I once read a story about cancer patients in a hospital who were sharing with one another what they wanted most in life. One wished for clean bedsheets and better food. Another said she longed to be visited by her children. Another one mumbled that she wanted the air conditioner to be less noisy.
These were cancer patients whose greatest need was healing. But they didn’t speak about it. They all knew what they wanted, but not what they so sorely needed.
The worst kind of blindness is not recognizing what we need most in life. In our Gospel reading today, Jesus wants to heal the blind man. But first, He makes sure that that is what the blind man needs. “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man anwers rightly, “Rabbi, I want to see” (Mark 10:51).
The blind man’s humble admission that he wants his blindness to be healed comes with his unrelenting faith in Jesus. Despite attempts by onlookers to silence him, he shouted again and again: “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me” (Mark 10:47). Jesus heals him, and gives him a greater gift—the ability to recognize what his heart sees. The Gospel describes the healed man thus: “Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus on the way” (Mark10:52).
The man personifies St. Paul’s prayer: “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which God has called you, the riches of His glorious inheritance, and His incomparable power for us who believe” (Ephesians 1:18-19).
For St. Paul, we must not just rely on our eyes to see what we truly need. We must listen to our heart. As the Little Prince says: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly. What is essential is invisible to the eyes.”
If we don’t listen to our heart, we become blind by choice. Like those cancer patients, we can equate our deepest desire with our longing for food, drink wealth, sex, fame, power, and other things that bring us pleasure.
Today, advances in science and technology have produced in us sophisticated and grandiose desires that end in greater disappointments, aberration and perversity. Through the internet, many among us are in hot pursuit of new sources of pleasure, like drugs, dangerous sports, high stakes gambling, political power, celebrity status, extramarital liaisons, and even war.
Our fear of death further aggravates this kind of blindness. News about people dying of Covid-19, wars, famine, terrorism, racial conflicts, murder, and poverty make us see death, not as a far-away possibility, but something that can happen to us anytime. To make up for the shortness of our life, we sttockpile bank accounts, property, business firms, and consumer goods. Indeed, when we lose sight of what we truly desire, we clutch more fiercely at cheap substitutes.
The story of St. Augustine tells us a lesson about desire. While growing up as a free-spirited person, he plunged himself into every worldly pleasure available to him. But he later realized that there remains a hunger and a thirst that money, sex, and power could not quench.
St. Augustine decided to turn his back on his former way of life, rejecting everything that he used to desire. But even this did not bring him peace. Later in life, he finally realized that the best way to confront his desire is not to give free rein to it, nor to disown, ignore, sublimate, and even anesthetize it, but to see the discontent that it provokes as a yearning for something ultimate and transcendent. He writes: “Our hearts are restless until they rest in God.”
Indeed, every desire is, in some sense, a yearning for God. This is what our heart says. When we focus on satisfying this longing, we experience a pleasure that ennobles us. We experience real joy, fulfilment, wholeness, even holiness.