Gospel: John 9:1-41
“Blindness” and the seringueiros of Machadinho d’Oeste, Brazil
Sight is one of the Creator’s greatest gifts. While we apprehend the world through physical sight, we need spiritual sight to truly comprehend it.
In restoring the blind man’s sight, Jesus refuses to deem his affliction a consequence of sin. From Jesus’s response to the Pharisees, we learn that the true sin is spiritual blindness.
There are none so blind as those will not see.
The age-old story of sight and blindness is echoing in the dwindling Amazon rainforest. In Brazil’s Rondônia State, the seringueiro artisanal rubber tappers ply their traditional trade and gather nuts and fruits on small state-recognized reserves. They are an abandoned, persecuted people. The state provides them almost no education or health services. Worse still, their lands, livelihoods and very lives are threatened by powerful logging and industrial farming interests.
Extreme poverty, poor education and oppression might have blinded the seringueiros to everything but immediate survival and basic needs. Yet, they have a most expansive vision of the rainforest and their place in it. They see their beloved forest as a divine benediction. They see how the health of their terrain is tied to the ecological health of the Earth. They see themselves as custodians holding the forest in trust for all humankind.
Contrast them with the Brazilian state. With a robust bureaucracy on the ground and advanced satellites in space, it is as well-informed and all-seeing as a state can be. Yet, it turns a blind eye to the plight of the seringueiros and other menaced traditional and Indigenous defenders of the rainforest. It favours giant corporations that only see short-term profit, making it ever easier for them to log, mine, farm, dam and pillage the forest. Together, the government and the corporations promote this rapacious exploitation as a vision of development.
We in the West, too, sometimes suffer from blindness. We fail to see how our consumerism drives the demand for resources and, thereby, the destruction of the Amazon rainforest and other ecological hotspots. With “blind confidence in technical solutions (Laudato Si’, 14),” we blithely ignore mounting scientific evidence for an impending ecological crisis. Isn’t our refusal to change our habits, to consume less, to tread lightly on the Earth a form of spiritual blindness?
Offering an exit from this unseeing state, Pope Francis reminds us that “Living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience (Laudato Si’, 217).”
To live this essential aspect of our Christian experience, we must heed the Holy Father’s call to “ecological conversion” and reconnect with Creation. We must stand in solidarity with the seringueiros. They are a people gifted with remarkable spiritual sight. Like the blind man’s restored sight contradicted the Pharisaic order, the seringeiros’ vision contradicts prevailing ideas of development and progress. Undeterred, they hold on to it as a matter of faith.
Surely, our support is due to organizations that defend them and other defenders of the Amazon. They are the ones “who tirelessly seek to resolve the tragic effects of environmental degradation on the lives of the world’s poorest (Laudato Si’, 13).”
This path to a life of virtue is a path of humility, simplicity, sacrifice, caritas and almsgiving. Though arduous, this path is illumined. For our Lord has said, “I am the light of the world.”
We are offering six weekly reflections that connect the proposed Gospel readings for the Sunday liturgy with our campaign theme. They will be published every Monday on our website or are accessible in the Resources section. This Lent, give from the heart For our Common Home!
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For families with young children, we invite you to discover the weekly Gospel reflections of the 2020 Family Bulletin. Each reflection is accompanied by an illustration. Click on the image to download the illustration and reflection for this Sunday.