It is Only in our Emptiness that we find our Fullness

The Triduum

A guest post by Fr. Joel Fortier

“Have in you the attitude of Christ. Christ Jesus, though in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness…humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Because of this God greatly exalted him, and bestowed on him the name which is above every other name…” [Phil 2:5-9]

“Now, full authority both in heaven and on earth has been given to me, go and share my life and power with all people.” [Matt 28:18 ff]

We are called as a new creation to share in that same authority, power, and life: to discover the power of the cross, to find in our emptiness our fullness, just as Christ did. It is the power of love. It is in only our poverty that we find our true wealth. “It is in possessing nothing that I possess all things.” —St. Francis of Assisi

We want to know from our lovers; in the hearts of those we love, “Do you have a place for me in your heart?” Why is that important to you and me? Because that is what love means…having a place for each other in our hearts, to carry each other in our hearts, to have a heart for people.

When I truly love and care for someone I make a place for them in my heart. They abide there, whether they are physically present to me or not, and I can always go to that place in my heart and find them…be with them and present to them across space and time.

It is a wonderful thing to have a heart for others. It gives me a joyful grateful heart…full of love, full of people and all creation. It gives me a heart of mercy, understanding and compassion, a heart vulnerable and willing enough to be pierced and emptied even as Christ’s heart was. So that even in and through our emptiness we find the heart and fullness of God. “Have in you the attitude of Christ.” [Phil 2:5]

Because…the great secret is that God’s heart has been placed in us, we have been given the fullness of the Spirit. [Jn 1:16] It is hidden in our own hearts, and we can only discover and release it through our own emptiness. Love only exists if you give it away. The only way we can have what each of us wants, is if we give it to each other. It is then that we discover and meet God who dwells in us and in our hearts, and who wants us to be the heart, hands, eyes and ears of God in our world, full of compassion, mercy, and love for us and for all.

I think that is what it means to have the heart of God, a heart for people, a place where people can dwell in love, where harmony and peace lead to true joy and authentic happiness. As the hymn says, “Where charity and love prevail there God is ever found.” Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them, because God is love. [1 Jn 4:16] What a wonderful thing it is to live in love, to live in God!

Yet we can only do that if our hearts are empty. We have a place in God’s heart, so the question becomes, do we have a place in our heart for God? Or are our hearts are full of other things and people in self-serving ways of self-gratification. Does greed, lust, fear, envy, fill our hearts and minds, or does the love and light of Christ impel us in selfless service and love, for the good of others not just our own.

God can only fill our heart as we empty our hearts. When we empty ourselves we find ourselves, Jesus tells us. [Matt 10:39  and 16:25]. In our emptiness we find our fullness, and in our hearts we discover God; the heart of God which is vast and infinite and has a place for me and you…room for everyone, a heart for people, a heart full of people and all creation! “In my Father’s house there are many mansions…I am going to prepare a place for you, so that where I Am you also may be!” [Jn 14:1-3]

God has given us a new heart and a new Spirit. “I will give you a new heart and a new Spirit…I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my Spirit within you…” [Ezekiel 36:25-27]

Six days before the Passover and the Last Supper, Jesus was with his friends Lazarus, Martha, and Mary. Mary took and emptied a jar of costly perfumed oil, washed and anointed Jesus’ feet, and dried them with her hair. Such a profoundly tender and intimate gesture must have touched Jesus very deeply. It was a symbol of Mary emptying her soul out in love for Jesus. Jesus was so touched that he used the same gesture of washing the feet of his disciples as the symbol of the emptying out of his own life in love of us, and as the symbol of service and love he was calling his disciples to live if they were to follow and learn from him. “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.” [Mk 10:45 and  Jn 13:1-17]

It is only in our emptiness that we find our fullness. Through death comes life! It is the Passion of the Lord; let us enter into it with all our hearts…to discover the joy of Easter!

