Et ego homo sum

One of the great joys of studying and working at the Faculty of Theology is the opportunity to share our faith, whether it’s during our weekly liturgies, class discussions, impromptu chats springing up in the student lounge or at one of our social events.
As part of our collective Lenten journey, we are sharing seasonal reflections written by students and Faculty as a way to include the broader community in the life of the Faculty.
Our reflection for the Fourth Sunday of Lent is written by MTS student Emmaus O’Herlihy, OSB. Br. Emmaus is a Benedictine monk of Glenstal Abbey, Ireland, who chose to attend our Faculty because he was able to incorporate visual art into his studies. Emmaus’s reflection for this coming Sunday refers to the painting you see.

1 Samuel 16.1b, 6-7, 10-13
Psalm 23.1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6
Ephesians 5.8-14
John 9.1-41

Intended to encourage the faithful mid-way through the forty days of Lent, the gospel for Laetare Sunday this year recounts the episode of Jesus’ miraculous cure of a blind man in the temple one Sabbath. The story of the man whom Christ identifies as one whose life will reveal God’s work (v.3) is also the subject of a painting I recently completed, titled “Et ego homo sum”/“I am the man” (v.9).

A mix of dark and warm earth tones saturate the large mottled picture plane (60 x 72 in). The head of a man on which light shines from above is parenthetically framed by his hands raised in a gesture reminiscent of the ancient Christian oremus. Textured with rough vertical furrows of impasto that break the surface to suggest streaks of water, this dramatically foreshortened face tilted back is encrusted with the remnants of mud falling from washed eyes about to be opened. The sense of weighted presence in the enlarged head and hands underlie the miracle depicted as one that challenges conventional understanding of what it means to see (v. 41) in a gospel where “seeing” is a Johannine synonym for “believing.”

John 9:1—41 depicts a miracle story involving progressive levels of relationship with Christ that is particularly appropriate to those preparing for baptism. The understanding of the man born blind progresses from knowing Jesus as simply a man (v.11), to a prophet followed by disciples (vv.17, 27), to a man sent “from God” (v.33), to believing in him as the Son of Man (v.35), and finally to worshipping him (v. 38).

Inasmuch as the allusion to the blind man (who sees after washing off the mud Christ rubs into his eyes by entering the pool of Siloam) suggests Christian baptism, this passage also acts as a sober caution to what many Roman Catholics today (and those preparing to be received into the Church) may face as a consequence of “seeing”: denunciation (v. 16), suspicion (v. 18), vulnerability (v. 20-22), insult (v. 28), ridicule and rejection (v. 34). Intriguingly, the “work of God” that Christ “reveals” in curing this man’s blindness not only exposes a level of prejudice and fear in those who struggle to accept Christ’s new law of love and the freedom it entails. It also warns against anticipating the sanctifying grace received in baptism as equivalent to idealistic fantasies for living a ‘happy ever after’ lifestyle. Instead, this gospel describes how, once liberated, the man who can now “see” refuses to deny or reduce the significance of an experience of Love that (in the words of the psalmist) redefines belonging: “My home is with you.” (Ps 87:7). In Vade, at Lavare. The face of the man about to open his eyes smiles with the joy of one who has begun to redefine his self- identity because of his encounter with a Love that liberates and redeems.