When I first began to reflect upon the readings for today, the 30th Sunday in Ordinary time, I initially had a different idea in mind as to what I wanted to talk about, but with deeper consideration, I saw that there is a theme running throughout, (beginning with Jer 31:7-9) which speaks of mercy, it speaks of going away in tears, consolation, and guidance. It ends in rejoicing. The second reading (Heb 5:1-6) speaks of patience with the ignorant and erring, referencing those called by God to offer gifts and sacrifices on their behalf.
Bartimaeus was me just a few years ago. I had been raised Catholic but fell away and was living a life in which I was involved in the occult, palm reading, and other things my Mom did not raise me to do. On occasion I attended Mass, and each time, I cried from pretty much the opening prayer until about a half hour or so after it was over. It completely freaked me out, and as a result, I rarely attended the same parish because I didn’t want people to recognize me as the “weird crying lady”.
A curious thing was happening during these years…I went to Mass so infrequently that I seemed to go only when the readings were about the Prodigal Son, or about similar themed Gospels such as this one about Bartimeaus. I began to think that the various parishes only recycled the same readings, over and over!
I remember, though, as I sat weeping at those Masses, how much the way I was living my life contrasted with what was being taught, and I was made aware, even though I didn’t want to see it, that the life I was living was one of darkness. I was really lost in all that mess. I was not living the life my Mom had intended for me, or that God had intended. I remember in those times, praying for Jesus to have mercy on me, to have pity on me. I was so blind, though; I didn’t understand that I was crying because Jesus DID have pity on me…and He was calling me to Him via the Gospels and the homilies - and the tears.
In this regard, Bartimaeus was far wiser than I, for in his blindness he still recognized the Son of God. I just sat there crying for mercy and when Jesus called me to Him, I ran away in tears.
Slowly, though, I began to come back, and for a few years, I knew I needed to go to Confession, but I could not work up the courage to make an appointment and I could not bring myself to stand in line: the Weird Crying Lady strikes again! I’ll admit at this point that part of my struggle was with my pride; I didn’t want to be so exposed in my weakness.
The thought of going to Confession literally made me shake in my shoes. But I continued to pray for mercy, and I began to attend Mass more often, trying to go every Sunday. Unfortunately I also continued in my own personal darkness, living a life divorced from God’s will and everything I’d been taught about morality.
But the Lord is faithful, especially when we are not.
A few times I picked up my phone in an attempt to call to make an appointment, and then quickly slammed it down. A few times I went so far as to get into my car, drive to the parish for Confessions on Saturday...and as soon as I saw the Church, I hit the gas and got out of there as quickly as I could!
The Gospel for this weekend (Mk 10:46-52) refers to those who rebuked Bartimeaus, and indeed, there were those in my life, too, even as I prayed for the grace to return to my faith, there were people who rebuked me. They stood there as obstacles personified, giving every reason why I should not run into the loving arms of Our Savior. Every convert and revert hits this obstacle, time and time again. Every sinner hits this obstacle constantly.
Finally, after watching EWTN, and doing some reading about the Catholic Church and our beliefs, as Easter was approaching I resolved that I was going to finally go to Confession. I did a web search of all the parishes in the area and found a communal penance service with individual confessions afterward. [Note: this was NOT an illicit General Absolution service, but an approved form which has a short liturgical celebration which includes absolution ONLY with individual confession, as is proper and required.]
I had finally reached the point where I realized that I really was completely wrapped up in my own darkness, and I knew that I couldn’t go on like that anymore, and I couldn’t keep running away from Jesus. I was literally saying to God, “Master, I don’t want to be alone in this darkness any more…I want to see!”
One of my obstacles had been in my lack of understanding of the Sacrament. I actually thought that I had to perfect myself, I had to turn away from everything in order to have what they call a “firm purpose of amendment”. I knew that I couldn’t just change so drastically, and by going to Confession, I was, in a way, making a solid commitment to God. While I was quite a sinner, a healthy respect for God had been instilled within me and I did not want to make matters worse through any form of insincerity. What I learned was that it’s God’s job to perfect us, and that we can’t always just cast everything away without his Grace.