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Born in 1942 to French Canadian parents, Fr. Joel Fortier, along with his three siblings grew up in an environment steeped in Catholic spirituality and practice. He entered the University of Illinois before seminary to study Psychology, Education, and Philosophy. In 1969, Joel was ordained with a Master of Divinity from St. Meinrad Seminary for the Diocese of Joliet, Illinois with extensive work and training in inner city parishes, and peace and justice movements. Joel received his Doctor of Ministry from St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore. He has worked with Marriage Encounter, Cursillo, and Charismatic movements integrating with parish pastoral ministry. He is the Founding Director of the Center for Family Ministry for the Diocese of Joliet. Fr. Joel was the Pastor and founder of The Lisieux Pastoral Center of St. Theresa Parish in Kankakee, IL,the Pastor of St. Isidore Parish, Bloomingdale IL, and most recently the Pastor of St. Thomas the Apostle in Naperville, IL. Now retired from full-time parish ministry since 2013, Fr. Joel continues to live out his core statement: “To help make love happen, anywhere and any way possible.”

A river runs through it!

A Guest Post by Fr. Joel Fortier

A  river runs through my life, like a thread, connecting everything, weaving a beautiful tapestry of life in an unending flow. That river, that thread, is the Spirit. The Spirit of God not only abides in us, it flows through us. The Spirit is a river of energy, an underground current of love, a force field which flows through all creation like a water-table beneath all of life, an elan vital! [Ps 1:3Jer 17:8Ezk 31:5 and Ezk 47:12Is 44:4]. We are not only “in Christ”, Christ is “in us.” We share and live in the Spirit of Jesus; we share Christ’s life in love. [Gal 2:20 and Col 1:27].

What we can do and help each other do, is to tap the Spirit, the river of divine love and grace which flows through us and everything, by our encounters with each other in love, especially through our compassionate prayer, love, patience, and mercy. Then the Holy Spirit will well up within us as a fountain of living water. [Jn 4:14 and Jn 7:38]. As we tap the Spirit of God which is within us, we stay grounded and live in the flow of intentional Love. It is to stay grounded in the Presence which is within, surrounds, sustains, and connects us. We are like trees planted near running water when we live in conscious intentional love. It is what Jesus calls…invites…and “commands” us to do. [Jn 13:34-35].

It is The Way Jesus showed us in himself to eternal life. It is The Way into the divine energy and love which flows through all of us at all times. It yearns, groans, and desires to be released in us and in our world. It can bring life and healing into the parched earth of our broken lives and hardened hearts. It can keep us safe, centered, and grounded when we find ourselves in the midst of negative destructive energy. That is why Jesus tells and shows us how to love and forgive even our enemies.

The Power of Love

Love is stronger than hate, life is stronger than death, and grace is stronger than sin. It is the power and victory of the cross we are called to celebrate and proclaim. Mercy trumps all other forces of sin, destruction, and death. It creates cosmos and harmony in the midst of chaos and discord. Love is the only force that can change our world.

Love creates Peace when there is no peace. Presence breeds Presence. It quells life and people who are not Present, when people seem out of their minds. We need that Presence now more than ever in the midst of an insane and violent world. We need the Peace and Presence of Christ in our lives; in our hearts and in our minds. “Have in you the mind of Christ”. [Phil 2:5].

If we live in conscious intentional love we will have the peace, heart, and mind of Christ. It is a choice, a decision we can make even when we do not “feel” loving. The decision to love can be made even if we don’t feel like it. It is what Christ did. I’m sure it didn’t feel good hanging from the cross, but that is where Jesus poured out the last drop of his precious blood upon us…where we were loved, cleansed, healed, and brought into wholeness [1Peter 2:24]. That is why Jesus said, “Love one another AS I have loved you.” [Jn 15:12]. It is that experience into which we were Baptized. If we die with Christ we shall surely also live with Christ. [Rom 6:3-5, and Rom 8].

The Practice of the Presence of God

To be able to make such a choice, such a decision, we need the strength of practiced virtue. We need to proactively Practice the Presence of God in all times and circumstances, so that when it is hard to be Present in Love we will have some conditioning that enables us to do what we do not feel like doing. We can practice it in the simplest of ways and mundane circumstances of life, such as when we are stuck in traffic or a long line at the super market, in any frustrating situation, or when we are with people who are toxic and negative.

