March 19, 2023

Dear brothers and sisters,

The Fourth Sunday of Lent is known as “Laetare (Rejoice) Sunday,” expressing the Church’s joy in anticipation of the Resurrection of our Lord. This Sunday’s Scripture readings remind us that it is God who both gives us proper vision in body as well as in soul; and warns us that those who assume they see the truth are often blind, while those who acknowledge their blindness are given clear vision. They exhort us to be constantly on our guard against spiritual blindness.

Have you ever played a game with a blindfold? Or, have you ever been on a trust walk, where you are blindfolded and led by another person? Playing games with a blindfold helps us appreciate the gift of sight. Those who have a problem with their eyesight, whether due to an ocular illness or old age, can appreciate the preciousness of the ability to see, even with the aid of corrective lenses. Through the story about Jesus curing a person born blind, St. John’s Gospel presents sight in a spiritual sense. The blind man receives not only the ability to use his eyes but the gift to see the truth. Sometimes a person can look, but not see. The man born blind, the most unlikely person, receives the light of faith in Jesus, while the religion-oriented, law-educated Pharisees remain spiritually blind, unable to see that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. This marvelous story teaches us the necessity of having our eyes opened by faith. Seeing realities as they are, and not as how we assume them to be, enables us to see the ttruth. It liberates us from our prejudiced presumptions, and gives us true joy when our darkness is turned into light.

Physiologically, the “blind-spot” is the part of our eye where vision is not experienced. It is the spot where the optic nerve enters the eyeball. A blind spot in a vehicle is an area around the vehicle that cannot be directly observed by the driver. In real life, we all have blind-spots—in our relationships, our marriages, our parenting, our work habits, our personalities, and even in our spiritualities. It is very possible for the religious people in our day to be like the Pharisees of old: religious in worship, in frequenting the Sacraments, in prayer-life, in donating to the Church, and in knowledge of the Bible—but blind to the poverty, injustice, brokenness and pain around them. Jesus wants to cure all the blindness that cripple us in life.

This past Monday, March 13, as some of you may know, was the 10th Anniversary of Pope Francis’ election to the throne of St. Peter. Ten years ago, I was standing shoulder to shoulder with thousands of other people in St. Peter’s Square when the white smoke billowed from the chimney on the top of the Sistine Chapel indicating that a new Pope has been elected. Little did I know that the humble man who seemed to have been a recruit from the periphery would turn out to be such a prophetic and influential leader for our times. In the ten years of his pontificate thus far, Pope Francis has repeatedly pointed out the blind-spots in our Church and in our modern culture. His magisterial teachings have challenged, not only the Catholic faithful, but also everyone else, to recognize and address those blindspots. From issues concerning the dignity of human life, peace and happiness, to issues concerning the family, morality, marriage, and love, the Pope consistently focuses our attention on each concrete situation; its vvalues and consequences; and the possible paths to address it based on the wisdom of the Christian faith. Preferring to use simple and direct language, he leads us to a clearer vision about God, about ourselves and about others. His prophetic voice is not always heard, for there are always those who refuse to see, but it always commands respect and attention.

Joining my former Vatican colleagues and the throngs of distinguished guests who gathered to honor Pope Francis at the Apostolic Nunciature in Washington, DC this past Monday, I rejoiced knowing that, through the Holy Father, Jesus himself continues the mission of healing in the Church and in the world. Like many religious and government leaders who spoke so highly of the Pope, I was filled with gratitude for the ways in which God has used him to heal our spiritual blindness in so many areas of life, especially through his message of inclusivity, compassion and close accompaniment, so that we can look at others, see them as children of God, and love them as our own brothers and sisters, saved by the death and Resurrection of Christ.

As we enter the fourth week of Lent, I invite you to join me in reflecting on how God has illuminated and cured some of our own spiritual blind-spots in this holy season. Let us give thanks then for the gift of sight, and pray that we may keep moving forward with a clear vision.

Devotedly yours in Christ,
Msgr. Cuong M. Pham