8th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Preached March 3, 2019; St. Peter Catholic Church, The Dalles, Oregon

Can a blind person lead a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit?

Jesus’ words here could be alarming. In this life we are always on a path, always on a journey, always going somewhere. That means we need to follow a guide and most likely someone else is following us. Parents are followed by their young children. So each person could ask himself, “Do I see? Am I following someone who is seeing, or someone who is blind?”

What do blindness and sight mean here, in the words of Jesus? They refer, above all, to the supreme goal of human life and the basic means to achieve that goal.

So, if my supreme goal in life is anything other than eternal salvation, I am blind. If I am seeking eternal salvation by any means other than faith Jesus Christ, the one mediator between God and men, I am blind. (1 Tim 2:5, Jn 14:6) If I think that I can attain salvation through Jesus Christ without obeying him, I am blind. (cf. Mt 7:21-23) Jesus Christ is no blind guide; he is rather the light of the world. The one who follows him does not walk in the darkness, but has the light of life. (cf. Jn 8:12)

If I am not following Christ, then I am not on the way to the goal; then it does not finally matter how good a person I am or how much good I do, I am headed towards the pit; I am blind and if I am leading someone else, I am a blind guide.

It might seem rather harsh to say that it is not enough to be a good person, if you are not following Christ. Let me give an example to illustrate the meaning.

Imagine a hiking club. Everyone knows everyone else. They are all good friends and get along well together. They want to climb a mountain together. Their leader chooses a path for them and they start out together.

The path is not always an easy one, but they help each other out and encourage each other through the difficulties. No one gets too far ahead and they don’t let anyone fall to far behind without waiting for him to catch up. They are even all in pretty good health and physical condition, because apart from the hike they train and work out together and are all knowledgeable and careful of their diet.

There is only one problem. Their leader chose the wrong path.

So after hours of hiking and climbing; after a great picnic lunch together; after many spectacular views that they shared; after wonderful photos, laughs, and good times; after one final, difficult climb up a steep and dangerous slope, they find that the trail has come to an end. A cliff blocks the way up; in front of them is a precipitous chasm into a dangerous gorge; behind, the slope they just climber was easier to get up than it will be to go back down.

This example really describes the way a lot of people live today. They look for a group of people they get along well with and, despite our love of independence, in any group there will always be leaders and followers. The group might even do pretty well in following the trail together, whether it be the trail of diet, or exercise, or sports, or the trail of some business enterprise, or some idealistic project to serve the poor or clean up the oceans. Yet, finally, because they are ignorant of the supreme goal of human life and the way to get there, the trail turns out to be a dangerous dead end. The blind are leading the blind.

The blind leading the blind pretty much describes every level of our society today because of the pervasive doctrine of ‘relativism’. Relativism tells us that there is no supreme goal that is the same for everyone; relativism tells us that there is no common path in life. Relativism tells us that we are free to choose our goal, our path, our traveling companions, and finally it makes no difference.

Relativism has led us to the culture of ‘alternative facts’, though relativists will complain as much as anyone else about the matter.

Someone who can’t get the basic facts of life right and starts speaking about “gender assigned at birth” has no right to complain about alternative facts.

Someone who holds with the official pronouncements of the United States Supreme Court that “at the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life” (Planned Parenthood v. Casey) – which is a principle that underlies both a supposed ‘right’ to abortion and a supposed right to pseudo-marriage between members of the same sex – has no right to complain of alternative facts.

The ideology of relativism is the ideology of alternative facts. Relativism reduces words and facts to weapons of conquest and tools of manipulation. This indeed is the blind leading the blind.

We must also beware of Christian relativism. Christian relativism goes, “Well that is alright if that is the ‘Jesus’ you believe in, but that isn’t the ‘Jesus’ that I believe in.”

I’m sorry folks, there is only one Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, who became a man like us in all things but sin, was born of the Virgin Mary, crucified under Pontius Pilate, was buried and rose again from the dead, who has ascended into heaven and is now seated at the right hand of the Father, from where he guides the Church he has established, the one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church, by means of the Holy Spirit that he has given to us.  There is only one Jesus Christ and he is really, truly, and substantially present among us, whole and entire, in his Body and Blood in the Holy Eucharist. Apart from his Bride, the Church, and apart from the Holy Eucharist, there is no true “personal relationship” with Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life. (Jn 14:6) If we are not travelling along the way, we are on the wrong path; if, however, we are travelling along the right way, the way that is Jesus Christ, we must also take care to travel well and get along with our travelling companions.

Now, if we can get this much straight, then we are ready for the bit about the splinter and the beam. To say, Brother, let me remove that splinter in your eye, is to offer to help another. Very often we actually have a good and generous impulse to help others, but we are blind to how badly misguided we are, how badly we need help.

Remove first the beam from your eye. How do we remove the beam from our own eye? By the daily practice of examining our conscience and the regular practice of confession. We must examine our conscience in the light of our eternal goal and God’s judgment. We must examine our conscience as those who are ultimately accountable to God.

Note also the focus on priorities. In the end Jesus is not saying don’t help your brother with the splinter, but make sure first you take care of your own beam. First, make sure you are on the right track and travelling well, first take care of your own eternal salvation – this is not selfishness, but proper love of self – then the veil will be lifted from your eyes to perceive what your brother truly needs. If we do not take care of ourselves in this basic way, then in the end we will be of no use to others.

When your brother (or your child) is able to see the good fruit coming forth from the good tree of faith that is planted within you, then he will be ready to receive your help and guidance. Then you truly will of service to others in all that you do.

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Fr. Joseph Levine graduated from Thomas Aquinas College and after a long journey was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Baker, Oregon. He currently serves as pastor of St. Peter Catholic Church in The Dalles on the Columbia River.

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