The Practice of the Presence of God is closely linked to the virtue of divine Patience. It has been said that Patience is the mother of all virtue. If we can learn to be in that place of knowing Presence when we are distracted, anxious, or in a hurry, we can grow in the divine virtue of Patience. We will grow in our ability to stay grounded in Love; centered and grounded in the Spirit of divine grace and love which is flowing in every circumstance and moment of life. To Be in the Presence is to be in the flow of the divine love, mercy, and compassion which flows from the Sacred Heart of Christ.

The Practice of the Presence of God will enable us to act rather than just react. It will help us to put an end to the cycle of hate, violence, and negative energy. It will enable us to be present with love rather than allowing ourselves to be infected by the toxic energy of non-love, sin, and negative energy, reacting with hate or violence. It will enable us to be nonviolent and Peaceful, to bear the Presence Christ in our world.

Jesus knew how to be Present and make appropriate responses to people and situations.  He could be and eat with sinners and tax collectors, as well as with rich people. He could speak and act in truth when he needed to, as in the temple cleansing, and the calling out of Pharisees, lawyers, and hypocrites. And he could be silent, mute as a lamb before the shearer, with Pilot [Isaiah 53:7], and in the non-verbal love shown from the cross. Jesus taught us how to practice the Presence of God in all circumstances and in the ultimate way of love; how to grow in age, wisdom, and grace, to do God’s will and come to the fullness of glory. Jesus teaches us how to be and bear the Presence Christ in the world today.

The Practice of the Presence of God opens us to and is an entry point for us into the Kingdom of God. It is about the “Omnipresence” of God, bidden or unbidden, God is always present to us, with us, and in us. The Kingdom is here…now…in us and in our midst. [Lk 17:20-21].

Let us take time now to be mindful, in this moment, take some deep breaths, and be present to the God who is always Present to us.

God is indeed the ground of our being, always flowing through us and in our lives. We need to say yes to the action of God’s grace and presence in our lives as Mary did; to stay centered and grounded in Love, in the divine Presence. It is what saves and connects us!

A River runs through it!

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Born in 1942 to French Canadian parents, Fr. Joel Fortier, along with his three siblings grew up in an environment steeped in Catholic spirituality and practice. He entered the University of Illinois before seminary to study Psychology, Education, and Philosophy. In 1969, Joel was ordained with a Master of Divinity from St. Meinrad Seminary for the Diocese of Joliet, Illinois with extensive work and training in inner city parishes, and peace and justice movements. Joel received his Doctor of Ministry from St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore. He has worked with Marriage Encounter, Cursillo, and Charismatic movements integrating with parish pastoral ministry. He is the Founding Director of the Center for Family Ministry for the Diocese of Joliet. Fr. Joel was the Pastor and founder of The Lisieux Pastoral Center of St. Theresa Parish in Kankakee, IL,the Pastor of St. Isidore Parish, Bloomingdale IL, and most recently the Pastor of St. Thomas the Apostle in Naperville, IL. Now retired from full-time parish ministry since 2013, Fr. Joel continues to live out his core statement: “To help make love happen, anywhere and any way possible.”

 

A perfect and generous love

Friday of the Third Week of Lent (C)

My heartfelt thanks go to Fran Rossi Szpylczyn, blogger at There Will Be Bread, for inviting me to write the following reflection for her readers, and for the community of faith at St. Edward the Confessor in Clifton Park, NY.  This post and a wealth of deep spirituality and theological pondering, evidence of Fran’s  perfect and generous love, can be found here, on There will Be Bread. I encourage you to visit.

It happens every year about this time, give or take a couple of weeks. Of course, I am talking about the midpoint of Lent, but I’m also talking about the change of seasons. Lent, like spring, is a time of conversion, of reawakening, of planting new seeds, of grace-filled turnings, returnings, and reconciliations.

Around the fourth week of our Lenten practice, new spiritual growth emerges like tender buds urged on by shortened nights. We carefully push back the winter mulch and beckon the sun’s warming rays.

This morning as I walked my dog, a neighbor who I pass every day remarked: “you look happy this morning.” He was right; I know I had joy written all over my face. The birds seemed to chant, Come out! Come out! Squirrels giddily complied, springing crazily from tree to tree, dropping to the ground, and diving in and out of unraked leaves. I spied a family of eight wild turkeys jauntily making their way up a neighbor’s drive. Upon my return I searched the back of my garden for surprises, something I do every morning now. Two days ago I noticed a few snowdrops pushing through the mulch; today I saw hundreds waving their happy little heads in the breeze.

