“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!

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“I Want to See!”

From the Bottom Up

I trust you have been encouraged, challenged and informed by this blog. In the weeks to come expect to find new blogs on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. 

Yesterday my local parish, St. Peter’s in Merchantville, New Jersey, began the annual Forty Hours of Prayer. The focus for this year’s forty hours is “Reparation, Healing and Renewal”—reparation for the evils committed by a handful of priests and bishops, healing for the victims of sexual abuse, and renewal of the Church at the local, diocesan, national and universal Church levels.

At the inaugural Mass at 3:00 p.m. yesterday, my pastor Fr. Tim Byerley gave a homily outlining these three aspects of our prayer focus. I want to highlight his thoughts from the third point: Renewal or reform. Last week Fr. Tim attended a conference in Washington, DC, the NAPA Institute’s Principled Entrepreneurship Conference. Two of the speakers at this conference were Gerhard Cardinal Müller of Germany and Dr. Scott Hahn. Cardinal Müller spoke of the importance of renewing and reforming the Church from the top down. He reminded the attendees how God has raised up saints in the past to call the Church back to holiness, and how at times God has even employed visitations of the Blessed Virgin Mary to speak truth to the Church, for example at Fatima, just over one hundred years ago. We must pray that there will be men and women who will faithfully speak truth to leadership as St. Catherine of Siena did to Pope Gregory XI convincing him to leave Avignon and take his rightful place in Rome; as Saints Robert Bellarmine, Charles Borromeo, and Philip Neri who were instrumental in the Counter-Reformation and the Council of Trent to restore and reform the Church from within. Who will be that saint or group of saints today?

Dr. Scott Hahn spoke of the importance of the Church being renewed and reformed from the bottom up. This is also very important and Dr. Hahn spoke to the conference as a layman himself. His focus was on the importance of lay Catholics living holy lives. He specifically referenced the need for couples to live out the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony and through their sacrament to honor each other, have children and raise those children to love God and the Church who will then became faithful priests, religious, and married couples who will in turn do the same. If Catholics would be faithful to do this, in one generation the Church would be renewed and reformed and the society would be impacted for the good.

He mentioned some specific ways in which married couples could achieve this, and all by God’s grace being poured out into their lives:

  • Lifetime commitment to marriage. What God has joined, no one should separate.
  • Rejection of contraception. Every couple must be open to life and using birth control is not something a Catholic can practice.
  • Rejection of pornography. Pornography is insidious in our culture. Back in 1964, Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said of pornography, “I know it when I see it.” Today we are so inundated by a culture of pornography that we sometimes struggle to recognize it when it gently laps on our shores, then before you know it the tide has come in and we are completely immersed. It’s time to reset our filters and reject what will destroy us, our marriages and our families, especially our children.
  • Commitment to raise godly children and grandchildren. Our children and grandchildren will not become holy by osmosis. We cannot expect that their education, religious or otherwise, their peers, the media and the culture in general will lead them to God. At best it will be neutral. It is our role and responsibility and God-given commission to “train up” our children and persist in their religious upbringing. We would not leave their nutrition, health, and general education to chance. Why would we put their immortal souls at the risk of hell by not leading them into the way of truth?

Whether you are participating in a Forty Hours of Prayer or not, set aside some time to pray, fast and seek how you may follow after our Lord in this challenging time. This is not something we can take lightly. Our destiny and the destiny of the next generation depend upon our faithfulness to respond to God.

Saints Catherine of Siena, Robert Bellarmine, Charles Borromeo and Philip Neri pray for us!

From the Bottom Up

He Who Sings, Prays Twice!

he_who_sings_well_prays_twice_postcard-r16e67d69b3544c448018f443941ea9e3_vgbaq_8byvr_307All my life I have enjoyed congregational singing, maybe a little too much. Why do I say that? Because I tend to sing gustily, hopefully not obnoxiously, and in the two parishes that I have been privileged to be part of since becoming Catholic, people have taken notice and told me that I should sing in the choir.

In New York, while part of the Church of the Good Shepherd, I used the delay tactic, and it worked as I was new and just getting my feet wet. I figured maybe later on I would consider it. Then, because of a job change we moved to south Jersey and found ourselves as part of the St. Peter parish. Once again I couldn’t help myself singing from the heart. I began to hear the same comments, “You should sing in the choir.”

