“Master, I want to see” Popular Devotions and the Gift of Sight – By Dr. Francisco Castillo

The Scriptures are filled with images and stories of people who need to see in order to believe. In the Gospels we read of many instances where Jesus healed the blind. Those whom Jesus healed received their sight and came to believe in him. The power of these miracles lies in the fact that people were made whole again, and at the same time they have gained the spiritual sight that will lead them to gain Salvation from God.

Sight is a sense that is most essential in our lives. The Gospel writers were aware of how difficult life must have been for those who suffered from some type of physical impairment. In Jesus’ time, the blind and those who suffered from most types of physical and mental ailments, were cast out and neglected by society. The sacred writers use blindness as a metaphor for sin; not having the gift of sight makes it difficult to achieve the Salvation we all desire. Being blind is paramount to not being able to rise above the challenges and limitations we face in life. It means being trapped in a world of darkness that leads to despair. Yet, our sense of personal flourishing and a desire to overcome this darkness is present in our human condition.

When Jesus healed the blind, he did so because he perceived a sense, or a kernel of faith in those who could not see. Jesus was moved out of love and compassion to heal them by restoring their sight, granting them forgiveness of their sins, and by increasing their faith. These miracles of healing happened during an exchange, a conversation, or interaction between Jesus and the person afflicted. Such encounters or meetings took place because Jesus, who is God Incarnate, walked through the towns, villages, and cities. Indeed, he continues to do so today. These encounters were filled with meaning, imagery, and metaphor, as attested by many such stories in the Bible. They give us a glimpse of the early Church celebrating God’s healing in communal, public ceremonies and rituals.

One of my favorite passages in the Gospel of Mark is Mark 10:46-52, the story of Blind Bartimaeus. When I envision this story, I see a great procession. I see Jesus walking along through town with his disciples and a crowd of other followers and onlookers. The story of Bartimaeus is one that is rich with images and symbols, easily ritualized and performed in order to teach and to help people draw meaning from it. In a similar way, popular devotions – especially as they have traditionally been lived and celebrated in many countries – are the ritualization of biblical narratives to help educate, form, and catechize. Popular devotions provide a different way of living, transmitting, and celebrating the faith. These celebrations tend to be rich in tradition, art, music, and drama. They involve all of our senses, especially the sense of sight. In most cities of Latin America, for example, patronal feasts are celebrated with a procession. In these processions, people rely on the ocular, the dramatic and colorful depictions of sacred images of Saints, Christ, or the Virgin Mary to live and express their faith. People participate in popular devotions by contemplating the many colorful altars, Nativity sets, or statues of Saints; or by venerating paintings or sacred images, as in the case of Our Lady of Guadalupe, or El Señor de los Milagros. Salvation is understood as seeing, believing, and following, such as in the case of processions, pilgrimages, the reenactment of the posadas, or the journey of the Magi.

Blindness, as a powerful image of unbelief, is a theme that is quite present in our culture and society today. The theme for this year’s Religious Education Congress in Los Angeles is “See”. Catechesis and religious education are definite sound ways to combat and cure our spiritual blindness and for us to come to see God’s Salvation. In celebrating and participating in popular devotions, not only can we see that Salvation, but also learn and transmit it beyond the pews and the classrooms. Pope Francis, in his Apostolic Exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel, asserts that through popular piety Christians discover and learn the faith in a rich and fertile way. Believers, according to the Pope, discover and express the content of the faith more by way of symbols than by discursive reasoning. Bartimaeus, and the many other blind people who are healed by Jesus, do not come to the faith necessarily by receiving instruction, but by seeing and believing and then following and celebrating Christ, who is the Light of the world.

Francisco Castillo is the Senior Editor, Multicultural Specialist for RCL Benziger.

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