Today we welcome the Knights and Ladies of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem. The last Sunday in October is set aside as the memorial of Our Lady of Palestine, Queen of Peace. We are called to seek the intercession of Our Lady for those Christians being persecuted, those refugees forced from their homes and those whose religious freedom is denied in the Holy Land and throughout the world. We pray to the God of love, of justice and of hope. Our Lady of Palestine, prays for them and for us.
Our readings this day are filled with hope. Shout with joy the prophet Jeremiah declares. The Lord has done great things for us, we are filled with joy the psalm response sings. The blind man Bartimaeus was sitting along the road, begging, likely in his own little world. He heard the commotion of the crowd, he asked what is happening. It is Jesus of Nazareth, he was told. He suddenly cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me”, a call of hope. It was a Spirit-driven spontaneous declaration of faith for he believed Jesus could and would.
The crowd scolded Bartimaeus to be silent, to squelch his hope. People can do that to us. We may feel the need to hopefully call out to God, have pity on me, but then the skeptics of our culture scold us into being silent. That is what some in government and the media are doing when they seek to push religion into a back room and out of the public square and restrict religious liberty. ‘Forget this religion stuff, don’t fall for those old fashioned church teachings’, they scoff. We must resist that crowd.
Jesus then called Bartimaeus to come to him. “Take courage”, the disciples advised, “get up, Jesus is calling you”. Throwing off his cloak, Bartimaeus jumped up and came to Jesus. In addition to providing warmth, that cloak was his livelihood. It is the cloak into which coins would be tossed as he begged. But at the simple invitation of Jesus he left his old life and would never be the same again. Jesus invites us to come close to him. We can decline the invitation, or we too can choose to throw off whatever stands in our way, leave our old hesitant lives to get close to him. It takes courage, it takes trust, it takes faith, but such faith frees us as Bartimaeus witnessed.
“What do you want me to do for you,” Jesus asked Bartimaeus. He answered, “Master, I want to see.” To see what we may wonder: the trees and flowers, the fall leaves, the sky and people, the Jackrabbits or Coyotes win? Perhaps, but perhaps he sought to see in a deeper sense, to see spiritually, to understand what Jesus as suffering servant could mean in his life, or as the New Evangelization calls us: to personally encounter Christ as Lord and Savior.
Last week I along with 50 other pilgrims visited Poland to walk in the steps of Saint John Paul II. One of the most moving moments for me was when we visited the apartment in which the saint was born and lived his youth. Every day he would look out from the window to the church across the street which still has a clock with the inscription: ‘Time flees, eternity awaits’. What a perspective reminder for us all.
During his fleeting time Saint John Paul II experienced the loss of his mother, his older brother and his father at an early age. How did he deal with such loss? He placed himself in the arms of the Blessed Mother. Totus Tuus became his mantra: totally yours, Mary. He personally experienced the horrors of Nazism and of Soviet communism and did so with hope. I am not sure I could have survived all he and the Polish people endured with such hope. The first words he spoke as Pope reveal his courage and his message: “Be not afraid. Open wide the doors to Christ.” As only one convert who was influenced by him on my journey to the Church, I thank God for raising him up for all the world to see. Time does flee, eternity in one form or another awaits us all
If Jesus asked you what do you want me to do for you, what would you answer? Let me walk without pain, let me have a little more money, let me restore a relationship, let me forget my sins; let me be freed from the blindness of drink or passion or ambition or prejudice. We all seek relief from those things that weigh us down. And so we ought to take those needs to God in prayer. Yet, experience tells us there will always be crosses to bear in this world. So, perhaps we might ask for something more, something that transcends our burdens. Perhaps we might answer: ‘I want to truly see you Jesus as my Lord and Savior,’ to have the faith that allows me to cope with hope, to as the first reading from Jeremiah puts it, be led to brooks of water on a level road so that none shall stumble, so that I do not stumble. It is when our faith in Christ is deep that our daily problems are more tolerable, our purpose more clear, our lives more steady, our future more certain despite what is swirling around us.
A man told of riding the New York subway on a Sunday morning. People were sitting quietly, reading or dozing when at a stop a man and his children got on. The kids were yelling and being disruptive while their father just sat there. So the man urged the father to quiet his children. “Oh, you’re right”, said the father. “We just came from the hospital where their mother died an hour ago. I don’t know what to think and I guess they don’t know how to handle it either.” The complaining man was silent. Nothing had changed in that subway car. What changed was the way it was seen. Before we jump to conclusions we need to know as the old saying goes, “the rest of the story”.
The Gospel ends with Bartimaeus following Jesus up the road. Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem to the cross. Bartimaeus followed Jesus up the road, but did he stay the course? Was he at the foot of the cross when Jesus died, was he among the faithful who saw the risen Lord, or did he stop again along the way, blinded in a new way? We do not know. But we do know that there are times when it is easy to follow Christ, and there are times when we stop along the road and turn in on ourselves again. We feel spiritually blind again. Our comforts, our pride, the evil one scold us to keep quiet. But we must get up to experience His healing power again, to know that we are not alone again, to follow him again all the way up the road through the crosses and to the promised land, to the brooks of water on a level road where none stumble. Eternity awaits.
Jesus asks us: ‘what do you want for me to do for you?’ May our answer be: ‘Master, I want to see – see you’.