Masses for All Saints Day will consist of a Vigil Mass on Wednesday at 4:00 p.m. and Thursday morning at 8:00 a.m. Mass for All Souls Day, Friday, November 2, will be held at 5:30 p.m. At this Mass, all present will be invited to light a candle in memory of loved ones who have died and placing the candle in front of our altar.
It’s one of the more special blessings of the human body.
To smell a delicious sauce is nice. To hear a good song is good. To taste a sumptuous meal is satisfying. To feel the summer breeze on a hot day touching us, or the fireplace heat on a cold winter day is inviting.
But there’s something extra special about vision. Seeing the world through our eyes. And it’s hard not to understand why Bartimaeus wanted it so badly. He could taste a good meal after purchasing one from the money he collected while begging. He could hear the many rebukes – even from our Lord’s own disciples probably- when he cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me.” He could smell the anger and the rottenness of their words tossed at him like sharp javelins. He could touch the tension from the gathering crowd that followed Jesus out of Jericho, where the walls came tumbling down, and something else was about to tumble down too, called blindness.
Bartimaeus had all the senses keenly, missing only one. What’s the big deal? Four out of five is a pretty good percentage. Having eighty percent is much better than what Helen Keller had by a longshot.
So, Bartimaeus was not necessarily looking for the 100% that most of us take for granted. He was begging for a certain twenty percent. The premier twenty percent, many of us would say. The premier twenty percent in relation to the senses of the human body that God created for certain good uses, being the gift of sight. Everyone there except for one blind beggar saw Jesus standing before them. They gained in the process a sneak preview of the Beatific Vision we all hope to arrive at in the repose and glory of heaven. The disciples were far enough along in their friendship with Christ to the point that looking at him face to face everyday became second nature to them. Bartimaeus begged to see him for the first time.
Imagine if Bartimaeus had written a book titled The First Time I Looked At The Face Of God? I’d purchase a couple hundred copies from Amazon and offer one to each of you, and have our Confirmation Class read it. Why? Because that’s how special that truth is going to be one day, a reality that cannot be exaggerated. The gift of vision cannot be overstated.
But this week’s Gospel is more than just about a blind man miraculously receiving his sight. With all the pushing and shoving we see today in the political arena, between supporters of this party against supporters of that party. Between all the pushing and shoving, sending bombs in the mail, shooting up synagogues, the verbal attacks in public places where people makes the biggest fools of themselves and care not, thinking they can embarrass someone who’s’ trying to enjoy a quiet meal with family or spouse. With all the pushing and shoving we see in schools with bullying, in work places where people get undercut, affecting families, altering lives, it’s quite obvious our society, culture, and world is in desperate need of each of us firmly living out, not our political notions, but our faith in Christ.
The attempted shouting down of Bartimaeus is a low point for the crowds who follow Jesus, including his disciples, second only to the scene where they holler at the top of their lungs, “Crucify him, crucify him.” If the disciples of Jesus are not verbally participating in the rebuking of a blind beggar at the side of the road who has no potential to hurt anyone, someone who’s seeking the Lord, then their apparent silence toward the harsh rebuke is complicity. They lack the courage to stand up for a guy who is down and out. Aside of “Crucify him,” this is a low point in their following Christ. They will thankfully improve as the years roll by, as we hopefully do also.
Bartimaeus wants to see. There is no pushing and shoving found in his request, but rather the humble admission he wants that top 20 percent of the human senses. So, in this real life story, Mark gives us this uplifting image of what Jesus does best for all of us; he intercedes on behalf of Bartimaeus. He doesn’t push us and shove us, like the Devil does, embarrassing us in public. Jesus isn’t a fool. His love is unconditional. His is the one voice that speaks to the blind man with respect and compassion; “Jesus is calling you.”
Without the Lord’s intercession, Bartimaeus stays on the street corner for the rest of his dying days, begging and looking unclean. No one else had the love and courage to go over to the son of Timaeus and bring him to the Lord. That’s called neglect 101. They were all overpowered by the angry, unsettling mood of the crowd. Not one had the fortitude to be different for Christ. But HIS voice reigns supreme; “Jesus is calling you. Get up and go to him, and receive your 20 percent.”
To follow Christ is to be a person who desires peace, who brings peace, who extends peace. Rebuking may be part of our Christian faith, but only by way of drawing someone closer to Jesus, not pushing them away.
