I Want to See!

In my work with American Bible Society we seek ways to help people engage in Scripture, recognizing that time spent with the Word of God has the potential to impact lives through an encounter with the living God who has revealed His love and His plan for us through the written word.

In the retreat that I was on this past weekend I was given the opportunity to learn more about the Ignatian Prayer Form—a way to engage Scripture, especially the Gospels using the imagination and senses. One of the ways you can do this is to assume a role. You become, through your imagination, one of the characters in the story, such as blind Bartimaeus in Mark 10:46–52. In the exercise that I did over the weekend I chose the passage that tells of Bartimaeus’s encounter with Jesus which follows on the heels of the story of James and John requesting of Jesus the privilege of sitting at his right and left. I treated that passage here.

Oratio: Mark 10:49–51—Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.”

Meditatio: I can’t help but notice that the question Jesus asked Bartimaeus is nearly identical to the question he posed to James and John in the passage I did with Lectio Divina earlier. When they said, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?”

You could say James and John were asking from a position of strength. They were already Jesus’ followers; they were from a good family, had a profession they could fall back on if the apostleship didn’t pan out. They were young and health, and as it turned out they wanted more to consolidate their upwardly mobile status, you might say. Jesus, knowing this still asked them what they wanted him to do for them.

On the other hand, Bartimaeus has been dealt a bad blow in his life. Because he is named in the Gospel, it seems that he has been someone; we even know the name of his father. Yet he has lost his sight and there is no rehab or blind school for him to attend. He has one valuable possession, a cloak. He uses it to keep him warm at night and to gather the alms given to him during the day. He has had to take on the role of a beggar, the only job open to him due to the catastrophic loss of his sight.

The disciples were annoyed with the brothers because of their request of Jesus, and now they are annoyed because the blind man wants to meet Jesus. They try to hush him up because he is an interruption, an inconvenience. So Bartimaeus cries out all the louder, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Jesus cannot resist someone who needs mercy and offers him rightful praise. Bartimaeus is no dummy. He knows Jesus is the Messiah. Jesus stops in his tracks and calls the blind man to himself. Here Bartimaeus reacts immediately and throws off the only thing of value he has, his cloak, and standing before Jesus he hears the question, “What do you want me to do for you?”

It seems intuitive that Bartimaeus would ask for his sight, after all that is such an important sense to regain, but it doesn’t necessarily make his life easy. He has no job and the only source of income he has is due to his blindness. But Jesus gives him what he asks for. He says, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regains his sight. And what does Bartimaeus do? he follows Jesus on the way—to Jerusalem where Jesus will drink his cup and be baptized with the baptism that he must be baptized with.

Oratio: “Son of David, have mercy on me!” “Lord, let me see again!”

Contemplatio: Bartimaeus does not ask for power or position or security, only sight to be able to follow Jesus. How important it is to see, really see, not just what we think we see or want to see, but what we can only see through the sight that Jesus gives us. Too often I am blinded by my own humanity, my selfishness, my disobedience, my self-preservation. “Lord, let me see again!”

 

 

I Want to See!

Be Still and Know that I Am God

This past weekend Charlotte and I took part in a silent retreat in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. The retreat was sponsored by Our Lady’s Missionaries of the Eucharist and led by Sister Joan Noreen, the co-founder of OLME. The nature of the silence was turning off and not using our cell phones, keeping silent throughout the forty hours of the retreat except at the last three meals. We spent the silence either in our rooms or in the chapel. It was a wonderful time to stop, turn off the ever-present reality of our electronics and hear the still, small voice of God.

During the retreat we had sessions of how to grow deeper in our love for God’s Word. We  learned and practiced the Liturgy of the Hours, the Benedictine Prayer Form (Lectio Divina) and the Ignatian Prayer Form. Sister Joan Noreen shared with us a lifetime of love for the Word of God and the practices that draw us deeper into God’s perfects revelation. The Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei Verbum reminds us that “through this revelation…the invisible God out of the abundance of His love speaks to men as friends and lives among them so that He may invite and take them into fellowship with Himself.”

