A Homily for the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into Gehenna.
I am certain that many of my seminary classmates are thinking of me today. You see, once they learned that I had an acrylic prosthetic right eye, they would tease me about the verse I just quoted. They’d make statements such as, “Bernie, you could tell your congregations that Jesus meant His saying to be taken literally, and you could pluck out your eye right in front of them as proof.” Sure! I’d have a new “assignment” from the Bishop before Mass was over.
That brings us to the obvious truth that Our Lord certainly did not mean His injunction to be taken at face value. I do not know of any Christians who have deliberately gouged out their own eyes! What we have here is Semitic hyperbole, that is, exaggeration to make a point. It’s like the comment of the railroad engineer in the opening scene of the 1952 movie, The Quiet Man. In discussing salmon and salmon fishing, he says, “The last one I got, I was expecting Jonah to pop out of his mouth.” The point is: it was a really big fish. What, then, is the point Jesus is trying to make? At the very least, we can conclude that He meant to say that good eyesight is not an unqualified blessing.
In today’s world, having 20/20 vision is a mixed bag. Despite the real, wholesome beauty that surrounds us on all sides, there is much visual stimulation that is, shall I say, detrimental to eternal salvation. I’m quite sure that, had I two good eyes, I would probably be looking at all the wrong things and would thus end up in hell. Years ago, Father Frans Berkhout and I were having dinner in a nice little restaurant. As we concluded our main course, my friend observed in his Brooklyn-accented voice, “Bernie, not for nnuttin’, but I think you’re right about good eyesight sending you to hell, because if you could see what I’m looking at right now, you’d be in big trouble.” “What are you looking at?” I asked innocently. He whispered, “Don’t turn around, but right behind you is a beautiful, gorgeous…cappuccino maker, and now I want dessert!”
As I said, having good vision is not all it’s cracked up to be. Maybe being legally blind isn’t all that bad after all. For me, walking down a beach is still as innocent an experience as it was when I was five years old. My biggest concern is not stepping on a seashell. And when you stop to think of it, this is a great time in human history to be blind. There are so many rotten things out there that I can’t see, and yet there are so many devices and inventions to help the blind and visually impaired. The iPhone, for example, is great. With it, I can dictate text messages and e-mails, and it, in turn, can read me my incoming missives. I love you, Siri! What a great time to have poor vision! Thank you, Jesus!
Blindness, however, is not a virtue. For me, it might be more like a crutch. Having eyesight is the challenge, and anyone who uses his vision well has my profound respect. Perhaps the reason I don’t have good eyes is because God, like any good parent, does not give sharp knives to little children. God certainly does not give sharp knives to children, but He has given most of you the double-edged sword of good vision. The task He sets before you apparently requires good eyesight, and this task is so vital for you and for the Kingdom of God that the Good Lord is willing to give you normal eyesight even though you run the risk of losing your salvation thereby. Good eyesight for me would most likely mean my condemnation to hell, but God intends YOU to have sharp vision in order to be a blessing for the world.
Therefore, mes amis, practice what used to be called custody of the eyes. Use your eyes well. Keep close watch over the pictures you allow to enter your mind. As I used to tell my high school sophomores over and over again, “There is no delete button in your brain.” Whatever pictures you put into your head will stay there. And if they are bad pictures, the devil has a wonderful talent of flashing them up onto the movie screen of your mind when you least want to see them. And just as you cannot take “adult” magazines into Mass, you cannot take unholy mental images into heaven. They will have to come out first, either through penance or through purgatory. The best thing, therefore, is not to put unholy pictures into your head in the first place. By the way, I have heard that a good rule for both adults and children is: NO SCREENS IN THE BEDROOM.
As I said, had I perfect eyesight, I would probably end up in hell—because I am weak. If God, however, gave you two good eyes, He will, despite your struggles, give you the strength to overcome visual temptations. Therefore take courage! Jesus knows what you are up against and is ready to help. Also, cultivate a strong filial devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Her aid is invaluable. Pray a rosary every day.
The following beautiful prayer often appears on holy cards dedicated to Saint Lucy, patroness of those with ailments of the eyes. I can think of no better way to end this homily:
O God, our Creator and Redeemer, mercifully hear our prayers that as we venerate Thy servant, Saint Lucy, for the light of faith Thou didst bestow upon her, thou wouldst vouchsafe to increase and to preserve this same light in our souls, that we may be able to avoid evil, to do good and to abhor nothing so much as the blindness and the darkness of evil and of sin. Relying on Thy goodness, O God, we humbly ask Thee, by the intercession of Thy servant, Saint Lucy, that Thou wouldst give perfect vision to our eyes, that they may serve for Thy greater honor and glory, and for the salvation of our souls in this world, that we may come to the enjoyment of the unfailing light of the Lamb of God in paradise. Saint Lucy, virgin and martyr, hear our prayers and obtain our petitions. Amen.