This Weekend our Gospel reading is all about Blindness or should I say spiritual blindness as all of us can be blind to the call that god gives us. In our Gospel story Christ walks along the streets of the ancient city of Jericho and even at the time of Jesus Jericho was a very old city. With his disciples and a great crowd following him, our Lord is leaving the city and Bartimaeus the blind beggar calls out to him in dire need: “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me.” Bartimaeus, though blind, could see. His instincts were sharper than a fresh razor blade. The divinity of Jesus had come across to him in waves. But those around and about him, who enjoyed good vision, were blind to the Son of Man Helen Keller who was blind and deaf said, “The most beautiful things in the world can’t be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart.” It is possible for good people to spend their days searching but never finding their spiritual hearts. Spiritual blindness often prevents people from perceiving the correct way a follower of Jesus should live. Our following of Jesus is not compulsory but it has more value than I can say.
We are not compelled to love or to accept the mission of God to transform the world after the pattern that Jesus gave us that is our own free choice and it is a good choice to make for our lives. We must not accept the voices that would have us silenced and there are so many in our modern world and many of those voices are blind to the Spiritual heart of faith. The gift we seek is sight, that is the ability to capture the vision of a new creation brought about by a faith filled community of people both those around us and those who by their lives have shown us the road to take. Our reflection on the lives of those who have gone before us tell us that the way of discipleship can lead us into paths we may find difficult The disciples, on the road with Jesus, must have thought of themselves as part of the “in crowd,” the way James and John did when they asked Jesus to give them seats of power in his kingdom in last Sundays Gospel. While they were physically close to Jesus, they were a long way from understanding and taking his message on board. The blind beggar, with nothing but a cloak, was exactly the kind of person Jesus noticed and invited to come close while those with Jesus still didn’t get it and as a result they were not his true followers on “the way.”
God wants us to say in the silence of our hearts, “Lord that I may see.” Jesus wants our prayer like that of Bartimaeus to come from a sincere heart that asks not only for the gift of sight so that we can see the world around us, but also for the gift of seeing – of seeing the truth, or the lack of it in the depths of our being, and then taking the action necessary to reverse our blindness. Bartimaeus saw Christ with the eyes of faith and a faith filled heart. So we must look and see Jesus with the eyes of faith so that we may be able to see more clearly what we have to do as people of faith to lead others to Jesus.
This Sunday we celebrate Mission Sunday, that is the day when we celebrate the missionary outreach of the Church in the World. For many years the Irish Church has sent men and women to the mission fields bringing the faith to many people. As baptised members of the Church we are all called to be missionary people where we are bringing the message of Jesus to the people of our own time and place.
In today’s Gospel two brothers James and John the sons of Zebedee are asking Jesus for a big favour to ensure their privileged seating arrangements when they come to meet Jesus in glory. They want to sit, one at Jesus’ right hand and the other at his left. While they don’t specify which of them should sit at Jesus’ right no doubt that problem would have emerged later they imagine themselves in a cosy triumvirate of their own making. Of course Jesus blows this notion out of the water when he tells the two brothers that they don’t know what they are asking. Their request is to share Jesus’ power when he comes into glory, so timing their appointment to begin when the suffering is over but this was not the way of things. The two disciples mention nothing about the suffering of Good Friday but Jesus brings the conversation back to what happens before the glory which is suffering the glory comes as a result of the suffering. Jesus’ kingdom is not about who wears the crown, but who wears the crown of thorns and bears the cross .
So he asks the brothers as he asks us today: “Can you drink the cup that I must drink, or be baptised with the baptism with which I must be baptised?” They boast that they can. The message is clear: there is no short cut to God’s favour. Jesus does what he asks all of us to what we need to do: that is to serve, not to be served; to give love freely, not to exact everyone’s worship; to reach out to those in need. Christian discipleship and missionary endeavour which we celebrate this weekend are a vocation of service and there is much work out there for everyone to do. To be servants in the way that Jesus was servant means to live in complete trust that God will look after us. Jesus was not a servant out of fear of a tyrant Father, but as beloved Son, who in turn loved as he was loved by the Father. It is a free service of love, not of fear. Mission Sunday gives us the opportunity to thank god for the faith that we have as well as thanking god for and acknowledging all those faithful missionary men and women who left everything in order to bring the faith to the far corners of the world. We pray that the Lord of the harvest will continue to inspire many people to join the missionary orders and we also pray for vocations in general to the priesthood and religious life.