The 20 percent that Bartimaeus so badly wanted, even though he had the rest of his senses, would lead him to seeing the face of God. And to think that the entire crowd tried to prevent him from such joy! We are people of peace who lead others to Christ by word and example. He is the Mediator between God and men, but now that he’s ascended, he would like our steadfast cooperation. The opportunities are many to imitate, not the angry crowd, but the Peacemaker of our souls.
As I was watching the Red Sox game the other night, I texted a friend to ask him a question, knowing where I wanted this homily to go: “If you had the chance to ask God one question, what would it be?” The friend I asked, he’s a pretty knowledgeable person in many different areas of life. He thought about it for a few minutes, then texted back the question, “Is there more than one universe?” I texted him back, “I like that one. That’s a great question.”
The more I thought about his question, the more I understood how much it fit what is of interest, and what is curious and important to him. He has a strong interest in the workings and doings of what is out there, up there in the sky, from earth all the way to the ends of the universe, wherever that happens to be. The question fit his life, his personality, one area of interest.
So, I started thinking to myself, “What would you ask God for your one question, Mr. Priest?” And my question would be, “Am I going to heaven?” I want a sneak preview to that answer, to make any adjustments right now. And, there are times and days where I would downright fear the answer from God, which is fine I guess, for the Scripture tells us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling.
So, what would your one question be? How would you frame it? How would it fit your personality, and what’s important to you? Would it challenge the ways of God, which are sometimes very difficult to understand, especially when it comes to carrying crosses? And there are no follow-ups, like reporters with questions directed at a politician. One question only. What is most concerning or curious to us?
And there’s the Gospel for this week. James and John ask Jesus one question that takes the form of a statement by the time they speak it, but it’s one question; “Can we sit at your right and left in your glory as your telling this person’s soul to go here, and that person’s soul to go there. Can we watch you in action, Lord, as you judge the nations and billions of individual souls? Maybe, just maybe, we can take a load off your shoulders and assist you, Lord, like the 72 leaders assisted Moses because he was overworked. Maybe we can tell people where to go on your behalf.”
Well, at the end of the day, and the end of the conversation, they asked Jesus the wrong question. Not necessarily a dumb question, or that it was totally ridiculous. But the wrong question for sure, for their request to Jesus told two things about them; first, what was most important to them in their lives, which was power and position (standing at his right and left); and second, how it was the exact opposite of where Christ wants his disciples to be in this world of power and violence. They wasted their question. No more questions for them. Just be his disciple, and learn what that means.
Last week, I talked about discipleship for Christ alongside the word dependency on him at the same time. Discipleship and dependency. To be his follower, his disciple, comes with the relevant understanding that it’s not possible to succeed at the serious issues of life without dependence on him. Unless his grace is flowing through our veins, and his Spirit is guiding our thoughts and actions, then the end of the road is met ultimately with failure.
I think about this continuing opioid crisis in our state and nation, and how our political leaders wish to address this crisis, which is right and good. As a priest, however, I have to ask the one question, “How much of their approach to addressing this most serious issue in our communities is grounded in partnership with the living God?” Is that thought or action even there? While hearts are certainly in the right place, unlike James and John in their quest for power, is there any humble call for assistance from the Divine? From our Creator who loves us? If not, expect little success, because we’re just not that good on our own.
Our Lord takes the one question of James and John and teaches all his disciples where we are to stand before him. And where we are to stand before him, and best stand in for him is not to seek his right and left later on, but to be servants of the Most High right now.
To be a servant for Christ in serving others is to be humble. If there is a lack of humble pie in our spiritual diet, then we should pray for that great virtue of Jesus Christ. So, our one question is to reflect his life, and not our own selfish desires. “Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant.” Why? Because “the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve,” by “giving his life as a ransom for many,” meaning all.
So, if we had the opportunity to ask Jesus face to face one question, would we blow it like James and John, asking a question that fit their power-hungry personalities? Or, would it touch on the many facets of our love for him?
James and John wanted to be on his right and left in his glory not because of their love for Christ, but because they wanted to lord it over others, which they would have misused, as so much power is. Our closeness to our Savior is grounded in being a servant, a humble servant, for the good of bringing his kingdom to those around us.
