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Robert Cardinal Sarah                                                   3 December 2010
 Spiritual Exercises
Pontifical Council Cor Unum                    
                     Czestochowa, Poland


(Isaiah 20, 17-24; Matthew 9, 27-31)

     It seems that the physical scourge of blindness was quite common in the days of Jesus. The Gospels recount other episodes where the blind are healed: in Mark, the blind man of Bethsaida (8: 22-26); in Luke, Bartimaeus (18: 35-43); in John, the blind man, who is sent to wash in the pool of Siloam (9:7). Even in the Gospel of Matthew – from which today’s Reading is taken – we find in chapter 12 (vv. 22-32) a demon-possessed man, who was both blind and mute.

     Perhaps the Gospel writers want to place before us the depth of misery that Jesus was prepared to confront. Blindness, in His time, was considered as a repulsive leprosy. People were afraid to touch the blind. Very often, blindness was caused by some infection or disease – resulting in a grotesque redness or swollenness and a constant running of the eyes. Usually, other physical disablements were attached. Moreover, the self-righteous leaders in the days of Jesus would have added to the misery of the blind by accusing them of being sinners whom God had punished. Even Jesus’ own disciples asked him: “Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2). In short: the blind were normally helpless, rejected, and discarded by society; and they could only survive through the occasional mercy of others.

     In today’s Gospel, Jesus doesn’t just talk to the two blind men. He touches them at the point of their oppression in order to give back their human dignity. He does something specific. In Deus Caritas est, which we have heard so much about this week, Pope Benedict tells us that if someone is in need, the first act of charity is to meet their need: “Following the example given in the parable of the Good Samaritan, Christian charity is first of all the simple response to immediate needs and specific situations: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for and healing the sick, visiting those in prison” (n. 31a). How great has been the witness of the Church down the centuries in providing immediate and indiscriminate assistance to those in any kind of misery! Dear Brothers and Sisters: today, Europe faces a myriad of situations of misery. Even in this advanced Continent, there still exists hunger, homelessness, unemployment, but there are also new forms of poverty, particularly in the abandonment of the weakest, such as the elderly, the handicapped, the unborn. But the most tragic of all poverties here is the rejection and exclusion of God from all social and economic life, the rebellion against divine laws written in human nature, with the aim of creating new laws and even a new global ethic on the levels of sexuality, family, life. You and the charitable organizations you represent, are inserted in the history of the Church’s response and outreach. And, for your commitment, the Church wishes to thank you!

     But, like Jesus, we cannot stop at the healing of the immediate need, be it physical or material. Yes, Jesus cures the sick, feeds the hungry, gives sight to the blind and makes the deaf hear. In this one chapter of Matthew, He heals a paralytic, restores a young girl to life, relieves a woman suffering from a haemorrhage and cures a mute demoniac. In Jesus, the words of the prophet Isaiah, which we heard in today’s First Reading, are fulfilled:

“In a short time, a very short time, Lebanon shall be changed into an orchard, and the orchard be regarded as a forest! On that day the deaf shall hear the words of a book; And out of gloom and darkness, the eyes of the blind shall see. The lowly will ever find joy in the LORD, and the poor rejoice in the Holy One of Israel” (29: 17-19).

     In His healing actions, Jesus has come to bring the goodness of the Father who sends him and, at the same time, leads the suffering to the joy of knowing the Lord, who frees mankind from the root of every type of gloom and darkness, that is, evil and the Evil One.

     The Apostle to the Gentiles knew this from experience. Saint Paul, who was temporarily made blind on his way to Damascus, would subsequently write: “God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Cor 4: 4-6). In other words, the deepest blindness of man is not to know God; and salvation is illumination. Salvation begins with God’s causing light to shine in the darkness – very often through acts of charity. But, even if people are given all their material needs, until God shines in their hearts, they cannot see. In the words of our Holy Father: “If we do not give God, we give too little.” I invite you in this very moment, charitable organizations, in the name of your Catholic faith and in the name of Jesus, to give to all of the world’s suffering – and Europe is a part – both material aid and the God of Jesus Christ, who is our Supreme Good.

