“I Want to See”

30th Sunday in O.T. (B); October 28, 2018

Jer 31:7-9   Ps 126   Heb 5:1-6   Mk 10:46-52

Deacon Jim McFadden; (New) Folsom Prison

 

            Today, we have the familiar story in the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, of Jesus healing the blind man, Bartimaeus. The eye is the organ of sight and this man simply can’t see. It’s not clear from the text that he was either born that way or he had lost his sight. Given the thread of the story, I think we can assume the latter. We know from other biblical texts that the state of blindness has great significance and since this story is written in the present tense, it is being addressed to us today. Bartimaeus stands for you and I who need God’s light, the light of Faith. It is essential that we acknowledge our spiritual blindness, that we need the light of Christ; otherwise, we would remain blind forever.

How do we lose our sight? At baptism we are initiated into the Church, the Body of Christ as we receive the Holy Spirit. We are anointed as priest, prophet, and king as our parents and godparents promise to guide and model the path of holiness, witness to the one true God, and to exercise kingly power in service. But, as St. Mother Theresa of Calcutta notes, by the time a child reaches the age of seven, she has already bought into the Lie. Which is what? It comes forth from the Dominant Consciousness of secular ideology that promises that we can obtain happiness by securing the goods of the world.   So the light of the Gospel gradually dims as we swim in this sea of secular ideology in which we buy into the lie that if I have enough wealth, enough status and accomplishment, enough control over my life, and enough pleasurable delight that I will obtain a life worth living. So, we see reality through the prism of Having, in which we process everything, including the Gospel values and our Tradition, through that interpretative lens. That, brothers, is spiritual blindness and it’s insidious because we can delude ourselves that we aren’t impaired which makes it very difficult to seek healing.

When we do not process Reality through the lens of the Gospel, we are de facto, living in Exile, which was the situation described in our first reading from the prophet Jeremiah. The remnant of the nation of Israel had been cast into Babylonian Exile because they were not faithful to the Covenant. They were no longer faithful or obedient, but we’re believing and behaving according to pagan culture.   Do we do the same as we behave according to an individualist, self-referential culture? Just as the Jews in Exile, they and we are not processing Reality as God sees it, but we have also   become blind—living in a Strange Land uprooted from right relationship with the one true God and each other.

Exile, estrangement from God, causes pain. Bartimaeus represents those who are aware of their pain and he cries out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me’” (Mk 10:47).   Notice that “Many rebuked him, telling him to be silent; but he cried out all the more” (v. 48). Why did the crowd rebuke him? They were complacent in their own blindness and if Bartimaeus strives to be healed, that poses a challenge to themselves. Have you ever experienced being pressured in prison not to cry out to Jesus, but to be content to get along in prison culture and play the soul-deadening games? But, Bartimaeus rejects the crowd’s false promises because he is confident of being healed. Why? He knows that he is in the presence of the one sent by God as he correctly identifies Jesus as being “the son of David.”

Jesus hears his cry, stops, and tells the crowd to “Call him.” They do and a subtle shift is happening. The crowd, Bartimaeus, and us are moving to a deeper level of faith.   Jesus asks the Blind Man something that seems so patently self-evident: “What do you want me to do for you?” Really, Jesus? The guy is blind; what do you think he wants? That misses the point. Jesus is not a magician. He can only do a miracle if the recipient has faith. He is inviting Bartimaeus, he is inviting you and I to deeper level of surrender. For that to happen we have to ask, which is exactly what Bartimaeus does: “Master, I want to see” (v. 51b).

In his encounter with Jesus, Bartimaeus regains the sight that he had once lost and with that the fullness of his dignity. And, what does he do? He gets back on his feet and resumes the journey and “followed him on the way” (v. 52c). Bartimaeus not only has regained his sight, but he has a guide, Jesus, and a path—the same that Jesus is traveling. Bartimaeus is showing us what discipleship is: following Jesus “along the way” in the light of faith.

Brothers, this is the linchpin of the story. Do you want to be healed of the blindness that comes with Secular Ideology, in your case prison culture, in order to see what is really Real through the interpretive lens of the Gospel? Do you want to see through the Mind of Christ. Do you want to experience Reality within his Sacred Heart? That’s the question. Bartimaeus knew he was blind and he knew that Jesus could heal him because he was “the Son of David.” The question is: do you and I want to see?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Servant’s Heart

A Servant’s Heart

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B); 10-21-18

Is 53:10-11;   Ps 33;     Heb 3:14-16;   Mk 10:35-45

Deacon Jim McFadden; St. John the Baptist CC.

 

            If you look at exercise video ads, the sell typically looks like this: work hard, sweat a lot (i.e., suffer), and the prize you get is a killer body. Well, I tried that and look what happened! It might be tempting to apply this mentality to discipleship: work hard for the kingdom of God, suffer, and get the prize of heaven for it. C.S. Lewis points out in The Problem of Pain that this transactional way of approaching discipleship ultimately does not work. He puts it this way: “Heaven offers nothing that a mercenary soul can desire. It is safe to tell the pure of heart that they shall see God, for only the pure of heart want to.”

