Sunday, October 28, 2018

Restoring Our Inner Vision

The Catholic Liturgy for the 30th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Oct. 28, 2018. Gospel – Mark 10:46-52. Topic: Restoring Our Inner Vision.

In today’s gospel, we hear blind Bartimaeus call Jesus the Son of David, a title that isn’t used all that often. We are quite used to Him being called Lord or Teacher or Master. Or even Son of Mary and adopted Son of Joseph… but why “Son of David”? 

Well you see, David was the great King who succeeded in uniting the 12 Tribes of Israel socially, politically and religiously and they became a mighty powerhouse in the ancient Middle East. His son, King Solomon, built up the kingdom even further and expanded its borders, its economics and its influence. There seemed to be no stopping the nation of Israel…and the son of David became Israel’s greatest king and role model.

But greed for more and the lust for power and prestige became like an infection. Bit by bit they ignored their covenant with God and transgressed his Commandments, causing them to become spiritually and morally blind. The prophets continually called Israel to turn back to God but their response was to kill the prophets. They did not want to hear anyone telling them that they were doing wrong and make them feel guilty.

However, the faithful remnant of Israel listened to the prophets who told them that one day the Messiah would come. He would open their eyes to what they had done, heal them of their spiritual and moral blindness, and restore them to their covenant with God. That’s what our first reading was about.  And then God’s people would once again be able to sing what we just sang in the Psalm that we inherited from them: “The Lord has done great things for us, we are filled with joy!” 

They began to call this promised Messiah the Son of David, because they hoped He would heal and restore them just as the first son of David had done. And so Bartimaeus cries out to Jesus for this healing and blessing: “Son of David, have pity on me! Master, I want to see!” That’s a beautiful prayer that I think we each can make our own, because we all can easily become infected with that same blindness that descended upon Israel. St. Mark has given us this story precisely to remind us of this fact.

Just as forgetting God and all He had done for them infected the inner vision of the Israelites, we too can become victims of this blinding disease. Sin does this to each of us, bit by bit, first causing our moral vision to become blurry and then, unless we seek treatment, it brings us into utter spiritual and moral darkness.

I personally think that we can each accurately test our inner eyesight and help diagnose if this infection is lurking in us, by reflecting on our attitude towards sin and our reception of the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation, what we commonly call Confession.  This is where we can most surely re-live in our own lives this experience of Bartimaeus.

The first step is to test our inner vision. Are there situations in my life where I am walking with good moral eyesight and others where my moral vision is becoming blurry? Are these lines between right and wrong becoming a bit fuzzy at times?

The second step is to acknowledge that we have been infected by this spiritual disease. Do I really want to see clearly once again with 20/20 moral vision?  If so, can I speak the truth clearly to myself and acknowledge that I am a sinner? Do I see within myself definite attitudes and behaviors that need confession’s sacramental healing?

Once we get an insight into our true condition, we need to eagerly seek out to the one who alone can restore us to perfect spiritual vision. Like Bartimaeus need to do all that we can to get to Jesus.  We need courage to follow through on this desire to be healed. So often this good intention to confess gets knocked out of us by fear or embarrassment. But like Bartimaeus who ignored the shouts of those who told him to be quiet, we need to ignore those things that try to dissuade us and cry out all the louder, “Jesus Son of David have mercy on me! I want to see again!”

Through this sacrament. Jesus will respond to us just as He did to Bartimaeus, with compassion, mercy and healing. Then, having thrown aside our selfishness and sins just as Bartimaeus threw off his cloak to embrace the Lord with open arms, we can leave the confessional with clarity of vision and follow Jesus down the road of life.

So maybe a good question that today’s gospel is asking us is this: how long has it been since my last confession? Am I receiving this sacrament regularly? If so, thank God for this grace of keen moral and spiritual vision.  If not, why not?

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Free for Eternal Life

The Catholic Liturgy for the 28th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Oct. 14, 2018. Readings: Heb. 4:12-13. Mark 10:17-27. Theme: Free for Eternal Life.

Today’s Gospel story starts out looking pretty good. We find ourselves in the presence of a young man who, according to the Jewish way of looking at life, was doubly blessed! He was wealthy and he was devout. The man desires a deep everlasting personal relationship with God, which is what “eternal life” means. This is something we all desire. Each one of us wants to be happy, truly happy, from the inside out. This desire leads us to seek wealth, prestige and power in life because we think they are the foundation of our happiness. But they actually end up frustrating our deep desire, working against us.

It is not that these things are evil. But due to our fallen human nature, weakened by the effects of original sin, we tend to seek happiness in these very things, in the creatures rather than in the Creator. Wealth and materialism fool us into thinking that we are just fine, self-sufficient, masters of our own destiny. They can make us feel strong, secure, unstoppable.  That is, until the stark reality of suffering and mortality slap us in the face!

There aren’t enough riches or pleasures in the whole galaxy to keep sickness, suffering and death away from us. We all know this to be true, but we keep on living as if it is not!  We deceive ourselves and often use pleasures to try to drown out that voice inside of us that keeps on reminding us that we were made for something greater than money and more precious than any possessions.  I think that just might be why God allow sufferings or struggles to enter into our lives: to wake us up to the reality of life and motivate us to put our house in order, to prepare for eternity which can come at any moment.

And so, I think that the rich young man’s dilemma is also our dilemma. He lived a basically good life and yet something was lacking, something was holding him back. Jesus was able to look into his heart see what that “something” was:   Jesus said to him: “You are lacking in one thing…” and that “one thing” was freedom.  He was possessed by his possessions. Those he could not give up.  We know that his wealth trapped him for the Gospel tells us that “He went away sad, for he had many possessions.”

We need courage to come before Jesus in prayer and ask Him to look at us, to see and tell us what is holding us hostage. Maybe it isn’t money or possessions. Maybe it is lust or arrogance; maybe it is envy or a hurt we refuse to forgive.  Maybe it’s a wrong relationship or a destructive behavior that we do not feel strong enough to break out of.  But if we truly thirst for eternal life, then we need to honestly ask ourselves: what is that one thing that keeps me from giving myself completely to Christ? What is holding me back?
The description of the Word of God in today’s second reading from the Letter to the Hebrews can help with this personal diagnosis and its cure. It reminds us that Scripture is like a two-edged sword that can perform spiritual surgery and help us to cut out whatever blocks our full following of Jesus. This is why Pope Francis constantly reminds us to read at least a small portion of the Gospels daily. God’s Word has power to penetrate into our hearts, our consciences, and root out whatever does not belong to Christ. Like any medicine, it works over time and must be taken in daily dosages, but if we persevere in undergoing this spiritual treatment we will indeed come to be free.

Jesus had offered the rich young man a pathway to freedom, but he preferred the comfort of his chains.  He could not let go of the gold in his hand in order to grasp the hand of his Lord. Let’s not be like that. Let’s drop the gold of whatever hold us back and take Jesus’ hand and follow Him, so that He lead us through life - with all its ups and downs - and finally bring us to that awesomely free and utterly fulfilling life with God that never ends.