One couple was lovingly persistent with the invitation, even our priest added his plea. Once the summer passed we had been at St. Peter’s one year. I really couldn’t use the “new guy” alibi. So last night I made my first appearance at choir practice. I was received warmly and thus began my second tour of duty as a choir member.

Much time has passed since I was a tenor singing next to Howard Goins at Westview Wesleyan Church in the mid 1970s. Now I’m singing tenor next to Adam Pasquale, and I’m even singing in Latin.

That makes me think of St. Augustine. He once said, “He who sings, prays twice!” Bishop Conley of the Diocese of Lincoln commented on this back in 2015: “The holy Bishop of Hippo meant that singing adds to our praise and worship of God—that our voices are gifts, with which we can make music to the Lord. Sung prayer expresses the joy of the heart, the happiness resulting from one who has encountered Jesus Christ and experienced his love.  Sung prayer reminds us of the choirs of heaven, with whom we are called to praise God eternally in heaven.”

Not every song sung at every Mass, in my humble opinion, achieves this. There are some songs I would rather never sing or hear again. Thankfully I don’t hear many of those in my parish. One thing I would love to see is that we don’t view the recessional hymn as our cue to make a quick exit from church. If indeed our singing is praying twice, then let’s sing and sing heartily or at least with conviction that Jesus is indeed Lord and King.

If we believe that we will more likely live it. And God knows our world really needs us to do that now!

St. Augustine pray for us as we sing!

He Who Sings, Prays Twice!

Strangely Comforted

I went to bed Saturday night and woke up Sunday morning to the news reports that former Papal Nuncio to the United States Archbishop Carlo María Viganò had written an eleven-page letter that among other things claimed that Pope Francis knew about ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, and actually lifted sanctions placed against him by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. In the midst of this growing scandal, this was another severe blow, one that left me feeling extremely raw.

As Charlotte and I walked across the street to go to Mass yesterday morning, I felt strangely comforted. We were going not to sing songs in worship (although we did), or to hear a sermon (we heard one of the best I’ve heard–more about that in a moment), or even to enjoy fellowship (several congratulated us on our 40th anniversary). We went to Mass with the full assurance that we would have an encounter with our Lord Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist, and He never fails us there!

The readings for the day, not chosen at random by our priest, or a worship team, but from the lectionary that was determined by being the year 2018 were right on target. Below are specific portions that our pastor referred to in his homily.

Joshua 24–[Joshua said]: “If it does not please you to serve the LORD, decide today whom you will serve, the gods your fathers served beyond the River of the gods of the Amorites in whose country you are now dwelling. As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” The people answered, “We also will serve the LORD, for he is our God.”

Psalm 34–“The LORD has eyes for the just, and ears for their cry. The LORD confronts the evildoers, to destroy remembrance of them from the earth. When the just cry out, the LORD hears them, and from all their distress he rescues them. The LORD is close to the brokenhearted; and those who are crushed in spirit he saves.”

Ephesians 5–“Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.”

John 6–As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him. Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?” Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”

We have deep appreciation for our pastor, Fr. Timothy E. Byerley, starting his third year at St. Peter’s parish in Merchantville, New Jersey. I can only imagine the burden and sorrow in his heart as he stood before the people he loves and serves…the day after!

In his homily he reminded us that like the people of Israel, we too have to choose this day whom we will serve. And just as in the time of the psalmist God is close to the brokenhearted and the crushed in spirit (those who have been abused). Jesus is committed to a pure and holy church and the revelations that are coming forth are evidence that Jesus will get what He wants–a pure and holy church. Finally, to whom shall we go? Fr. Tim reminded us that there is no where else that we can encounter Jesus in the Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist. That’s the same conclusion that Peter and the other apostles had come to.

His final words to us was a commitment that St. Peter’s parish would seek to be a holy and pure church, that while much uncertainty and purging would go on, we would seek to be a people of prayer and purity. As we stood to declare our faith in the Nicene Creed I couldn’t hold back the tears!

I am strangely comforted!

Strangely Comforted