Oratio: On Saturday afternoon I sat down with the Gospel of Mark 10:35–45 where James and John approach Jesus with the request that they be allowed to sit one on his right hand and the other on his left when he comes into his glory. I focused on the verse 39:

They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized…”

Meditatio: Obviously James and John did not comprehend what they were asking or how to answer Jesus’ question to their request made in ignorance. They saw their relationship with Jesus as a way to climb the ladder and become the ones to sit at Jesus’ right hand and left. When Jesus asks them if they are up to it, they answer in the affirmative even though they don’t have a clue what that will mean. Jesus then assures them that they will indeed follow his lead in drinking the cup and undergoing his baptism, but that the places of honor won’t necessarily follow.

Jesus does have special plans for them. James will become the first martyr among the apostles. John will be the only apostle to stay with Jesus throughout his passion, standing at the foot of the cross and being asked by Jesus to take in and care for his mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary. He will also be the last apostle to die, enduring torture and exile, and writing the Apocalypse (the book of Revelation). The boldness of the brothers, even stained by a desire to be the most important, put them in a place to truly drink the cup and be baptized with the same baptism.

Oratio: Lord, you are indeed patient, kind and merciful. Even though their passion was misdirected and my is as well, you are able to approach us with love and show us how to fit within your holy plan. I confess that I seek glory, acclaim, position and I posture for it. Help me to learn and live in the spirit of sacrifice so that no human motivation will get in the way of full surrender to the will of the Father.

Contemplatio: Jesus, I trust in you! Whatever may be the cup that I must drink or the baptism with which I must be baptized, I trust in you!

If you are interested in learning more about Lectio Divina, feel free to contact me. I would love to share what I am learning.

 

Be Still and Know that I Am God

“Great Saints Are Never Wimps”

Today is All Saints Day and we are reminded that to be a saint is our call from our all holy God. This was a command that was first given to Abraham, “When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him, ‘I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless'” (Genesis 17:1 NRSV), and then given to God’s early followers in the desert between Egypt and the Promised Land:

For I am the Lord your God; sanctify yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. You shall not defile yourselves with any swarming creature that moves on the earth. For I am the Lord who brought you up from the land of Egypt, to be your God; you shall be holy, for I am holy. (Leviticus 11:44–45 NRSV)

Jesus emphasized this in his Sermon on the Mount in the context of loving our enemies:

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48 NRSV)

And Peter in his first epistle reminds us that we cannot continue to be conformed to our former way of life. Following Christ in holiness demands a new way of living and acting:

Therefore prepare your minds for action; discipline yourselves; set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed. Like obedient children, do not be conformed to the desires that you formerly had in ignorance. Instead, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; for it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:13–16 NRSV)

A top Catholic historian, Professor Roberto de Mattei, on October 20, 2018, spoke to the Voice of the Family Conference in Rome. He was speaking of the mission of Catholic young adults in today’s world. His words are powerful and give balance to some of the fuzzy focus that came out of the Youth Synod. He says:

What to say to the young of today? I can say nothing other than what I tell myself each day: be holy. This isn’t an abstract question; it’s a concrete question that concerns each one of us, man or woman, young or old, nobody is excluded. I need to be convinced of this: I might attain all the fortunes of life: health, wealth, pleasure, honors and power, but if I don’t become holy, my life will have been a failure.

On the other hand, I might experience trials and tribulations of all sorts, I might appear a failure in the eyes of the world, but if I become holy I will have attained the true and only purpose of my life. Man was created to be happy. There is only one way to be happy: be holy. Holiness makes for man’s happiness and the glory of God.

To close I share a few other choice quotes about being a saint:

  • “The saints are the only really happy people on earth.”
    Father John Hardon, S.J.
  • “Become a saint, and do so quickly.”
    Pope Saint John Paul II
  • “Great saints are never wimps.”
    Peter Kreeft
  • “Be a saint – What else is there?”
    Patrick Coffin
“Great Saints Are Never Wimps”

“I Want to See!”