This Sunday we celebrate the dedication of our Cathedral St. Peters with the ordination of 9 men as Permanent Deacons with 2 of the deacons from our Parish here in north Belfast. Our parish has always been a place of vocations over my lifetime I can think of at least 7 priests who were ordained and at least 4 others who were known to me we have much to be thankful for. Through consecration by the laying on of hands and strengthened by the gift of the Holy Spirit invoked upon them, our deacons will show themselves to be servants of all and helpers of the bishop and the priests of the local presbyterate by serving as ministers of the altar, of the word, and of charity and we pray that their families friends and the communities where they will serve will be blessed through them.
This Sunday we hear the Gospel story of the Rich man and Jesus invitation for him to give everything to the poor and follow him. Jesus looks on the rich man with love; he wants this blameless enthusiast to become one of his disciples. So the challenge is made: “There is one thing you lack. Go and sell everything you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”
The cost of Christian discipleship is heavy for this prospective disciple as there has been a heavy cost for many throughout the history of the Church. The man in the gospel must renounce the security and the prestige his wealth brings him; when he sells everything he owns, he must not give the money to his family or friends, but to the poor. If he does this he will have treasure in heaven. That treasure will be his new security. The sorrowful departure of the would-be disciple that Jesus loved is one of the most touching scenes in the Gospel. He is too attached to what he has to become attached to what Jesus asks. When he goes, and we hear no more of him, Jesus turns round to tell his disciples how hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God. For us today Jesus asks the same question do you want to follow me and many have done that but for others the call has been accepted but it was just too hard to follow the path of Jesus and they have left the faith behind. All of us have many riches that have been given to us by God Family, faith, friends are just a few example of gods goodness to all of us would we leave everything to follow Jesus that is another question.
Instead I think that we are called to follow Jesus in our world were we are by trying to be faithful to what Jesus teaches us as we pass his message on to others by the things we do and say that is a hard thing to do in the world especially when people put their own slant on the message of Jesus. This Gospel text is reassuring but challenging. Sacrifice for the sake of the Kingdom is an essential requirement of those who wish to truly follow Christ. The Christian follows a difficult path in life but it is a journey with a destination. And the destination is nothing other than the Kingdom of Heaven so let us take up the challenge to follow Jesus.
This Sunday our readings are all about marriage and I don’t mean our modern interpretation of what marriage means and it will mean something different to every person you ask. Our readings for this weekend set the ideal of God’s purpose and plan for creation and marriage. Let us stop and think about marriage In the Catholic Church, marriage is a sacrament. A sacrament is the real presence of God, the most powerful presence of the Lord possible in this world. In the sacrament of Baptism, God is present giving the Life of the Trinity to the baptized. In Penance God is present through his Son giving his forgiveness to the penitent. In the Eucharist, the Son is present nourishing the communicant and uniting him in an intimate way to the Divine Presence as Jesus is offered to the Father for us. In the sacrament of marriage, Jesus is present uniting his love to the love of the husband and wife. That said there are many good people who are in various forms of civil partnership and I am not going to knock them around for not following what marriage is all about in the sacramental sense.
What I will say is that the people involved in the various types of marriage have made a commitment to their partners and that shows that there is something good in all of this and we need to show them respect for the commitment that is there while being true to why we think so much of the Catholic idea of marriage and what it stands for. The “rit of divorce” in the Gospel Reading for this Sunday was there to protect the woman from being discarded arbitrarily without any possibility of survival in a society where she could not work or support herself. How does our society and our Church actually treat and protect those today who find themselves as “alleged” victims or those not in keeping with the “happily ever after” scenario or those whose interactive experiences with “authority” don’t match anything close to feeling accepted? Most people will agree that there is much room for improvement. Togetherness for life certainly remains the ideal both for Jesus and his followers. But our Church community has to face the fact that many marriages break down, and some of the victims of a broken marriage feel a deep longing for a new life partner and a brand new start. But this raises an acute question for the Church community: Can there be only point-blank black and white refusals there is much debate around all of this. I have been blessed in seeing so many people getting married and many others celebrating the 25th 50th and even the 60th anniversaries of their marriage commitments. But many people will tell you that their married lives were not always a bed of roses. So today we pray for a proper understanding of what marriage means in the catholic sense as we acknowledge the goodness that are there in other forms of marriage partnerships that are much more normal these days than in the past.