     It is not by chance that we close this week of Spiritual Exercises – dedicated to the “formation of the heart” – on the Feast of Saint Francis Xavier, Patron of the Missions. As a young man preparing for the priesthood, this once bourgeois Spaniard understood that the source of an extraordinary missionary life – which would take him as far afield as India, Malaysia, Japan – would only come from a personal relationship with Jesus, whom He had seen, touched and contemplated; and so he readied himself through long hours of prayer. The missionary is one clothed with Christ, such that he who sees the one being sent, encounters Christ Himself. Not only is the missionary – priest or lay person – an alter Christus, but, much more significantly, he is ipse Christus, Christ Himself, he makes present Christ Himself. As Christians, we are the visible presence of Christ on earth; we are his eyes and his ears to see and listen with love our brothers and sisters; we are his hands, his feet and his mouth to bring to others the love of God, revealed in Jesus Christ. Yes, we are Jesus Christ on this earth. For Saint Paul tells us: “I live now not with my own life but with the life of Christ who lives in me. The life I now live in this body I live in faith: faith in the Son of God who loved me and sacrificed himself for my sake” (Gal 2, 19-20).

     Just two months ago, on my last mission for the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, where I served as Secretary for some ten years, I found myself in Goa. It is here that the incorrupt body of Saint Francis lies, and I had the privilege to pray before him. Something struck me about the mission of Saint Francis in that small part of India. Although he was sent as Papal Legate, upon arriving there in 1542, the first thing he did was to place himself at the service of the local Bishop, seeing in him the visible presence of Christ. Here, too, there is a message for us. However noble and zealous our own intentions, our charitable work is an opus proprium of the Church and for it to maintain its identity and splendor, the Bishop is the guarantor. Then, when Francis was offered the Bishop’s Palace for his hospitality, he preferred to make himself one with the sick by living in rough accommodations at the hospital. He would spend his Sundays with lepers, visiting prisoners and the poor of the villages. And he set up a college for the formation of Christians: “This is the most necessary, the most indispensable of all initiatives,” he said. “From this house, men will come forth, who God willing, shall make increase the number of Christians.”

     Dear Brothers and Sisters: as we leave this magnificent Sanctuary of Our Lady of Jasna Góra, perhaps we could echo the same: “From this house, if God wills, may men and women go forth, who shall make increase the number of Christians.” At the end of chapter 12 of Matthew’s Gospel, where we encounter the two blind men and so many others in need, the Evangelist tells us that when Jesus saw the crowds “he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless” (v.36). And so He urged His disciples: “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (vv. 37-38).

     From Czestochowa, the Lord sends us forth as missionaries of God’s divine love. The witness of a Christian life is the first and irreplaceable form of mission. And the evangelical witness that today’s secularized Europe will find most appealing is that of concern for people, and of charity toward the poor, the weak and those who suffer. For in these very places, to love as Jesus the Good Samaritan did – without limits and to the end – is to illuminate anyone blind to God’s goodness, such that from our witness, others may proclaim with today’s Psalmist: “The Lord is my light and my salvation.”

    That is why we have wished our hearts to be formed this week by the Word of God and to be touched anew by His love, in order that we, in turn, can give this same love to the suffering and needy. We have decided to participate in these Exercises, magnificently animated and led by Mother Teresa Brenninmeijer, in keeping with Pope Benedict’s instruction, which reminds us that the salvation of men and women and all of mankind needs Christians, who themselves seek the saving hand of God. And, so there is every reason to give thanks to God – for Mother Teresa Brenninkmeijer and her community and also, with all our heart for our brother, Monsignor Anthony Figueiredo, who has been the soul and guide filled with wisdom for this spiritual meeting – in this great liturgy of thanksgiving, the Eucharist, sacramentum caritatis. And now I entrust you to the Word of God and the power of His grace. Amen.