If we refer to the Gospel again, we see that the blind man cast away his cloak, a representation for sin and those things that encumber us and prevent us from following Jesus. Again, Bartimaeus was far stronger than I, or maybe most of us, because it’s so difficult to leave it all behind and approach Jesus. I couldn’t do that; I needed Jesus’s help and the grace of the Sacraments to give me strength.
So I went to the church that evening, and at the entrance there was an examination of conscience, which was, in a nutshell, a list of mortal and venial sins. For example, it listed the 1st Commandment: I am the Lord your God; you shall have no other gods except Me. Then it went on to list offenses which fall into this category, such as Occult practices; palm reading, divination, Tarot, etc. Well…THAT hit home! I actually became convinced that I was the WORST SINNER EVER.
Keep in mind that EVERYONE there was at that church for Confession…and the church was FULL! Draw your own conclusion.
I was already crying, and sat near the back of the church, listened AGAIN to the story of the Prodigal Son, and this time, I knew that it was all about me, and I saw the pattern of the last few years…all about blindness, returning home, and the rejoicing that followed. God was not trying to scare me away, yet as I stood in line for confession, I couldn’t stop crying. There I was…the Weird Crying Lady again.
I think I stood there for about 45 minutes or so, but it felt a LOT longer. I had hoped to go behind a screen, but the line there was MUCH longer and I realized that if I moved to that line, I might lose whatever courage I had and just leave...but I didn’t want to leave. It was time to answer Jesus’ call to me.
One of the objections I’d always heard, and still hear from people, is that we, as Catholics, aren’t confessing to God...but to man. It’s important to point out that in Confession, we ARE confessing directly to Jesus, but the priest is there in persona Christi, which is a term you will hear a lot. It means, “in the place of Christ”, so while we may see or hear the Priest and what he has to say, when he tells us that we are absolved, it is not him speaking under his own authority, rather he is speaking as Jesus because it is JESUS who forgives our sins through the priest. So that night, it was Jesus I was going to see.
I was a complete mess--that poor priest!
I could barely speak, so I just handed over the examination of conscience and said, “Father...it’s been about 12 years...”
There was a pause during which I was sure the full judgment I thought I deserved would come crashing down upon me.
“THAT’S WONDERFUL!” the priest proclaimed. “That’s GREAT! YOU’RE the prodigal DAUGHTER!”
I made my confession, most of it completely unintelligible, but this priest NEVER ONCE asked me to repeat what I had said...because he wasn’t the one who needed to understand, or decipher my words. He knew I was doing the best I could, and it was Jesus who heard every single word.
I will NEVER be able to explain what it was like to make my Act of Contrition and walk out of there, 12 years GONE.
And you know...I really could see more clearly after that day. I could identify those parts of my life that needed to change, and through this pivotal moment, I was able to find the courage to walk away from those things that had held me captive for so long.
I wish I could say that my life immediately changed, but it didn’t. I was still encumbered, like we all are, by various things, people, relationships, etc, which held me back, but slowly, through prayer, through the sacraments, through a true desire to follow Jesus, those things changed. Those things are still changing, every single day. And I’ve found that the closer we become to God, the more clearly we can see.
Twice in this Gospel, Jesus gives the blind man a choice, because we ALWAYS have a choice. When Bartimeaus called out to Him, Jesus didn’t just go to him, but he CALLED to him in response. He gave him a choice rather than approaching him on the roadside. He was asking for a commitment, a willingness to do something other than sit there and cry.
Then, again, after he restores his sight, Jesus tells Bartimeaus, “Your faith has saved you...go your way.” And Bartimeaus, his sight restored, chooses to follow Jesus. He could have gone back to his old life…he could have just walked away, grateful but unchanged. Jesus gives us all this choice and does not enforce it. He tells us to go our own way…and lets us make that critical decision.
Our way...or God’s way?