Lent, Looking and the Lord: Reflection for the First Sunday of Lent

You and I are blind. Due to the pain of sin and the fear that comes from these wounds, our perception of reality is greatly distorted. The Good News is that one of Jesus’ “job descriptions” is to give sight to the blind. That is to say, to help us see reality according to the Father’s loving gaze and His original plan for creation. This is why Jesus is a Redeemer, while creation was originally deemed, “very good” (Gn 1:31), Original Sin distorted creation, but Jesus redeems creation again as “very good”. This year’s readings on the first Sunday of Lent have the Church focusing on Original Sin, where God’s plan went off track. This focus invites us to get in touch with our own blindness, and above all to ask Jesus for His power to help us to see rightly.

The first reading on the first Sunday of Lent is from chapter three of the book of Genesis, which is the story of the serpent and the fall of Adam and Eve, and through them, all of humanity. While this is where Lent begins, for Pope St. John Paul II, to begin with this story truncates the truth of man. To see the whole of man we need to go back before the Fall, to see what humanity fell from, in Genesis 2. Originally, before sin, humanity had no experience of fear, isolation or shame. God’s plan for us was to live in peace, joy, gratitude and love. For John Paul II, this beautiful situation was summed up in Gen. 2:25, “They were naked and felt no shame.” However, this experience was greatly altered and a new experience of being human came to be. This new experience is contained in the first reading for this Sunday, “Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked” (Gn 3:7). When seeing these two passages side by side, the sad truth becomes clear: God’s original plan for humanity was shattered and the new condition leaves men and women afraid with shame. In order to better appreciate Jesus as a redeemer, and to better understand the pain of the Fall, let us enter deeply into these two stories.

In the Theology of the Body, to experience nakedness without shame involves not simply seeing the other’s physical-ness without lusting, but the vision involves an interior gaze. A kind of seeing that is simultaneously a particular experiencing of the other. A kind of seeing that allows for the fullness and depth of the other’s personhood to be manifested. It’s a way of seeing that participates in the divine vision of this person. John Paul II suggests that Adam, in his experience and response to Eve, saw with his heart who Eve was before God, what she looked like before the Almighty’s gaze and therefore Adam participated in the Creator’s vision of creation in Genesis 1:31 when God declared, “It is very good.” Eve of course experienced the same kind of vision of Adam’s humanity as well. One could say they saw each other’s deepest self, the true self, and this vision was given in and through the body, as though it were an epiphany of the person.

Adam, in his experience and response to Eve, saw with his heart who Eve was before God, what she looked like before the Almighty’s gaze and therefore Adam participated in the Creator’s vision of creation …

The intimacy and beauty of this communion of seeing and being seen in Genesis chapter two is shattered in Genesis chapter three. A new experience of being human is now at work. Instead of nakedness being experienced as a revelation of an image of God and a participation in the divine vision of the world, now we see the couple covering themselves out of shame and cowering in fear. This new experience of being human shows not that the body and sexual desire is bad, but that in a fallen world, there is a need to protect ourselves from the diminished view of how we see others and how they see us. There’s a real danger now that instead of seeing the person manifested through the body, we would fixate on parts of the body and “miss” the person.  No longer do we see the male and female body with its proper attraction as a tranquil, awe-inspiring theophany; instead, the other can be an occasion of lust and I can be degraded. People are not seen in their uniqueness as much as an assembly of parts that can be upgraded for a better model if one comes along. We have become blind to the dignity of the person revealed through the body, and in doing so we lack the awe that comes with meeting another person. Abortion, pornography, prostitution, body image issues, and euthanasia all stem from blindness to another person’s grandeur.

However, blindness does not capture our whole experience. Little glimpses of the original state of man still emerge when a mom holds her newborn for the first time, or a man sees his soon to be wife walk down the aisle, or when a young girl told me, “I don’t want to be looked at, I want to be seen.” These moments resonate in our hearts for a reason. These experiences are moments of seeing and wanting to see as the Creator sees with awe and an affirming love for the other. While these moments are not constant, they do not need to be rare. By growing in intimacy with Jesus, a person can experience Jesus redeeming creation in their life and slowly begin to see as the Creator sees.

In a few Sundays from now, we will hear the Gospel of the man born blind. May this Lent help us all to say as the man in that gospel exclaims with great joy, “I was blind, but now I see” (Jn 9:25).

By growing in intimacy with Jesus, a person can experience Jesus redeeming creation in their life and slowly begin to see as the Creator sees.

 

Father Ryan Mann was ordained in May 2014. He is a parish priest at St. Charles Borromeo parish in Parma, OH. He loves jazz clubs, comedy clubs and movies. He enjoys great meals with good friends and being out on a boat in the summer time. Above all of these things, Fr. Ryan loves the eternal life and love of Jesus that is given as a taste through all these little pleasures. Fr. Ryan has attended Theology of the Body I and Theology of the Body II courses with the Theology of the Body Institute.

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