Catholic Homily/Sunday Reflections

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time(B)

October 25, 2009

Clarity seems to be the banner-headline of today’s liturgy. Mark the evangelist, for the brevity of his account, shines out in at least this one aspect – the clarity of detail about a blind man whom he took pains to record by name – Bartimaeus! Blind persons tend to lose their identity and individuality in this cruel world. People often just refer to the handicapped as the “blind man,” the “limping girl,” or the “one-eyed swordsman,” or any other unsavory appellation other than their own names. Somehow, it is almost like as if people with marked handicaps lose their right to be unique, to be worthy of being known, to be treated as individual persons.

But if Mark was clear on the name, I must add that the one he named for posterity showed even greater clarity … on two counts. First, Bartimaeus called on Jesus as “Son of David.” Bartimaeus was clearly knowledgeable about Scriptures and about who the people of Israel were waiting for. Bartimaeus clearly saw the unfolding mystery taking place ironically before his sightless eyes, a mystery that was spoken of by the prophets of old, a mystery which, to his perceptive mind, was becoming a reality in the person of Jesus from Nazareth. But there was a second more important clue to Bartimaeus’ clarity of vision. He knew what to ask the Son of David! Thus he cried out: “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me.”

Clarity of vision … this is the crying need of our times. We would do well to dwell a little longer and deeper on what Mark, Bartimaeus, Jeremiah and the letter-writer to the Hebrews can teach us as we go through our daily lives.

First, I would like to refer to the so-much muddled state of faith that most of us Catholics find ourselves in. It is not uncommon for us priests to hear people ask questions about the Catholic Church, the Papacy, the sacraments, statues, and sacred images. They are for the most part questions designed not to find out the truth, but to insinuate what they think is wrong with the Church and her doctrines. Their questions start out from a lack of clarity in terms of what they really believe in, for one simple reason … they did not do their homeworks and learn enough of their faith. These people really do not hate the Catholic Church per se, but they hate what they mistakenly think is the Catholic Church. Blindness, the kind that comes from ignorance that can easily be helped with a little honest and sincere investigation, is the kind that Bartimaeus’ example speaks so eloquently against.

I therefore direct my thoughts and words to those of us who may share this type of spiritual blindness. Even as Bartimaeus helped himself and looked for means to approach the Lord, we, too, can exert the needed efforts to really get to know our faith. As I always tell people who speak my native language: ang natatanga ay natatangay! (suckers in the faith are easily swayed by the “winds” of newfangled doctrines).

Secondly, there is that type of blindness that comes from a sense of complacency brought about by a culture of relative wealth, affluence, consumerism, and an uncritical dependence on what modern technology can offer. So many people now feel invincible. So many believe that science and technology can give all the answers to people’s questions and problems. Decades of a culture of comfort and ease have blinded millions who live in affluent countries to the reality of pain and suffering of many more millions in the third world who make do with the crumbs that fall off their tables of plenty. Years of exposure to ease and comfort have blinded millions to the importance of the other-worldly, that is, the spiritual mode of existence. So many of us have taken to living their lives only for the here and now, conveniently taking God out of government, out of our classrooms, public places and even our homes! The glamour and the glitter of shopping malls; our almost obsessive-compulsive preoccupation with cleanliness that is paradoxically behind the throw-away culture that, in turn, explains the world’s increasing and phenomenal creation of garbage, have blinded us to the reality of our wanton abuse of the earth and its natural resources. We live like as if there were no tomorrow, and no future generations that also have the right to enjoy what we are enjoying now. At the rate modern societies all over the world use and abuse the earth and its non-renewable resources, there is reason for the more forward-looking amongst us to worry and ask questions like: “Will there be enough for the coming generations, or are we acting and behaving like the world and its riches are unlimited?” Affluence and the growing need for more comfort have indeed blinded most of us to the reality of a planet that sags under the weight of so much abuse and wanton destruction. If anything, the recent massive floods that inundated Metro Manila and the northern provinces of the Philippines, are partly a wake-up call for us all in this regard. Ironically, the relief goods being distributed to victims are packaged in the very same plastic bags that partly caused the floods in the first place!

Third, there is that subtle and curious type of blindness that stands behind the rebuke that Bartimaeus received from people around him. “And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent.” This is the blindness of those who were unwilling to give credit to someone who was being recognized for who and what he is. This is the blindness of those who were unwilling to acknowledge Jesus and his mission, those who were really rejecting him. This is the blindness of people who have taken concrete steps to cause the “eclipse” of God in our everyday culture and lives. This is the blindness that has effectively shut off any form of consciousness of the presence and activity of God in our world.

The world we live in is also full of this type of blindness. When we deride those of us who, in their simple faiths, resort to prayer and rituals to commune with the God they believe in, this, is no different from what Bartimaeus got. When we poke fun at others simply because they have recourse to “old-fashioned” prayer, this is exactly what people who rebuked Bartimaeus did. When we pose obstacles to people’s growth in faith and prayer, invoking the laws of the land in order to effectively persecute people’s faith and beliefs, we are no different from those who rebuked Bartimaeus in his simple prayer of faith.

The world has become too pluralistic, too enlightened, too wise and calculating. We have become experts at splitting hairs, and in the process successfully edged God out of our daily lives. God has no more place in our court rooms. God has no place in our classrooms, in parks and public places. Ironically, we have retained “God” in our minted money, but for who knows how long? The world has become too “educated.” But for all the enlightenment it has received, it has lost real clarity of vision. It has lost clarity of heart and mind, for it has lost the wisdom that is a gift from above. It has lost perspective for it has lost its spiritual and moral moorings. The here and now, the quantifiable, and the palpable have all become the end-all and be-all of human existence.

Today, Bartimaeus invites us to recapture and reappropriate the necessary clarity of vision. The world may not keep pace with us and our efforts, but our personal individual efforts at reclaiming what we have lost are bound to go a long way.

Bartimaeus did it so simply and disarmingly. He did it with a simple prayer from the heart, a prayer that was as powerful as it was direct and clear. “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me.”

The answer of God is just as clear. Speaking through the mouth of the prophet Jeremiah, today we are told: “Behold, I will bring them back from the land of the north …I will gather them from the ends of the world, with the blind and the lame in their midst, the mothers and those with child; they shall return as an immense throng.”

Truly, clarity is what we bask in today: “The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.” This same clarity is what we pray and beg God for as together with Bartimaeus, we cry out: “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me.”