On days like this, when love fills me to the top, I recall the words of Thomas Merton:

“If I were looking for God, every event and every moment would sow, in my will, grains of (God’s) life that would spring up one day in a tremendous harvest.” [1]

Like Merton, I am aware (or, at least, I always try to be aware) that it is God’s love that I feel when the sun warms my skin, and it is through God’s love that I hear the chirping of springtime birds, and it is God’s love that motivates and urges and surprises me year after year with the arrival of brave little flowers and tender buds.

Today’s first reading bursts with lush and verdant imagery. The Prophet Hosea’s final exhortation to the Israelites to repent and return to the Lord is given with an expectation of the Lord’s joyful response. Of course! Of course, the Lord would respond with a promise of new life!

I will be like the dew for Israel:
he shall blossom like the lily;

He shall strike root like the Lebanon cedar,
and put forth his shoots.

His splendor shall be like the olive tree
and his fragrance like the Lebanon cedar.

Again they shall dwell in his shade and raise grain;

They shall blossom like the vine,
and his fame shall be like the wine of Lebanon.
[Hos 14:6-8]

The whole of Sacred Scripture is the story of God’s desire for our homecoming, and the paths we take in life represent our response. Every Lenten practice provides opportunities to assess and course correct so that we might continue to draw closer to accepting God’s invitation. On Ash Wednesday, we heard these words from the prophet Joel, “Return to Me with all your heart.” [Joel 2:12]. Today’s Responsorial Psalm includes an emotional expression of God’s longing for reconciliation. “If only my people would hear me, and Israel walk in my ways, I would feed them with the best of wheat, and with honey from the rock I would fill them.”

What God offers us is so abundant, so rich, so fruitful, so ridiculously good. Why is it so difficult for us to accept it? What is it that causes us to separate ourselves from the Love of God? Today’s gospel helps us answer that question.

One of the Scribes who valued Jesus’ teaching approached him, asking “Which is the first of all the commandments?” [Mk 12:28b]. While Christian awareness of the commandments is limited to ten, there are 613 commandments in the Torah, so this was an important question to ask. Jesus told the Scribe that Love is first: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.” [MK 12:30-31].

Love of God and Love of neighbor. This greatest commandment is the summation of all other commandments, and as the Scribe indicated to Jesus, more than burnt offerings and sacrifices. Everything Jesus taught is an expression of this greatest commandment. Yet, the history of the world reveals our consistent inability to obey.

Our fundamental problem and its resolution are one and the same: God’s gift of free will. We have taken the gift but have lost touch with the giver. God urges us to love, yet we use our freedom to ignore God’s will. Again, words of Merton speak to me:

“If these seeds would take root in my liberty, and if (God’s) will would grow from my freedom, I would become the love that (God) is, and my harvest would be (God’s) glory and my own joy.” [2]

If my every action is a reflection of my love for God, my response to God’s love will infuse my thoughts and words, my relationships, and the work of my hands. I will become love.

This kind of love means I will use my freedom and hold nothing back; I am to love completely, perfectly, generously, and without pause because the love of God inspires me to do so.

Come out! Come out!

The readings for today can be found here. 

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With just a little over two weeks to go before the Triduum, let’s also express our love of God and neighbor with prayer. Let us pray for those individuals whose Christian journey has just begun; for the elect who will be baptized at the Easter Vigil; for the hungry, the lost, the lonely, the hurt, the disillusioned; for the homecoming of all of our brothers and sisters who have been distanced from our faith communities. And let us love God and neighbor by praying most fervently for those to whom our love seems the most difficult to give.

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[1] Thomas Merton. New Seeds of Contemplation. Reprint edition. New Directions, New York. 2007. p 16-17

[2] Merton, New Seeds. p 17

Travel light during Lent

Ash Wednesday

The season of Lent is a journey with a profound destination; it is an adventure through which we can be forever changed. Some travelers go solo and many travel in groups, but only one item is required for passage: the sincere desire and willingness to be transformed.