One of my favorite cameo characters in the Gospels is Bartimaeus, the blind man. Jesus heals many people and many of them go unnamed, but not Bartimaeus. St. Mark identifies him as “Bartimaeus, a blind man, the son of Timaeus.” I love his spunk, his lack of decorum, his insistence, and his desire to have an encounter with Jesus so that he could be healed of his blindness.

Yesterday’s Gospel reading was from Mark 10:46–52 (NABRE), and it tells the story of Bartimaeus’s encounter with Jesus.

As Jesus was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a sizable crowd,
Bartimaeus, a blind man, the son of Timaeus,
sat by the roadside begging.
On hearing that it was Jesus of Nazareth,
he began to cry out and say,
“Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.”
And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent.
But he kept calling out all the more,
“Son of David, have pity on me.”
Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”
So they called the blind man, saying to him,
“Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you.”
He threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus.
Jesus said to him in reply, “What do you want me to do for you?”
The blind man replied to him, “Master, I want to see.”
Jesus told him, “Go your way; your faith has saved you.”
Immediately he received his sight
and followed him on the way.

Against all opposition from the crowd who tried to shut down Bartimaeus, he finally gets an audience with Jesus who says to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” Bartimaeus replies to Jesus, “Master, I want to see.” And Jesus says to him, “Go your way; your faith has saved you.” Bartimaeus not only received his sight, but immediately began following after Jesus. In the process he left behind everything, his cloak, his begging, and his blindness.

I heard this passage expounded upon yesterday by Fr. Vincent Guest at St. Luke Catholic Church in Stratford, New Jersey, where we were visiting for the annual “White Mass” to honor the medical professionals. Our own Bobbie Bradley, Director of the St. Peter Senior Center, was being honored as one of two recipients of the St. Luke Award. A busload of parishioners from St. Peter’s, mostly seniors, were present to celebrate with Bobbie. There was one person strangely absent, our dear friend Frank. Several asked about Frank throughout the day commenting on how much we missed him.

Last night just before Charlotte and I retired for the evening we were notified that Frank had suffered a massive stroke and had died Sunday morning. Our hearts were filled with sadness for our loss, but we couldn’t help but focus on his gain. This morning I crossed the street to attend 6:45 Mass. I serve as the lector on Monday mornings. I couldn’t help but think about Frank, that today I wouldn’t see him in his customary pew. I wouldn’t see him stop and pray at the front of the church for his beloved Rita who died less than two years ago. I wouldn’t get a chance to shake his hand after Mass and hear his genuine words wishing me a good day.

Reading the passage from Ephesians and the Psalms was more difficult than usual. Hearing our priest pray for the peaceful repose of his soul made it even more real. Yet in that moment in the liturgy when the celebrant leads us to respond:

V. The Lord be with you.
R. And with your spirit.

V. Lift up your hearts.
R. We lift them up to the Lord.

V. Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
R. It is right and just.  

It hit me in that moment how interconnected we on earth become with heaven in the celebration of the Mass. Tears flowed as imagined my friend Frank now on the other side, yet still part of the great body of worshipers before the throne of God.

Frank’s heart prayer was the same as Bartimaeus, “I want to see!” Not only did he want to see his dear Rita again, he wanted to see Jesus. Today we pray for the peaceful repose of Frank’s soul. May he rest in peace!

“I Want to See!”

Predicting the Weather

A special person in my life is a six-year-old boy named Anthony. Anthony and his three brothers have adopted Charlotte and me as “Ama” and “Papa,” honorary grandparents, and since we are part of the same parish and live only a couple blocks apart, we get to see them often.

Back to Anthony: this little boy has an uncanny ability to “predict” the weather. He will look out of the window or go outside and tell you that it is going to rain, or that there will be a storm, and will insist upon it even when it doesn’t seem likely. Then sure enough, right on cue, the rain or the storm will begin. Not only does Anthony have an awareness to all things meteorological, he is deeply connected spiritually. How I love to watch him in the Mass. He takes in everything from the procession of the Cross, the altar servers, and the priest celebrant to the final benediction. You can hear Anthony’s childish voice singing the “Gloria” and the “Alleluia” over those around him. And he actively recites the “Our Father” and the Creed. And when Mass is over the first thing that Anthony does is go see “Father,” the priest who celebrated the Mass that day.

