The Thirtieth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

An often told, and completely correct, preaching of today’s Gospel reading about the healing of Bartimeus’s blindness would say that this story isn’t about hisblindness at all.  Yes, it tells of his physical blindness and healing by Jesus, but the reason we have this story today isn’t just to make us feel happy for the blind man; instead it is to point out some kind of pervasive blindness that the man had, and truly, we all have, and the real miracle is that he was healed of that, and that we should reflect on what blindness we have and pray to be healed of that. That would be a perfectly acceptable reading of this Gospel story, except that there’s this really interesting detail right at the end of the story.

It’s a throw-away detail, almost, but it changed what the message was for me.  It comes when Jesus tells the man, “Go your way; your faith has saved you.” And then it says that it the man received his sight and followed him on the way.  So notice the difference: “Go your way” versus “followed him on the way.”

If Bartimaeus had gone his way, as Jesus suggested, he would probably have returned to sitting on his cloak begging for alms.  After all, that was all he knew, having done it his whole life.  But he had cast that aside in the pursuit of Jesus, and having received sight, he clearly saw that that was the wrong way, and instead follows Jesus on “the way.”  Now, it’s important to note here that “The Way” (capital “W”) was an early way that Christians, before they were called Christians, referred to themselves.  They would be known as members of “The Way.”  So here we see that the real miracle is that Bartimaeus clearly saw that his life lacked the meaning he needed and that the only cure was following Jesus.

That jibes well with the first reading today.  The Israelites were in a bad situation: they had ignored God enough that he allowed their whole nation to fall and be taken into exile.  Jeremiah’s message was that they had no one to blame but themselves; that God had punished them for turning aside from the faith, following false gods, ignoring the poor and the needy and the stranger in their midst, and allowing every kind of depravity in their lives.  It’s not a very encouraging message, and one can see why Jeremiah was treated so poorly.  In this reading, though, Jeremiah relates God’s that he would bring them back: back to Israel, back to the Temple, back to himself.  Then, even though they departed in tears – as indeed they did – they would return shouting for joy.

So the real miracle here is not one of blindness and seeing, but one of metanoia, which is the Greek word meaning a change in ones life – really a complete reversal – based on a spiritual interior conversion.  The Israelites had been going the wrong way, so God gave them over to their persecutors, but because that penance produced conversion, he would bring them back.  Bartimeus had been going the wrong way living a perhaps-pointless life, but through giving himself over to Jesus and trusting in him, he found purpose in following him on The Way.

nd we have to see what’s going on in our own lives.  Have we been going the wrong way?  Have we paid little attention to our spiritual life?  Have we chosen to live as though our spiritual lives didn’t matter?  For me, it can be frighteningly easy to do that.  It can be very easy to be so busy about the stuff of running a parish that I don’t see what God is doing in my life and in the life of this community. It was good for me to be on retreat this past week; in that precious time, I found much grace and heard God’s call to make things new in me and in my ministry here.  What is he doing in you right now?  Have you been coasting in your spiritual life?  Have you paid it little attention?  If so, maybe God is calling you to forsake your own way, and give yourself over to The Way.

The Thirtieth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

You probably know me well enough that you know I’m going to say that the Gospel story that we have today isn’t about the healing of the blind man. And you’re right; I’m not. But you might be expecting me to say that the story is really about some more pervasive blindness that the man had, and truly, we all have, and the real miracle is that he was healed of that, and that we should reflect on what blindness we have and pray to be healed of that. And honestly, I thought that was how I was going to preach it, until Saturday afternoon when I noticed something I had never seen in the story before.

It’s a throw-away detail, almost, but it changed what the message was for me. It comes at the end of the Gospel, when Jesus tells the man, “Go your way; your faith has saved you.” And then it says that it the man received his sight and followed him on the way. So notice the difference: “Go your way” versus “followed him on the way.”

If Bartimaeus had gone his way, as Jesus suggested, he would have returned to sitting on his cloak begging for alms. After all, that was all he knew, having done it his whole life. But he had cast that aside in the pursuit of Jesus, and having received sight, he clearly saw that that was the wrong way, and instead follows Jesus on “the way.” So it’s important to note here that “The Way” was an early way that Christians, before they were called Christians, referred to themselves. They would be known as members of “The Way.” So here we see that the real miracle is that Bartimaeus clearly saw that his life lacked the meaning he needed and that the only cure was following Jesus.

That jibes well with the first reading today. Through the prophet Jeremiah, God says to the Israelites in persecution that he would bring them back: back to Israel, back to the Temple, back to himself. Then, even though they departed in tears – as indeed they did – they would return shouting for joy.

So the real miracle here is not one of blindness and seeing, but one of metanoia, which is the Greek word meaning a change in ones life – really a complete reversal – based on a spiritual interior conversion. The Israelites had been going the wrong way, so God gave them over to their persecutors, but because that penance produced conversion, he brought them back. Bartimeus had been going the wrong way living a pointless life of begging, but through giving himself over to Jesus and trusting in him, he found purpose in following him on The Way.

And we have to see what’s going on in our own lives. For me, even though I’ve been busy about the stuff of pastoral ministry, God has been doing amazing things calling me to new holiness. What is he doing in you right now? Have you been coasting in your spiritual life? Have you paid it little attention? If so, maybe God is calling you to forsake your own way, and give yourself over to The Way.

Saturday of the Thirteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

There’s an old saying, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”  And that’s fine, as far as it goes.  But the danger is that sometimes we get so attached to that principle that we fail to recognize when something is, in fact, broke.