So, not only is following Jesus a sacrifice, giving up all sorts of apparently likeable things, but it’s also a sacrifice that comes with persecutions as the icing on the cake of discipleship. Who in their proper, rational, sensible mind would choose such a thing for their life? Not only to make sacrifices, but sacrifice while getting beat up for it! (Sounds like something the Red Sox did to the Yankees this past week).
No wonder why the disciples were exceedingly astonished. And they were not only astonished, but dumbfounded and uncertain as to whether they were going to continue to stand by the side of Jesus for the remainder of this ministerial initiative called the Kingdom of God. Isn’t that the easiest way to lose a friend? To tell them something along the lines that if they wish to remain friends with you, they have to make all sorts of difficult sacrifices, like families and livelihoods, and then get persecuted for your friendship with them? I’d be like, “Have a nice day. Hope to see you in the next life.”
We return to this fundamental Christian understanding time and time again as we pass through these Gospels from one Sunday to the next. And the message never gets old. The thought that Jesus is very demanding toward those of us who want to be his disciples. Like yourself, I consider myself to be his disciple. A weak one, but his disciple nonetheless. I’ll follow him all the way to heaven in my UPS Truck. He’s the Way, the Truth, and the Life. I wish not to follow anyone else in this world of time and space, this very short life. No one!
We seek good advice and knowledge from others in their respective fields of expertise. I listen to my doctor because he’s pretty good. He really cares about my health. He told me early on that he doesn’t want to answer to God for not taking good care of me. But, I don’t want to follow him like I would follow Christ, and be his disciple. The only possibility of following someone aside of Jesus and Mary, is if I believe someone to be a living Saint.
Like if I was alive in the 1950’s and 60’s, I would have loved to have traveled to San Giovanni Rotondo and met Padre Pio, now St. Pio. I would have loved to have met Mother Teresa, because you just knew she was going to heaven when she died. I would follow them to Christ. But my doctor? Nice guy who does good work, but I’m not following him. Yet, in his hard work of trying to bring me to better health, to arrive at better numbers for cholesterol and whatever else, my doctor is far less demanding than Jesus.
The demands of God begin with the 10 Commandments that we’re supposed to memorize by the time we leave the 3rd or 4th grade. And this son of Israel who runs up to Jesus in the Gospel, kneels down before him, asking the Lord what he must do to inherit eternal life; well, he’s kept to perfection all the commandments that Moses carried down the mountain. “I kept them all,” he says to Jesus. How many of us can say the same? When he says he’s kept the commandments from his youth, he’s not talking about the last week or two. He kept these beautiful commandments of God his entire life. This guy is on his way to the Communion of Saints. I would even consider following him. Until, that is, he falls flat the face of his possessions.
When Jesus demanded more because the Lord saw this guy’s great potential for goodness, and his potential for being his disciple, the guy who rushed up to Jesus and knelt at his feet, he now drew a line in the sand. To paraphrase, he said to Christ, “I can’t cross that line. I need all my goods.” On the first floor of his life, the easy floor, he was able to maintain a clean house where all the commandments were lived out to perfection. The first floor was in perfect order. But as Christ called him a little closer to heaven on the second floor of his life; “Come up the stairs where all your possessions are placed in the attic,” it was a mess which he didn’t have the heart to clean up. Even if all his possessions were in perfect order like his commandments, he couldn’t cross that line of Jesus’ demand.
This Gospel for us is much less about selling all we have. If we did that, we’d all be homeless. I don’t believe God wants that for any of us. While the Gospel this week is less about selling all we own, it’s much more about a certain type of dependency. A dependency that trusts that God has it all covered for us. From the goods of the earth to death itself. And everything in between. The radicalness to our faith is less about selling everything and more about allowing ourselves, through his grace, to be dependent upon him in all matters. Not many people arrive there.
Dependency is another one of those tough religious words today, alongside of obedience. We see dependency as identifying ourselves as a weak person. How many times have we heard, “I don’t want to burden anyone with my difficulties.” My advice is, “Burden them.” Give someone the chance to care about you, to perform an act of love. It will help your life and theirs too. It’s the same with the Lord. Give Him a chance to feel burdened. He would love it if we did.
Most times, we would think, when we are in a deep sleep, and someone comes by and takes something from us, it would end in a bad result. A result we certainly don’t like. One we would like to reverse. Like someone breaking into our homes in the middle of the night, heaven forbid, stealing precious items such as family heirlooms, and not discovering our stolen loss until we wake from sleep, eventually discovering the awful news of what took place while we slept. We would feel invaded.