I thought of my dear Anthony when I heard the Gospel reading this morning from St. Luke’s chapter 12:54–56, a most interesting and perplexing chapter.

Signs of the Times. He also said to the crowds, “When you see [a] cloud rising in the west you say immediately that it is going to rain—and so it does; and when you notice that the wind is blowing from the south you say that it is going to be hot—and so it is. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky; why do you not know how to interpret the present time?

Little Anthony may have his eyes on the clouds in the sky, but he also models for me a “little one” who has his eyes on Jesus and the wonderful gifts available for us to be most effective for our Lord in the present time.

Of all people Christians, as Jesus said, should be those who are alert and aware and are able to interpret the present time. That is a challenge for all of us. We live, breathe and ingest our milieu. It is difficult to separate ourselves from influences, opinions and attitudes that we share with the rest of our culture. In some cases Christians have been shamed into believing that they have to march in lockstep with the prevailing attitudes, because to do other, is insensitive, unkind, even hateful. Try to express a conviction that you hold because of your commitment to the Church and Sacred Scripture and watch the fur fly and the insults begin.

That, of course, does not mean Christians should not exercise compassion and kindness, yes we must. We are called to love, yet we are also called to speak the truth. All love and no truth makes us insipid and useless in a world that desperately needs a dose of salt and light. It makes me realize that I can be an expert, or up to date, on all the trivia, all the gossip, even that the Duchess of Sussex forgot to remove a price tag from her dress, and be of no good to the world around me, because I would have failed to “interpret the present time.”

I hear Jesus say, “Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come” (Mark 13:33 NABRE). We don’t know when the time will come to speak a word, share a material resource with another, give witness of our faith, be confronted with a trial or a temptation, or most importantly to go to meet our Lord. Be watchful. Be alert. Read the signs of the present moment you are in. May the Holy Spirit guide us! Thank you little Anthony for teaching me!

Predicting the Weather

We Have Been Given a Trust

Today’s Gospel reading picks up where yesterday’s reading left off. Jesus tells a parable about a home invasion. He says, “Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour when the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come” (Luke 12:39–40 NABRE).

Then Peter, speaking for all of us, asks, “Lord, is this parable meant for us or for everyone?” (Luke 12:41). Jesus then teaches an important truth that is universal for all of us: the more we are entrusted with from God, the more is required of us. In fact, he says:

“Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more” (Luke 12:48).

At this point we can echo Peter’s question: “Lord, is this…meant for us or for everyone?” I know my mind went immediately to those in Christian ministry, especially after spending more than 30 years in evangelical pastoral ministry. In my present circumstances I think of my priests, the bishops and cardinals, even the pope. They are the ones who have been entrusted with much and even still more.

Let me pause here for a moment and say that it is incumbent upon us to pray earnestly for those who are responsible for our spiritual care. There is a string of passages in Hebrews 13 that speak to this:

Remember your leaders who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

17 Obey your leaders and defer to them, for they keep watch over you and will have to give an account, that they may fulfill their task with joy and not with sorrow, for that would be of no advantage to you.

18 Pray for us, for we are confident that we have a clear conscience, wishing to act rightly in every respect. 19 I especially ask for your prayers that I may be restored to you very soon.

At the same time that we pray for our spiritual leaders, we have to recognize that we too have been entrusted with much: life, health, talent, treasure, family, time, and especially as Christians, the call to make a difference with our lives. How are we stewarding that trust?

A. W. Tozer, an American evangelical pastor of the past century was fond of challenging his listeners and readers to “live with eternity’s values in view.” I quote him:

“The spiritual man habitually makes eternity-judgments instead of time-judgments. By faith he rises above the tug of earth and the flow of time and learns to think and feel as one who has already left the world and gone to join the innumerable company of angels and the general assembly and Church of the First-born which are written in heaven. Such a man would rather be useful than famous and would rather serve than be served. And all this must be by the operation of the Holy Spirit within him. No man can become spiritual by himself. Only the free Spirit can make a man spiritual.”

