30th Week in Ordinary Time – See Clearly
A couple of weeks ago – when it was still reasonably warm – I washed my car. You know, one of those places with the high pressure wands. And when I finished spraying the soap and water, I wiped off the windows on the outside and the rear-view mirrors. And when I drove away, I was amazed how much better I could see. I hadn’t really noticed how the bugs and the dust and the water spots had been obscuring my vision. So after my car wash, I thought I was fine. Then I got into the car later that afternoon and drove west – into the sun. And I noticed this film on the inside of the windshield. Here I thought I had done such a good job and I was still looking through a haze.
The Gospel today tells the story of the healing of the blind man, Bartimaeus. Jesus restored the sight of a number of people who were blind. Why do you suppose he did that? Jesus healed people, even raised them from the dead for a variety of reasons. His miracles got people’s attention – so they were more likely to listen to his preaching after seeing his miracles. His miracles also showed people his power. Think about it – no other preacher or prophet said: “I am God.” So if Jesus was going to say that, he had to demonstrate power. He also healed people out of compassion for them. You remember how he wept for Lazarus when Lazarus died.
But giving sight to Bartimaeus showed the crowd that it was only by following Jesus’ teaching we would truly be able to see. You remember a couple of weeks ago Deacon Wes was talking about the young man who was very wealthy – who asked Jesus what he needed to do to gain eternal life. And he said: “I have followed all the commandments – what else do I have to do?” And then Jesus said that he had to sell all he owned – give it to the poor, and follow him. And you remember the young man hung his head and went away very upset because he had lots of stuff. Jesus wasn’t criticising the young man for following the commandments – he was calling him to something more – something new. Jesus was contrasting his teachings to the teaching of the Scribes and Pharisees. You know that the Scribes and Pharisees were obsessed with following the commandments – to the letter – but they had really forgotten about love. And then we see today, still in the 10th Chapter of Mark’s Gospel – just a little while after the story of the rich young man – he says very clearly, in the healing of Bartimaeus, if you follow my teachings you will see. And you may have noticed that when Bartimaeus was healed, he just got up and left his cloak behind and followed Jesus. So it was off with the old and on with the new.
When we go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation – Confession – we usually begin with an examination of our conscience. One of the ways that some people do this is to just go through those 10 Commandments and make a mental list of all of the times they’ve broken the commandments. So: “Father, I lied five times, I spend about an hour each day watching pornography on the Internet, last week I spread some nasty gossip about one of my neighbours,” and so on. And it’s very important for us to acknowledge our sins and to confess them to the Lord, in the person of the priest, and to resolve to do better. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is a great source of healing – but we’re called to something greater. Now you might say: “Deacon Pat, going to confession is hard enough – what more do you expect?”
Well, it’s hard to describe. But it’s a little like my windshield. You remember how I thought that I had done such a wonderful job with my windows and mirrors – how I was able to see so clearly – until I drove into the light, and only then could I see the other stuff.
A while ago I went to see my confessor, and we sat down, and he said his little introduction and then asked: “And what are your sins?” And I kind of smiled and said: “Well, it’s more or less a re-run of last time.” And he said: “Yeah, it’s usually the same way with me.” But isn’t it true? Don’t we tend to do the same things wrong – over and over? And if we do make progress and avoid our “favourite sins,” we actually miss them – we almost grieve over the loss of these things that have become parts of our lives. Yes, they’re destructive – yes, they keep us from God – but they become part of the way we see ourselves.
Well, with the help of my confessor and the Holy Spirit, I was able to say good-by to my favourite sins, and I thought: “Well, what now – am I perfect? Do I get to heaven?”
When you read the lives of the saints, you so often hear them say – in all sincerity – that they are terrible sinners. St. Ignatius of Antioch lived near the time of Christ and was one of the early, great theologians. Because he refused to renounce his faith in Jesus, he was taken in chains from Antioch, where he was the bishop, to Rome, where he was ultimately fed to the lions in the Coliseum. So this guy is a true saint, and yet, on his way to Rome, he wrote a letter to the church in Smyrna and said that he – the Bishop of Antioch – was not worthy of the church in Antioch – in fact, he was the least of all the faithful in Antioch. Why would he say this? Was he secretly stealing from the Sunday collections? Was he having a clandestine affair with one of his parishioners? Or was this just false modesty – was he putting himself down so others would say nice things to him? But you know, we hear so many of the other great saints saying the same thing. Were they all secretly corrupt? Was it all false modesty? I don’t think so.
I was meditating on this last Tuesday during adoration, and I think the Holy Spirit blessed me. Think about my windshield. It wasn’t until I cleared off all the bugs and dust and spots that I could see that there was still so much more to clean. And in fact, it was only looking into the light that it became clear that I had so much more to do. It’s kind of like the diet gurus. They first tell us to get rid of the saturated fats and the sugars, and then tell us to add the vegetables and get some exercise – move from a situation where you’re focused only on avoiding the bad things to situation where you’re embracing the good things. If I’m able to get rid of some of my “favourite sins,” it’s good – very good, but it doesn’t qualify me for sainthood. Yet, it does allow me to look at my life more clearly, day by day, and ask whether I am living always in the presence of God. And that’s different from just avoiding sin – living always in the presence of God. I’m not there yet – trust me.
Jesus came into the world to help us see, and it’s ironic that the better we see – the more we hold ourselves up to the light – the closer we get to Jesus – the clearer it becomes that we have so far to go. Does that sound hopeless – depressing? If it does, I’m sorry. It shouldn’t. You’ve heard many times that our faith life is not a destination – it’s a journey. And you might remember I told you a few weeks ago that if your faith is easy, you’re probably not doing it right. Our call to holiness is a lifelong journey – to walk the path, we must see clearly.