A lot has changed in our day to day lives since we attended Mass together the weekend of March7th-8th. Many of us haven’t gone to work or to school for over a week now. We have been asked to stay home, to avoid close contact with our neighbours and community members. We don’t know how long this will be necessary. Some of us are frightened. Some of us experience our vulnerability in a new way. How are you doing? Are you OK?

Before all this began, members of the l’Arche communities around the world learned some very painful news about Jean Vanier. I won’t go into that here. What I do want to share is how people reached out to members of the community and offered prayers, attentive listening and even some gentle advice. People said things like, “Please stay connected; remember to phone friends and family.” “Remember to get some fresh air every day.” “Do something each day that brings you joy.” “Remember to look for beauty.” “Don’t wait for someone to reach out to you.” “If you are able, reach out – especially if you feel like pulling the covers over your head and spending the day in bed.” Some of those bits of what people said may resonate for you now. Our need to stay connected when we are worried and unable to be with family and friends is real.

But with COVID-19 our public health authorities have ordered “social distancing.” Perhaps, like me, you would all like to reach out and give someone a hug! But we can’t come physically together with our community. So what to do? Are you moved to pick up the phone and talk with someone you haven’t talked to recently or maybe someone who lives next door? To email or text? To connect via Facebook or another social media platform? We are learning that we can practice social distancing while staying connected; we can be physically apart and remain an intentional community. (And I am grateful for the technology that allows me to reach out to all of you reading this reflection, even though we can’t come together!)

Today’s Gospel message touches me deeply. A blind man is sitting beside the road begging. How many times have I seen someone’s need and rushed on by without even acknowledging him or her? Now we are in a time of social distancing and yet it seems that people are making more of an effort to ensure others are well. Maybe we are noticing one another a bit more.

Jesus makes a paste and spreads it on the man’s eyes without being asked. I see generosity and compassion in this act. And, being a member of a community of folks with and without disabilities, I am challenged by a family member’s question, “Did Jesus ask the man if he wanted to change?” Does that question surprise you? It surprised me and I’d like to explore it a bit.

We have heard this story of Jesus healing the blind man often. We may not have thought of that question. In most of Jesus’ miracles, someone asks for healing. It might be the person or the person’s family or friends. Rather than directly asking, sometimes there is a gesture that indicates a person wants to be healed.

We may assume that the man wanted to be healed. We may enter the story from the perspective of someone who wants to help and who thinks we would heal all persons of their disabilities if we had the power to do so. And, do we notice that the man is ultimately driven out of the community? What good is his sight if he is now an outcast from his community? Before he had a place. It was a beggar’s place; everyone knew where he fit into the social order. Now he is healed and an outcast. What are we to make of that?

It is through Jesus that we are brought into the light. Our second reading affirms that we are children of light. In Christ there is no darkness. How does this correlate with the fact that many of us have disabilities and we will all die someday? My experience with friends living with disability is that light shines through many of them. Some have been my greatest teachers. And, when I have had the privilege of walking with someone who is dying, light- compassion – love has been my experience along with the gut-wrenching, throat-restricting grief and heartache of saying ‘Good-bye’.

And what if the man wanted to be healed but couldn’t find the words to ask? Maybe he was afraid of what would happen to him and his family if he changed. What happens when someone changes a long-standing pattern in his/her life? Do we welcome that change? Have you ever been part of a conversation that goes something like this: “S has changed a lot in the past months. She seems much happier and healthier. Do you think its real? Will she revert to her old habits?” Do we trust that change is possible? In ourselves? In someone else? Do we support and embrace someone’s life-giving growth, or do we hold back and maybe even make if difficult for the person? The Pharisees sure made it hard for this man. They questioned him and questioned him. Then they brought his parents in and questioned them. The parents were afraid and told the Pharisees to speak to their son directly since he was an adult. After lots of questions back and forth over several time periods, the Pharisees “. . . drove him out”. Jesus heard that the man had been driven out and found him. Jesus knew the depth of change that happened and gave the man support—welcoming him into a new relationship. And the man said, “Lord, I believe.”

I find this gospel reading ever so complex. I’d like to think it had a very a happy ending and the man was reunited with his community, that he was welcomed home. The story isn’t finished like that in this gospel. The Gospel moves on with the man’s profession of faith. We suspect that the man is welcomed into a new community of believers but we aren’t sure. And we don’t know what happened to his relationships with his family and his former community.

And, what about our stories? When someone changes are we able to move to welcome? When something in our world changes, how do we react? As we live the unknowns of COVID-19, are we like the Pharisees and looking for a target to blame? Are we like the man’s parents who leave him to answer for himself because we are afraid? Or, are we like Jesus who finds the man and offers a gift while respecting the man’s ability to question and to chose?

While we have heard of acts of hoarding and scamming recently, we have also heard of many who have reached out to help. We have doctors, nurses, cleaners in hospitals, grocery story clerks and people who stock shelves and drive trucks who keep doing what they do to ensure our well-being. People are cooking for their neighbors and posting activities on Facebook to support young families with activities for children who are at home and mostly in house. People are making monetary donations to food banks so folks who don’t have a secure food source can eat. Government leaders are acting to ensure that those who lose their jobs will have money to pay their bills, that businesses will be able to keep running, that health care systems will have needed resources. And so much more!

Never in my lifetime have I experienced so much social distancing and so much intentional connectedness at the same time. Jesus calls us to unity. He continues to offer his presence, his light to our world. May we be grateful for one another, for all who work to make the world a better place and for our relationship with Jesus who continually invites us to walk with him. Please join me in praying that we can see the good that people are doing, celebrate it and that we, too, can be agents of Light.

God bless.

Donna Rietschlin

March 21-22, 2020
St. Joseph’s Parish
Ottawa, Canada