I know of no better way to recapture eternity’s values than participating in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, as in that moment in time we on earth are united with heaven celebrating the timeless sacrifice of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, everything in the universe, cry out:

“To the one who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honor, glory and might,
forever and ever.”

The four living creatures answered, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped. (Revelation 5:13–14 NABRE)

With a full and grateful heart join with the angelic chorus today! You have been entrusted with much!

We Have Been Given a Trust

Gird Your Loins

Do what? This morning’s Gospel reading in the Mass is taken from the New American Bible Revised Edition and uses terminology that is not common in our everyday vernacular. When was the last time you “girded your loins?”

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Gird your loins and light your lamps
and be like servants who await their master’s return from a wedding,
ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks.
Blessed are those servants
whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival.
Amen, I say to you, he will gird himself,
have them recline at table, and proceed to wait on them.
And should he come in the second or third watch
and find them prepared in this way,
blessed are those servants.” (Luke 12:35–38 NABRE)

Still not sure what it means? I took at look at other translations and found these options:

  • “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit” (NRSV)
  • “Be ready for whatever comes, dressed for action and with your lamps lit” (GNT)
  • “Be ready and keep your lamps burning” (CEV)

That helps, doesn’t it? Jesus is speaking to his disciples, and that includes us. He is speaking of a future event, particularly of his Second Coming. He will come unannounced. He will not send a two-weeks’ notice. He will appear suddenly, and therefore he is cautioning us, instructing us, even warning us to be ready.

Jesus says we should be like servants that are awaiting the return of their master. In Middle Eastern world in which Jesus lived, it was not appropriate for a master to arrive home and have to wake up his servants in order for them to serve him. Their responsibility was to be alert and ready at a moment’s notice to open the door and let him in and wait on him. Jesus says that the servants who are vigilant for the return of the master are to be blessed.

If Jesus is speaking to us, how are we to be vigilant for his impending return? At least seven times in the New Testament we find the answer to this in a three-word phrase: “Watch and pray!” Another five times we are told to “be alert.” How are we doing? It seems Jesus was concerned about our tendency to nod off and get distracted. In Luke 18:8 he asks this question: “But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (NABRE).

We don’t know when Jesus is coming; that’s the point of this teaching. We do know that Jesus will return for a second time “coming upon the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” (Matthew 24:30 NABRE). We should also know that Jesus could come for you and for me at any moment. Will he find us ready?

As a life-long evangelical and now Catholic convert I look our readiness from an interesting perspective. I grew up in a church that gave great credence to the Second Coming of Jesus. Perhaps that is why we were “busy” with the things of the Lord. Part of our practice as Christians was to be in church every time the door was open: Sunday school, morning worship, evening service, midweek prayer meeting, monthly missionary service, reading Scripture and family prayer. Little by little though those practices became cumbersome and even a little “legalistic.” One by one these expressions dropped off until we were focusing solely on a Sunday morning worship celebration with lively music and well-honed sermons. Now we ask why people are not engaged in Scripture and why the lives of so many evangelicals resemble the lives of the pagans around them.

I have learned that there have been many changes in the Catholic Church as well. I have written about some of these in earlier blogs. In the Catholic Church, as well as in the evangelical communions, the past fifty years have been lean in spiritual expression. For Catholics there has been a precipitous drop off in Mass attendance, in participating in the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession), praying the Rosary, and in many shortcuts and “modernizations” of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The St. Michael prayer was placed on the shelf by many American churches in the 1960s, and only recently is being prayed again as we find ourselves in the worst crisis American Catholicism has ever faced.

And we wonder, Christians of all stripes, why our culture has lost its way and has become so opposed to true Christianity! Jesus’s words ring in our ears today: “Gird your loins and light your lamps!” “Blessed are those servants whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival.”

And what will Jesus do with those he finds watching and praying? “Amen, I say to you, he will gird himself, have them recline at table, and proceed to wait on them. And should he come in the second or third watch and find them prepared in this way, blessed are those servants.” Wow! and Amen!

Gird Your Loins