Think of Lent as a special time to assess the direction of your prayer life. Is it leading you to a deeper realization of who Jesus is? Is it helping you to live in right relationship with others, with all of creation? As Christians, we naturally want to accompany Jesus and become more secure in our belief; we might also find we share many traits with Jesus’ companions. Do we, like they, still not understand? Can we understand?

Look, all spiritual journeys are accompanied by two guides: faith and doubt. Our desire to believe compels us to seek, but the need to comprehend challenges those yearnings. We want to understand, but our tendency to make sense frequently interferes with our ability to experience God’s nearness. Like the father of the boy possessed we cry out to Jesus “I do believe; help my unbelief!” [Mark 9:24].

Travel light. Eliminate distractions. Begin and end each day with a prayer “Lord, is this the path you want me to walk?” and take it from there. Pay close attention. God’s response requires attentive listening. Disciplined, focused, charitable, and prayerful stops along the way will guide your spiritual renewal, to fresh experiences of faith which lead to transformation.

The readings for today can be found here.

What are you all about?

The Feast of the Epiphany (C)

You won’t find the story of the Magi anywhere except in Matthew’s gospel. And what a colorful tale the gospel writer weaves.

The Magi, astrologers from distant lands, observed the rising of a new star, a sign of such significance it compels them to embark upon a journey to locate and pay homage to the new king whose birth the new star announced.

Thanks to imaginative stories and songs of Christian tradition (and the Fontanini figurines in our crèche), we envision three (although there is no account of the number of Magi) brocaded and crowned, educated and worldly noblemen, each perhaps from different parts of the Orient, traveling with their well-appointed, gift-laden camels, all following the same star, their paths merging on the way to their destination.

For the Magi, an event presaged by the appearance of a great star in the sky would be known by all, so upon their arrival in Jerusalem they ask, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.” [Mt 2:2]

The Magi were motivated by faith to understand the meaning of the new star. They possessed the wisdom both to forge on until they stood in the presence of the infant Jesus, and to heed the warning in their dreams to take a different route home.

Today many would call the Magi “new-agers.” Followers of organized religion generally look askance at those who come with their astrology, dreams, and visions. We want them to know that we have all that we need in the Scriptures, the teachings of the Magisterium, and Canon law. We don’t want any of their weird interpretive phooey. And yet, these “new agers” were the ones Matthew tells us saw the sign and believed.

They packed their camels, left their homes, and committed themselves to paying homage to the Greatness—regardless of personal risk. They did not have access to the words of the Prophets or organized religion to assure them they were on the right track. They didn’t know how long their journey would be, or where they were going. And yet, they found what they were looking for and stood in the presence of the manifestation of God in the person of the newborn infant, Jesus.

What are you looking for? In the gospel of John, Jesus posed this question to the two disciples of John the Baptist, who were following him. They responded, “Where are you staying?” which is better translated as “What are you all about?” [John 1:38].  Moments earlier John pointed Jesus out to his disciples, saying, “Behold, the Lamb of God,” meaning, the one who will take away the sins of the world. As seekers, the disciples of John the Baptist recognized in Jesus something so compelling, they immediately began to follow him.

Like the Magi they were drawn by the light.

Naturally, King Herod, who actually was the appointed King of the Jews, found the Magi’s question about the whereabouts of the new King of the Jews disturbing. In contrast to John the Baptist, whose deference to Jesus—like the star that pointed to the new King of the Jews—Herod sought to destroy anything that might diminish his power and influence. The King Herods of the world believe it is better to dismiss or destroy people and ideas that threaten their certitude of how the world works, and how God works. The wisdom that newcomers bring is often deemed to be dangerous because it leads people to contemplate the questions residing deep in their hearts, and to do so in a new way.

We are not very different from the Magi, though, are we? Spiritual seekers desire the same thing: an experience of God, a profound insight into the workings of God, and some level of comprehension as to how we fit into it all. What we discover along the way is our Epiphany.

