Hi everyone, this is my homily for OCTOBER 28, 2018 – the 30th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME. The readings for today’s Mass can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/102818.cfm Thanks as always for reading; sharing this blog on your social media sites; and your feedback and comments. I appreciate it. Have a good week – God Bless – Fr Jim
One of the best parts of being a parish priest in my first assignment at Our Lady of Lourdes in West Orange was going to visit our parish school… especially the Pre-kindergarten classes. You could never leave there without smiling. If you were having a bad day, just 5 minutes with them could snap you out of it. I’m not sure if their teachers would agree spending 6-8 hours with them. But, for me it was pure joy talking with them because they were just so unfiltered. I still laugh thinking how one of the first times I went to their classes and this little guy came up and said “Hello Mr. Father Jim.”
One activity that they would do every year would be to answer the question“What do you want to be when you grow up?” and you’d see all along the walls of their classroom their answers with pictures they’d create. There are the ones you’d expect – Doctor – Astronaut… Every once in a while be something very unique like “Toothpaste inventor” (wonder what’s going on at that kids house or in that little mind?) It was awesome- just to see the earliest ideas of their futures and potentials. How at a young age they were already starting to dream what their lives could be.
Somewhere along the way though – there’s a shift though, isn’t there? We go from asking “What do you want to be when you grow up” to “CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR!” That activity over time evolves and twists into something that’s somewhat depressing. It’s categorized as “advice” or being honest where you see a blog post like: “what’s it really like to be a doctor” as they explain all the financial, political and administrative woes they never imagined. You really want to depress a kid, tell them what are the odds of becoming an astronaut. Google can deflate that one for you: in 2017, 18,300 people applied – of which NASA picked about 14 meaning you have a 0.08 percent chance. As for the kid with the toothpaste – I wouldn’t want to go up against those people at Crest and Colgate and the toothpaste mafia.
BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR – One psychologist recently wrote about all this whole experience saying “As a therapist who’s spent a lot of time working with disillusioned, distressed and disappointed adults, I can’t help but see the other side of this well-intentioned thought exercise [of pre-schoolers visualizing what you want to be, what you wish for]. She argued that it sets a tone for a life spent wishing and wanting…and the more we want, the more dissatisfied and unhappy we tend to be… That we might not get what we are searching for; or that getting it, it doesn’t meet or live up to our expectations; or that it opens the door for even more extravagant desires that we relentlessly pursue. In the process we end up not being thankful and joyful in the present moment.
I can appreciate some of those concerns. There’s definitely some legitimate food for thought there. But I wonder if some of this has affected people’s faith lives as well. Where people will say from time to time – “BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU PRAY FOR.” What exactly do they mean by that?
That thought came to mind with this Gospel story. This is probably my favorite of Jesus’ healing stories. I love it. Bartimaeus has been on the side of a road for a long time. His life has been defined as that of being a blind beggar. People know who he is. More than likely they’ve found him to be annoying. You get that sense because the reaction Bartimaeus gets from the crowd when he hears Jesus is walking by. It’s bad enough that he annoys the locals all the time… Jesus of Nazareth who’s already drawing major crowds because of his teaching and preaching, because of his miracles – he doesn’t deserve to be bothered by this guy. So we heard in the Gospel they try to shut him up. But Bartimaeus doesn’t shut up… doesn’t give up…. Crying, praying SON OF DAVID HAVE PITY ON ME.
Jesus calls him forward. Bartimaeus leaps up, comes to Him and Jesus asks the question that I just love – What do you want me to do for you? I love it because one of the first times I remember praying with it, I remember thinking “well that’s a stupid question – HELLO I’M BLIND, WHAT DO YOU THINK I’D LIKE YOU TO DO FOR ME???”
Be careful what you pray for, Bartimaeus.
Because, actually- it’s not a stupid question. It could be very possible that Batimaeus could’ve said to Jesus – Did you see how all these people have been treating me -how they don’t acknowledge me, how they ignore me – Jesus SMITE THEM. Or Jesus, can you get me a better mat to sit on, or a bigger container to collect my alms as I beg. There are countless things that Bartimaeus could ask that would very much keep his wishes and wants in check. That would keep him rooted in reality. Connected to the life he was living. It’s a limited, diminished life, but it would manage expectations lest he set himself up to be dissatisfied and unhappy.