Minus the bad result, the result that will anger and frustrate us, this is exactly what God perpetrated on Adam. After Adam named all the animals that God created, all the birds, the hippos, the pesky squirrels who steal bird seed, the wolf and the cobra; after giving a name to every animal with two legs, four legs, 100 legs, or no legs, Adam was deeply, deeply disappointed. Not because he had to come up with all these animal names – that must have been lots if fun for him. Rather, Adam’s disappointment stemmed from the fact that, among all these animals that we admire and fascinate us so much, he couldn’t find a suitable partner. His suitable partner was not to be found with numerous legs, pretty colors, fancy stripes, tall, big, short, or tiny.
So, God gave Adam a sleeping pill while Adam moped around in paradise, the Garden of Eden. He’s the first one to experience the sadness of loneliness. So, while Adam was sleeping on a comfortable mattress in the holy Garden, and God was wide awake, the Lord entered Adam’s house, the house of his body, the entity that will one day be resurrected, and from Adam’s holy, pure body – for sin had not yet occurred – God “stole” a rib, one Adam could live without, and formed from his personal being the woman that Adam couldn’t live without. The rib was the holy answer to loneliness.
God placed this first woman next to the first man, so that when the first man woke up from his afternoon siesta, and looked intently at this newly formed creature, he said, “Holy Cow! God does good work!” “Bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh.” Thus, God created marriage, “in the beginning.”
To say that Adam became the happiest man on the face of the earth would be a slight understatement. The woman who would be named Eve was his perfect match. The match that God created from the internal organs of the first man in order to light a fire in the heart of him who was made from the dust.
Whenever this Gospel comes up each year in Matthew, Mark, or Luke, this year being Mark, the instinct in today’s time, I have to believe, for most priests and deacons who preach on this reading, is to address the issue of marriage in our culture today, showing how the Scriptures are not outdated, but rather relevant and even refreshing. And, how some Catholics insist loudly and angrily at times that the Church – the Church of Jesus Christ formed in His pure and holy Body – accept other types of so-called marriage that God did not create. There’s one perfect match for him with relation to marriage. And it’s her. And, I am going to preach a few words on Marriage, the Sacrament that God created in the beginning, as Jesus says, but using a couple of the many awesome examples I know about, be it family, friends, or others we meet along the way.
For example, my friends Bill and Robin who live in Spencer, friends I enjoy visiting on some Sunday afternoons. These two were made for each other in God’s mind from the beginning of creation. Not that life is always perfect between them. I told them last week that I will never forget the time I visited them on a Sunday about 8 years ago, and they were ripping at each other for whatever reason. Like, really mad. And they both used me to get at each other. In the presence of all 3 of us being there, he said, “Tell my wife she’s wrong.” And she said, “Tell my husband he’s wrong.” And I’m standing there thinking sadistically, “This is a lot of fun. I think I really like this.” The only person they liked that day was me. It was a good day to be a priest, if you know what I mean.
They eventually got over their squabble that they put a priest in the middle of. It’s been a grace and blessing to watch their marriage grow now toward 35 years.
Another example being the many funerals I preside at for a spouse from the Greatest Generation, where the other spouse literally lost their best friend. Time and time again it seems like God years ago took that World War II veteran, put him into a deep sleep, took a rib from him, and gave him the perfect match, the suitable partner. The Sacrament of Marriage, at the beginning and at the end, is such a beautiful gift to behold. The joys, the deep, deep sadness at loss, the families created, the faith lived out.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus, in regard to marriage and divorce goes back to the beginning, when Adam was lost and lonely, when all the animals in the world were better for meals than for a suitable partner, and where paradise was still paradise, and not a Garden of disobedience. Marriage is much too important to God’s plan for us to settle for 21st century legal minds altering what He created in the beginning. Jesus goes back to the beginning because God came like a thief in the night, invaded Adam’s precious body, and created from him she who gave his life meaning and purpose all the way to heaven.
This Gospel is hard for anyone who has lived through a difficult marriage that didn’t last. The surest way to find joy for those who struggle with the loneliness of Adam is to fully embrace a new spouse. I suggest that new Spouse to be Jesus and/or Mary. Those are the two I’m married to, and I pray, to address the loneliness of Adam in the Garden, that you do the same.
May God bless all couples living in the Sacrament of Matrimony, and call those who are not to that blessed state of life. Amen.