The disciples who followed Jesus asked him “Where are you staying?” (“What are you all about?”). This is what we want to know. What is Jesus all about? What is God all about? What is the Holy Spirit of God all about? Why do we continue to seek and to seek and to seek? And for the Magi, what is the meaning of this star in the sky that so forcefully compels them to follow it? What is the meaning of this helpless infant born to poor parents in a stable, a child whose crib is a feeding trough? And what are we to do with this?

Consider the epiphanies that have occurred throughout your life that might have been squashed had you been closed to them.

Be opened. Come, one and all. Seek the truth. Turn away from fear and other obstructions. Don’t be an obstacle yourself. Be small. The first to recognize Jesus’ greatness were Gentiles—pagans—who traveled from the East where the light begins. In Luke’s gospel, the first to visit the newborn Jesus were shepherds, the lowest of the low. [Luke 2:15-20]. Seek not through the eyes of certitude, but through the eyes of one who observes, who listens, and who ponders—like Mary. When newcomers arrive with information that points to the truth, and which exposes love, don’t be so quick to dismiss them. Jesus said, “Whoever is not against us is for us.” [Mk 9:40].

Happy Feast Day, all you Magi!

Today’s readings can be found here.

Give until it hurts?

32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time (B)

Think about the poor widow who gave all that she had to the Temple. Shouldn’t we, who have so much more, do the same?

Stop right there.

It is easy to interpret the story of the poor widow [MK 12:38-44] and her contribution of two small copper coins as either an example of piety and generosity, or an admonishment to those who can afford to give more. This traditional interpretation might have some merit in terms of financial stewardship, but was this Jesus’ message?

The story takes place in the Temple where Jesus had been teaching since he and his disciples entered Jerusalem. Among his listeners were several religious leaders who were intent on trapping Jesus. After lobbing responses to a series of questions related in one way or another to his teaching authority, Jesus points to the scribes, who were both trained in the law as well as theology. Jesus says, “Beware of the scribes, who like to go around in long robes and accept greetings in the marketplaces, seats of honor in synagogues, and places of honor at banquets. They devour the houses of widows and, as a pretext, recite lengthy prayers. They will receive a very severe condemnation.” [MK 12:38a-40]

In your face, scribes!

(Keep in mind, though, that Jesus does not condemn all religious leaders. For example, in the course of this Temple teaching Jesus praised another scribe’s articulation of the greatest commandment, saying “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” [MK 12:34])

Jesus then moves to another part of the Temple, opposite the treasury. The word “opposite” describes Jesus’ position within the Temple both literally and figuratively. The Temple treasury can be compared to today’s collection box, except instead of a slot for money, treasuries were topped with a kind of funnel, or trumpet, into which donors could toss their coins. The sound of coins reverberating off the sides of the trumpet made giving a very public act. Hefty donations made an especially loud racket, but the clinking of two copper coins entering the treasury would also have been unmistakable.

From his vantage point, Jesus could watch the wealthy dropping their contributions into the treasury. After witnessing a poor widow deposit just two coins, Jesus summons his disciples and makes an economic comparison. The widow’s contribution was the largest. She gave 100%, whereas the others gave from their surplus. “(t)his poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury. For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.” [MK 12:43b-44]

Jesus’ Kingdom economics begs us to answer the question, “What’s wrong with this picture?”

Jesus does not use the word good when he speaks of the widow’s contribution. He does not praise it. He merely states the facts. Nor does Jesus make the widow’s resulting impoverishment a value judgment on the contribution of the wealthy. Why? Because this is a story about institutional greed and injustice, it’s not about tithing.

In biblical times, women who were widowed did not inherit their husband’s wealth. And unless they were supported by their children or husband’s family many were left destitute. Jesus recognized something in the poor widow’s act of tossing her entire livelihood into the Temple treasury: an institution that allows its poorest members to impoverish themselves in order to support it is no different than the scribes who devour widows’ houses; the condemnation will be the same.

Would Jesus make the same comparison today? Isn’t some aspect of the scribe, at times, in the person we see in the mirror? Consider the pervasive nature of domestic and global economic systems that devour the weakest members of society. What can we, as good disciples do to correct it?

Today’s readings can be found here. 