But as blind as Bartimaeus is, He sees Jesus, God Himself. He sees that God sees Him – He does love him; does care for him; does desire his wholeness, his fullness of life – both here and now and for all eternity. And with Bartimaeus’ seeing all that, he utters a prayer from the depths of his being… something he’s longed for… something that has left him hopeless in finding relief for… something that will absolutely, radically, irrevocably change his entire existence – “Master, I want to see.”
With his sight is restored, Bartimaeus’ life would never be the same. God worked in a particular way that transforms this previously blind man into one who would be a witness to the wonders God does for thousands of years.
What this tell us is – no we don’t have to be careful what we pray for. But we do have to think bigger, and deeper about prayer as a whole. Because in my own experience, I find myself falling into some major limitations in my own prayer life – Either I’m too immature- or I’m not trusting enough in my intention. What do I mean…
Being immature is when I resort to treating God like the Genie in the lamp. “God I’m running late, please clear this traffic up and help me find a parking space.” Really… seriously. Yes, God wants to be a part of my every day, my every moment… But He sure as heck wasn’t when I crammed a few more things in to my busy schedule, didn’t check the traffic, then was cutting off a whole bunch of people on Route 3 that led to my being late. So now that I’m in a hurry and impatient, I cry out to the creator of the universe to move the cosmos to clear out traffic and parking spot for me. That’s understandable – and God is patient and loving with me. But in all honesty it’s incredibly immature.
The other failure though hits a little harder to confess – I’m not as trusting. I don’t pray expecting a miracle. I hedge my bets on “thy will be done.” Yes, Jesus tells us that in His quintessential prayer for us to desire that God’s will to be done. But Jesus wants us to do that coming from a perspective of deep love and trust… Knowing that deep within His heart He ultimately, only desires what is good, and beautiful and will have eternal consequences for us and for many others that we might not even begin to see how connected we all are too right now. Yes “thy will be done”- but we say that after we go to him with the deepest prayers and longings of our hearts. With the cries from deep within. The things that we believe limit or diminish ourselves or our loved ones, or the world around us.
The reality is we don’t often pray big prayers. Why don’t I say “Lord I really want this broken relationship made whole – heal it?” Maybe because I realize Jesus is going to expect me to let go of something for that to happen – like some legitimate anger, like some justified pain in order for that miracle to occur. Why don’t I pray “Lord I want this friend or this family member to have a true, deep conversion to truly know and love you?” Maybe because He might ask me to be a better witness a better example of that to them. Why aren’t I bold enough to pray “We need a miracle – please heal my friend’s cancer.” Maybe because I know that I still hold onto deep fears about sickness, about death and recognize there are areas of my faith where I’m not as trusting, as confident as certain as I think they should be.
It’s a bigger risk to pray bigger prayers. That’s where the psychologists warning rings in my mind and the idea that we’ve taken that to heart lest we believe God will let us down when things don’t go the way we wish for, hoped for, expected.
But that’s me becoming selfish and self-focused again. And if I can own that… and be honest with that, Jesus can work with that. Bartimaeus sight is restored because his inner sight was fully intact. He didn’t have to be careful for what he prayed for – He had to be bold, to be trusting, to truly accept whatever God’s will was for Him and be at peace. Maybe for me, it’s my inner sight that is limited… that obscures the bottomless reservoir that is Jesus’ Mercy; that can’t perceive the depths and lengths Jesus has already gone for us; that doesn’t see how deeply Jesus loves us…. Maybe it’s that inner sight that needs to be healed.
Whatever it is, we are in the perfect spot to be right now. Bartimaeus tells us to cry out to Him in our desolation… cry out to Him in our hopelessness and fear and need… the crowds join in, telling us to not to fear, not to be careful for what we pray for but rather “take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you.” And praise God, in this Eucharist, Jesus asks us: What do you want me to do for you? Do we dare to respond?