October 21 - November 3, 2012
Are we supposedly sighted, and yet blind as a bat to this Jesus?
30th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Oct. 28
Jer 31:7-9, Heb 5:1-6, Mk 10:46- 52
In a manner of speaking, I can appreciate the experience of the blind man of Jericho in today’s Gospel passage. As I reported earlier this year, I had two cataracts removed last February. It makes an incredible difference; after 35 years, I no longer wear glasses and I am told my sight, adjusted, is 20-20. Night driving is easier, signs are more legible, objects at a distance are immediately identifiable.
There is a down-side to all this, however. When I look in the mirror, I look a lot older; every line and blemish is magnified. And, I’m sorry to tell you, you look a lot older too. But, so it goes.
The blind man experienced sight restoration by Jesus. The text doesn’t indicate whether he had been blind from birth, but it does identify him by name and also identifies his father.
In the Gospels, that usually means that this Bartimaeus, as he was called, later on became a person of note in the community Mark was writing for. Everybody remembered him. And why not because, as the text says: “Immediately he received his sight and followed him (Jesus) on the way”?
So often in the Gospels, when people are cured by Jesus, they just go on with their lives. Not that they are ungrateful, it’s just that the joy of full health (whether sight or hearing restored, cancers or leprosy cleansed, aches and pains relieved, life restored) takes over.
It’s easy to feel so elated that gratitude can become a forgotten response. But not with our friend, Bartimaeus. He was obviously a pretty strong character.
Note how, as Jesus passed by, he called out for help, and, when his neighbors cautioned him to keep his mouth shut for fear of bothering Jesus, he shouted out even louder. He had a goal in mind and no one was going to prevent him from actively pursuing that goal.
In the end, he follows Jesus up to Jerusalem; what happens after that we simply do not know. The author of the Gospel, Mark, is pretty sly, however. He slips this story in right after the scene where the apostles, particularly James and John, absolutely fail to grasp the gravity of Jesus’ prediction of coming arrest, trial and death.
It seems the apostles, who have been with Jesus so long, are blind and obviously deaf to what he is saying. The blind man, on the other hand, begins to see and then follow Jesus.
So into what category do we fall? Are we supposedly sighted, and yet blind as a bat to this Jesus? Or are we blessed with and open to new insight, new vision, new understanding?
Jesus says to the man, “Go your way; your faith has saved you.” There’s a message here: Jesus leads us to faith, faith to understanding, understanding to discipleship, discipleship to where you and I are at this minute. Do we get it?
31st Sunday in Ordinary Time: Nov. 4
Dt 6:2-6, Heb 7:23-28, Mk 12:28- 34
We are appropriately celebrating the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council as this year winds down. For those Catholics younger than 50, it is just another date in history.
But, for many of us who lived through the council and its aftermath, it was the most momentous and exciting event in the history of the church in our times. In 1965, when the final session of the council was completed, we were flying high as a church.
When I look back at those days, what stands out for me was how the church was visibly embodying the message of today’s Gospel passage. “Hear, O Israel! The Lord, our God is Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength … You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
It was as if those words, taking on new life and an expanded understandability, freed us up from a defensive attitude that had defined us for decades and even centuries. Suddenly, the Mystical Body of Christ (what we called the church at that time) was morphing into the marching People of God.
And the Holy Spirit was the powerful force behind our heightened appreciation for the greatest commandment of them all.
Maybe I’m just waxing nostalgic here, but, so help me, that’s how I remember those heady post-council days and years.
It didn’t last however especially in the face of the momentous events taking place at the same time in the world and in the U.S.: the deaths of the two Kennedys and Dr. King, civil rights, the war on poverty, civic rioting in many cities, the ill-advised Vietnam action, Watergate, all taking place as we were moving into a post-modern world.
The church reached out to the world and, even as we thought we had much to give this world, we also discovered it had much to say to us in return. Unfortunately, somewhere along the line we seemed to lose confidence in the Spirit.
Our love of God was tested by the advances of science and peoples’ rejection of organized religion. Our mandated love of selves was often marked by a growing self-reference and narcissism. Our love of others fell afoul of intolerance and fear of losing what we have.
Even as our power to communicate through the electronic media grows by leaps and bounds, our Gospel message falls more and more on deaf ears — even deaf Catholic ears. I hope our celebration of the extraordinary Second Vatican Council is not just an empty exercise.
Perhaps we shall discover that we have lost something in the ensuing years, and maybe now is the time to open our hearts and minds once more to the moving Spirit of God.
Can it happen? Well, many of us didn’t think the council initially would amount to much. But the Spirit took over, and powerfully affected the world and the church of 50 years ago.
And, as for the words of Jesus in the Gospel today, they are still the most important words ever uttered in the history of humankind.
O’Malley is a faculty member of the University of St. Mary of the Lake, former vicar for priests and pastor emeritus of St. Celestine Parish.