            Lewis’ insight may be the key of understanding today’s Gospel. Jesus has just given his disciples the third and final prediction of his passion. Recall that after the first prediction Peter rebuked Jesus (Mk 8:31-32).   After the second, the disciples argue about who among them is the greatest (9:31-34). Today’s reading begins just after the third prediction, with James and John asking to be given places of prestige when Jesus enters his glory.

Besides being clueless what it means to be a disciple, James and John, and probably the rest, are in the grips of negative ambition, which is based on the ego. Notice that there’s no mention of the good that they could accomplish from that place of honor. No, what they want is glory. Let us sit at your right and your left in your glory so that we may bask in some of it.

In response to this bold request, Jesus doesn’t exactly rebuke them, though I can imagine him rolling his eyes. Instead, he reminds them of what they are asking for: “Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” (v. 38).

What’s he speaking of? His passion, which will be his cup and baptism. This is the point upon which the whole Gospel hinges—that’s the moment of his glory. “When the Son of Man is lifted up,” says the evangelist John; Jesus is lifted on the Cross, wherein he will draw all people to himself. That’s the moment the Son of Man is glorified.

What’s going on here? Divine glory is not the same as human glory, especially under the condition of sin. Divine glory always has to do with love which is the beauty of self-sacrifice. That’s the splendor of God who is self-sacrificing love, which we see in the Washing of the Feet on Holy Thursday and the total self-giving on the Cross on Good Friday. Both of which is exactly what the prophet was speaking in our first reading. What Isaiah says in kind of weird prophesy is that the Messiah would be a suffering servant. Yes, the Messiah would be a new David, a conquering hero. Yes, indeed, but he’d do so unexpected ways. The Messiah would conquer our enemies of sin and death in suffering and self-forgetting love—that’s the divine glory!

            Prior to the Resurrection and Pentecost, the disciples just didn’t get it. But do we? What’s our excuse? We live in a society that puts a premium of success, accomplishment, and status: who’s in and who’s out? Whose got the juice? Who wields the most influence based on their status. It’s all ego-driven and the danger is to bring this attitude into the spiritual and religious life.

You see, brothers and sisters, Jesus has a servant’s heart in which he continually pours his love, mercy, and tender care into our soul. And, if we are going to be his disciples, we will do the same: we will embrace a servant’s heart. It does not seek prestige but opportunities to attend to the needs of others. It does so not to seek a reward for work done—such as a heavenly prize—but because it is worthwhile in itself to lovingly serve others.

Why? Love, as St. Paul taught in 1 Corinthians 13 is the greatest of the spiritual gifts. Love is what animates the Church because God is Love! It really doesn’t matter what we do, but it does matter how we do it. That was the core of St. Therese of Lisieux’s “little way”: Listen: not doing great things, but doing little things with great love. That’s the servant’s heart; that something you could be ambitious for. It’s purged of all egotism, all the negativity, all of the spiritual self-reference.

Once we embrace that principle, once we embrace the servant’s heart, our whole life will change. Now, to be a disciple of Jesus is to embrace the way of self-forgetting love. To embrace true discipleship is to take on the mind of Christ, who took the form of a slave (Phil 2:5-7), which means we have a deeply personal, I and Thou relationship with our Lord. It means that we put on ourselves his divine nature (Col. 3:10) which is what we do every time we make the sign of the Cross. It means becoming conformed to the image of Christ himself (Rom 8:9), who is the suffering servant.

And, Jesus continues to suffer in His wounded Body, the Church. Our Lord has been betrayed by some members of the clergy, who should be icons of a servant’s heart, but have betrayed their trust by abusing the young, vulnerable, and innocent. Please read Bishop Soto’s pastoral letter to the People of God in the Diocese of Sacramento, in which he expresses his sorrow and shame over the sickening, repulsive actions revealed in the PA Grand Jury report and the actions of Archbishop McCarrick.

Our Bishop has hired an outside, respected consulting firm to undertake an independent, transparent investigation into our own wounded past in which perpetrators will be named and where their vile deeds happened. This investigation will open old wounds, hearts will be broken again, and anger will arise; but, we must go through this process so that accountability and healing may occur within our community. We owe it to our children, grandchildren, and future generations.

Brothers and sisters, we have been undergoing the most injurious crisis the Church in North America has ever experienced in our history. At the same time, we remember the reassuring words of our Lord and Savior, Jesus, that the Gates of Hell will never prevail against the Church. We may be assaulted from within and without, but evil will not have the final word because we experience and believe in the Resurrected Christ.

With that, I’d like to end our reflection by noting the irony of James and John asking to sit at Jesus’ right and left hand in his glory. They were thinking of thrones, places of prominence in the public arena. But, there were two people at the right and left of Jesus when he, indeed, came into his glory. Do you know who those two were? They weren’t James and John, but the two crucified thieves who were on Jesus’ left and right at the Crucifixion. Were James and John willing to assume those positions of crucified self-forgetting love when their master came into his glory?

