Not long ago a woman asked me if I knew anything about Saint Odette. Her granddaughter was going to receive this name and she wanted to know more about her. I had to say no, never heard of her, never heard of St. Odette. So I did a little research and in doing so I found a connection with today’s Gospel, a nice coincidence. Odette is derived from the name Odilia. And St. Odilia was born blind. She was born in the 7th century to Lord Aldaric and his wife Bereswindia. Aldaric ruled over a small portion of what is now Eastern France. And when his daughter was born blind he was furious at God. He regarded her blindness as a personal affront to himself. How dare God send him a blind child, “She should be killed,” he yelled. And he would have done it if his wife hadn’t intervened.
So instead the baby Odilia was sent to a convent to be raised by nuns, and there she stayed. Possibly she wasn’t given the best of attention because she was 12 years old before it was realized that she hadn’t been baptized. So the local bishop was called and he came and baptized her. In that moment that the water was poured upon her she regained her eyesight. This singular event of baptism and the cure of blindness is pre-figured in today’s Gospel. Odilia was enlightened by Jesus just as the blind man was enlightened by Jesus. And us too, we are enlightened by Jesus at Baptism. In the early church they would say to be baptized is to be enlightened by Jesus.
Bible scholars will say that to be blind from birth is a symbol for Original Sin, the result of the fall of our first parents. Our vision is compromised we don’t see correctly. We don’t see the way God wants us to see. But as we know Jesus is the enemy of darkness. “I’m the light of the world,” he says, “I’ve come to bring light.” And with baptism we are drawn into his mystical body and with this sacrament we begin to see, we begin to get the things of the spiritual life, the light bulb comes on.
To grow in holiness, to grow in enlightenment means seeing more and more with the eyes of Jesus, and it may take a lifetime but that’s what begins to happen when we are grafted into his mystical body at baptism. We begin to see the way Jesus sees. Now today in the Gospel Jesus does something unusual, something my brothers and I liked hearing about, something we talked about, something we imitated. Jesus spits on the ground and makes a mud paste and then places it on the blind man’s eyes. My brother Joe would never let us do this to him; he always stopped us at this point. Church Fathers would say the spit represents our Lords divinity and the mud paste represents his humanity. And this coming together of the two forms a salve for all of our sin sick eyes. Putting on Christ rubbing him into our eyes is what allows us to see rightly. His incarnation is the salve for our sin sick eyes. And finally that pool of Siloam is the symbol of baptism a total immersion into the one who is sent. When we are salved and washed by Jesus we come to see.
In today’s gospel we follow a man’s journey of enlightenment we follow his journey of seeing more and more rightly. And he makes this journey in a very short period of time. After being washed in the pool of Siloam we see his faith and understanding grow; and as he’s repeatedly interrogated by the Pharisees we see his spiritual life take off. At first he called the one who gave him sight, “The man called Jesus.” Later with more interrogation, the once blind man said, “He is a prophet.” And later on, exasperated by the constant questions, the man says, “This Jesus is from God.” Through constantly explaining Jesus to others, he found his own understanding of who Jesus was and in so doing, he came to faith. Pope Francis earlier this year said that if we want to advance in our own spiritual life, then, we must constantly be missionaries. Like the once blind man to grow in our faith we must constantly explain Jesus to others. We explain the reason for our joy.
Now if we think about it, the very first face that the blind man most clearly saw was the face of Jesus. Breaking through the darkness he saw the face of our Lord. A face that’s all strength, all innocence, all kindness, all love, all heavenly light. We know what a relief it is to see a kind face when we are in distress. Now sometimes there are areas of darkness in our own life, darkened areas of our heart that need the light of Christ. We need only to expose this darkness to the light of his face. His light takes away the power of darkness. We find this light in Mass, in moments of quiet prayer, in the sacrament of reconciliation, in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and in worthy thoughtful reception of the Holy Eucharist. The light of his countenance is always there for us. What area(s) of darkness within our heart need the light of Christ?
Our Lord broke through the physical darkness of Odilia. He broke through both the physical and spiritual darkness of the blind man in today’s Gospel. And so my prayer for us today is that we are given the grace of knowing and allowing the Lord to break through whatever darkness, whatever spiritual blindness afflicts us, because to make Jesus the number one of our life is the key to salvation, happiness, and true vision. To worship anything or anyone else is blindness.
Let us become great Saints,
Fr. Christopher J. Ankley