That’s what the prophet Amos has been complaining about in the  first readings over the last week or so.  Today’s reading is much more conciliatory, because it comes after the punishment, after Israel had already felt the consequences of their sinfulness and gone into exile.  But Amos’s theme has been to prophecy against the way Israel’s leaders had been so focused on the laws that they had missed taking care of the poor, needy, oppressed, and widows and orphans.  They had convinced themselves they could cheat the poor if they just paid attention to the laws governing worship.  Their practice of their faith was, well, broke.  Only they didn’t want to fix it.

And that’s what Jesus is saying in today’s Gospel: stop trying to fit everything new into the old wineskins.  God is trying to fix what’s broke, trying to do something new, only the religious authorities keep trying to make it fit with what they already saw as important, or else throw it out.  And for the disciple, that’s just not acceptable.

We do that too.  How often have you heard: “but we’ve always done it that way?”  Our traditions are certainly important, but we can’t be so focused on them that we miss the movement of the Holy Spirit.  If God is trying to do something new in our lives, who are we to try to stuff it into old wineskins, old ideas of what works, old ideas of what our relationship with God must be?  When we try to do that, well, the whole life of faith just falls apart.

We have to be open-minded to what God is doing in our lives.  We have to be good discerners.  We have to be open to the possibility of God doing something new in us and in our community.  We have to be ready to meet all that fresh wine with brand spankin’-new wineskins, so that God’s activity in our lives can be preserved, and our faith can be freshened.  So for those things in our lives that are, in fact, broken, let us let God fix them.

Thursday of the Second Week of Easter

In these Easter days, the Scriptures begin to speak to us about the gift of the Holy Spirit. This gift, is not rationed, as Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel reading. This gift is empowering and renewing and, according to the Psalmist, de-marginalizing.

We all know the kind of men the Apostles were. Yet now, given the gift of the Holy Spirit, they have been transformed completely. Cowardice has been replaced by something very close to bravado. Ineffectuality has been replaced by miracle work. Hiding has been replaced by boldness fired by the truth. In a sense, they have been resurrected in these Easter days. They are new creations because of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

This is the gift that Jesus wants for us in these Easter days too. He wants us to know a complete transformation by the gift of the Holy Spirit. Having done penance during Lent, we now have the grace of that Spirit to transform our lives, our hearts, and our desires during Easter. And we are assured by our Risen Lord that the Spirit will not be rationed. Whatever it is that is lacking in us will be completely transformed in the Spirit so that we too can boldly proclaim the wonderful works of our God.

That transformation happens little by little as we put ourselves in the presence of our God. We have the opportunity to do that in so many ways. Opening ourselves up by taking quiet time for prayer, spending time with our Lord in adoration, reading Scripture for a few minutes each day, reaching out to others in prayerful service; all of these help us to be transformed in the Spirit. We will never know how wonderful are the gifts that the Spirit is longing to bestow upon you, and how much they will transform us.

The Word from Father Pat

How could we sing the song of the LORD
in a foreign land?
Psalm 137

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

This quote from Psalm 137 may seem like a quaint reminiscence from history, but I think it is actually a foundational aspiration of the spiritual life, and as such, a worthy aspiration for Lent.

One of the important principles of this life is that we are not home yet; we are wayfarers in this world.  Our life is a journey back to our God who made us for himself, and, as Saint Augustine says so well, “our hearts are restless until they rest in thee (God).”  And so it is with a great sense of longing, and perhaps a little frustration, that the psalmist cries out, “How could we sing the song of the LORD in a foreign land?”

For the Jews, the place for true worship was the Temple in Jerusalem.  And so, when they were exiled to Babylon, not only did they lose their homes and their land, but also, in a sense, their relationship with God.  They could not have true worship in a foreign land, so no matter how much they were urged to do so by their captors, they couldn’t sing the Lord’s song.

For us, the experience is different of course, but in some ways also similar.  We too are not where we should be, and please God, not where we will be.  We are on this journey we call life, and we long to bring that journey along side the road our God lays out for us to lead us back to him.  That way has us travel, particularly during Lent, along the Way of the Cross.  We know that there is so much that we have to scourge out of us, nail to the cross and die to.  But it’s easier not to journey along that road.

And so we follow other paths.  These lead us far away from where we were made to be.  They put us in that foreign land that is so far from the kingdom God promised us.  This land is so filled with distractions that we rarely have time to think of God, let alone worship him in spirit and truth.  And so it would be well for our souls to cry out, “How could we sing the song of the LORD in a foreign land?”

Lent is an opportunity for the journey back.  There is nowhere we can go that is beyond the reach of our God.  All we have to do is take his hand and be pulled up out of the waters that engulf us, be pulled back to the right path and take up the journey once again.  It won’t be an easy journey; it never is for people of faith.  Jesus had to experience his Good Friday before he came to Easter Sunday, and so will we in this life.  But we never have to travel this road alone.

If you’ve found that Lent hasn’t been what you hoped it would be, it’s not too late to take our Lord’s hand and head the right way.  There is still time for fasting, almsgiving and prayer, and no matter how late it may be, these will still be food for our journey.  This week we have our parish mission, with opportunity for confession after the mission on Monday and Tuesday.  It is my prayer that you will find this week a helpful one if you need to turn your Lent around.

And may we all one day together sing the Lord’s song in the Land he has made for us!

Yours in Christ and His Blessed Mother,
Father Pat Mulcahy