That’s a good question for all us to mull over as we seek the honor and glory of God, as we strive to embrace a servant’s heart. Amen.

 

The Glance of Christ

28th Sunday in O.T.; October 14, 2018

Wis 7:7-11 Ps 90   Heb 4:12-13 Mk 10:17-30

Deacon Jim McFadden; St. John the Baptist C.C.

 

Have you ever been in a room full of people and suddenly your eyes meet the eyes of another person, and you’re a little embarrassed—you want to go over to the person and say, “I really wasn’t staring at you.”

Over 50 years ago I was in an Eastern philosophy class at the University of San Francisco when my eyes came upon a quiet, serene, and utterly captivating young woman. I must have gazed upon her for three weeks before I worked up the courage to ask her out. When she accepted, I was absolutely thrilled. After our first date, I told my roommate that I had just gone out with the woman that I was going to marry. Catherine and I did marry; today, we’re still growing in love as we celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary in May. It all started with a gaze.

There’s something about people’s eyes, and looking directly into people’s eyes gives it a profoundly personal character. You know, no doubt, that the eyes are called the windows into the soul. By the way a person looks at you, you can immediately tell whether the person is happy or hurt, loving or angry.

So, a gaze is very important. And, we know that Jesus looked into people’s eyes. I’m sure he did a lot of that. He looked into the eyes of his disciples, of those for whom he performed a miracle, and I’m sure he looked into the eyes of the ones who saw him after he rose from the dead. Even in most of the icons or pictures you see of Jesus today, he’s looking straight at you—into your eyes. Imagine how people felt when he did that. What if he were to look right into your eyes. How would you react?

I believe that Jesus does look into your eyes today and everyday of your life. Indeed, every moment of your existence, Jesus is gazing upon you with love, mercy, and tender care. As the prophet Zephaniah reminds us, God really does delight in you. So, the questions is not whether he will do it, but how will you respond?

Today’s Gospel is about the Glance of Christ. As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a rich young man ran up, knelt down before him and asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mk 10:17). And, Jesus told him to follow the laws—not to murder, not to steal, and all those other commandments. While Jesus was listing the laws we need to obey, he was really preparing the young man to go to a deeper level of faith. When the rich young man said that he was already doing all of that, you could almost sense a sigh of relief.   Then, Jesus “Looking at him, loved him” (v. 21).

Let’s look at this. Jesus is fully present to the young man, just as he is with you. Being present, he gazes upon him with love. In his presence, we learn that we are loved. This love, brothers and sisters, is unconditional and unfailing, gives us the place to love ourselves, to welcome others, an inner freedom to be truly present to others. When we welcome the Glance of Christ, we now have the newness of vision to look lovingly on others, and the patience to listen to them with attentive hearts. At first blush, this may seem all-too-good and unrealistic within the confines of a society that is so polarized, but that is exactly what happens when we are present to Jesus and allow his loving gaze into our hearts.

People of God, our faith is so much more than following commandments and rules. It was as if Jesus was saying to the Rich Young Man, “You’re trying hard, you’re playing by the rules but you’re just at the beginning of the spiritual journey into love and communion.” To take him and you to the next level of faith, Jesus told him to sell all that he owned and to give the money to the poor. The Rich Young Man was able to keep the laws, but when he asked Jesus for more, he wasn’t quite ready to make the necessary sacrifices that were involved. Mark’s gospel says that he went away sad, because he had many possessions.

Church, the Good News of Jesus is not just about following the Law. Jesus knew the young man would not hear what he had to say unless he first received the look of love. As the energy of Jesus went into the young man’s soul, he could feel enough security, assurance of who he is, that just maybe he could let go of the other stuff.

Similarly to the Rich Young Man, we are “all lacking in one thing.” We can hold onto something that takes the place of Jesus’ love. What is it that you cling to that not of God? Do you seek happiness in the goods of the world as they are display in terms of the love of money, status, hedonistic pleasure, and dominative power.  Why do we do that? We have this gnawing fear that God is not really enough; so, we fill our lives with stuff or validate ourselves by how much respect we have from our peers. It’s like, I am by what I have and what I do. Jesus knows this, so he says, “Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me” (v. 21).

It’s hard to know what Jesus means by this; what we do know is that he said it. As hard as this saying is, I believe he’s telling us about soul-reality. Brothers and sisters, the Good News is not about rules: it’s about ego-stripping, dying to ourselves. Our society tells us that the good life is about ADDITION, whereas Jesus says it’s about SUBTRACTION. When we let go of the lies and the illusions that are fed to us on a daily basis, then we’ll find that place of freedom and power because we’ve put our trust in nothing else than being in relationship with Jesus, who draws us into the mystery of God and reality.

The final line is such a metaphor for most of us. “At that statement his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions” (v. 22). This is one of the saddest accounts in Mark’s gospel: there is so much excitement, anticipation, humanity, warmth in the first 8 verses, then his face falls. It is the only incident where someone is invited into relationship with Jesus and the person refuses.

People of God at SJB, Jesus is inviting you into a journey of intimacy, communion, and surrender. What will you do? Accept the invitation or refuse?