I want to see

30th Sunday of Ordinary Time (B)

Last Saturday, my husband and I attended the vigil mass at our new parish church. We were running late, but my initial worries about making an entrance during the procession (or worse while the mass was in progress) were relieved when I saw the celebrant, cross-bearer and ministers still standing in the narthex waiting to process in. We slid unnoticed into a pew.

At that moment we realized something was wrong.

A man called out loudly from the side aisle; his garbled words echoed against the marble.

All the assembled, standing for the start of the mass, turned in their pews to see what was happening and then turned quietly back, heads lowered. They remained standing, some looking at their hands, or nervously leafing through the bulletin, or exchanging glances with one another. Some, unable to ignore the commotion turned toward the small crowd of people surrounding and attending to the man.

I asked a woman in the pew behind us if she knew what was happening. She shrugged and said, “A man is shouting.” As a newcomer to this urban parish who is not used to this much pre-mass excitement, I wondered if the woman’s casual response meant this was a common occurrence in this faith community.

The man’s incoherent ramblings continued. I prayed for him and for the priest and pastoral staff who quietly spoke with him.

A few years ago we attended an early morning Easter Sunday mass in a Jesuit parish located in the Flatiron District of New York City. This glorious sacred space was packed with worshippers. Somehow my husband and I managed to squeeze into a front pew where I observed a woman wrapped in a blanket blissfully asleep on the floor in front of us. She awoke during the opening rite and participated from her place on the floor. I noticed she was wearing a pink sweater and had a bow in her hair for Easter. When the time came for the sign of peace, one, two, three, then a steady stream of people, including the presider, came to greet and shake the hand of this woman, who clearly was a known and loved member of their community.

Both of these examples remind me of this weekend’s gospel, the story of Bartimaeus, the blind man who sits by the road leading out of Jericho, begging Jesus to have mercy on him. [MK 10:46-52]. Bartimaeus’ loud and persistent attempts to gain Jesus’ attention disrupts the crowd so much so that “many rebuked him, telling him to be silent.” [Mark 10:48]. But notice, when Jesus asks Bartimaeus “What do you want me to do for you?” Bartimaeus begs not for food or money; he says, “I want to see.” [MK 10:51]

For the past seven weeks (the 24th through 30th Sundays in Ordinary Time), the Sunday Gospel readings have drawn us into Jesus’ teaching journey with his apostles and the larger group of disciples following him to Jerusalem. Along the way, Jesus attempts to help his followers to see—to guide their comprehension of his identity—and to reveal the conditions of discipleship.

One of the many things I love about studying Mark’s gospel is noticing who “gets” Jesus. It is a testament to the subtle brilliance of the writer that he positions two miracles of restored sight at either end of Jesus’ teaching journey. In both cases, two blind non-followers receive the sight that the disciples have yet to gain. In the first, a nameless blind man is brought to Jesus by others for healing. Jesus restores the man’s sight, but not immediately; the man’s comprehension requires time and coaxing from Jesus. [MK 8:22-26]. The second case is different. Here the blind man has a name, Bartimaeus, and his faith and desire to know Jesus gives him particular insight into Jesus’ identity. Immediately upon receiving his sight Bartimaeus becomes a follower of Jesus. [MK 10:52].

I like to think, with my longing to understand who Jesus is and how I can be a good disciple, I am more like Bartimaeus than the unnamed man from Bethsaida, but that would be untrue. I’m like both of them: a little confused but enthusiastic; and I’m like the disciples on the journey: dense but promising. I think that is what Mark is trying to tell his readers. There is hope for us.

Turns out the man who disrupted the procession at my local parish last weekend was known to the community, just like the woman who had been sleeping on the floor of the Jesuit church was known to the members of her congregation. In both instances, I received new sight. The compassionate response of my pastor and fellow parishioners attending to the disturbed man’s comfort, much like the beautiful witness of an Easter people showering love on a woman our culture pretends not to see healed my blindness and allowed me to ‘get’ Jesus in a way I had not expected to.

How badly do we want to see? Persistence like that of Bartimaeus is the plow that clears the way between seeing who walks alongside us, or remaining in the dark. As for myself, I have moments of spiritual clarity and moments of blurred vision. But I know the Christian life is a journey of coming to see. There is hope for me.

Today’s readings can be found here.