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all.”
The call to work for the Common Good is central to Catholic Theology. We believe that the world would be a better place if everyone were to have access to the goods and resources needed to lead healthy and full lives. But what we see depends on where we look.
Let us go outside and walk around the house so that together so that we can see.
Jeanette Arnquist is a former Director of the Department of Life, Dignity & Justice for the Diocese of San Bernardino. She is retired and living in Tuscon, Arizona where she remains active in social concerns ministries.