28 Oct 2012
“As [Jesus] was leaving Jericho with His disciples and a sizeable crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind man, the son of Timaeus, sat by the roadside begging.” (Mark 10:46) In the name …
In a few days it’s Halloween. The Sunday School students are going to be decorating pumpkins after Mass this morning as part of that holiday. I’m going to decorated mine as a box of corn flakes and a knife: cereal killer. I may have mentioned this story to some of you, but a number of years ago there was an old Polish priest in our church who had a bit of a troublesome dog. Because of that he ended up naming his dog Szatan, which is Polish for Satan. In his old Polish neighbourhood he could be heard yelling out from the stoop of the church rectory, “Szatan, hotch tutaj,” which means, “Satan, come here!” I wonder if that got a few people talking. But whether they’re stories of jack-o-lanterns, or even Satan, they’re harmless. These are not the kind of things to be afraid of in the world. We don’t need to manufacture superstitions to scare us. There are plenty of real scary things to keep us up at night. Since the church stands at the boundary of seen and unseen worlds, we should use this perspective to point-out to people the real evils we can try to fix rather than the unseen superstitions we couldn’t do anything about anyway.
Bp. Hodur pointed us in this direction from the earliest years of our denomination. Remember the old movie The Exorcist? The exorcist is the priest who battles the demon-possessed young girl in the movie. There are a scattered few priests today who still specialize in this kind of thing in real life, but one of the Minor Orders that every man went through on his way to Ordination was that of Exorcist. This Minor Order on the way to the priesthood gave the candidate the grace to banish evil spirits, to exorcise them. Bp. Hodur was more than doubtful about all of this. He did away with the Minor Order of Exorcist and replaced it with the Minor Order of Blesser. Rather than removing some supposed evil spirit from a troubled person’s life, we talked about adding God’s blessing. Rather than going into a home and exorcising some ghosts in the attic, we visit homes and share the presence of God asking that His blessings remain there. I think this is why that old Polish priest of ours could get away with naming his dog Szatan. When he yelled out the back door, “Satan, come here!” he wasn’t at all worried about the devil stopping by for a cup of tea.
This, I think, is spiritually healthy. It speaks to us about our moral responsibility. It says we should develop and trust our consciences [Ballot Question 2]. Humans are responsible for the bad in the world, not some devil. And once we realize that we humans are responsible for evil, then we can do something about it. This past week, for example, some nutcase of a husband in Milwaukee shot and killed his wife and two co-workers, and wounded four others, before killing himself. [Pop Warner football example of young kids aiming at injured players] This past week there was the possibility that an assassination was carried out in Lebanon so that the civil war in Syria could spread out further and take some of the heat off of the Assad family. If that’s true, then the thought of thousands of deaths and tens of thousands of disrupted lives, mean nothing to some people. We don’t need to be afraid of superstitions; we’ve got plenty of real world stuff to make us scared. That’s the stuff we as church should work to correct. Less The Exorcist and more work on our own consciences.
And one of the first places we can start as church is how we teach people to look at each other. The Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (September 2012) ran an article last month that found a link between church teaching and a person’s ability to trust other people, and trust is the foundation of all our relationships. Churches that teach the sinfulness of people, that we are born sinners, that we are pre-disposed toward sin, that the devil and demons are urging us to sin, that eternal hell is full of sinners, breed people who tend not to be able to trust other people. If we are taught in church that almost everyone is an unrepentant sinner, then why in the world would we trust anyone? And when trust breaks down that’s where a lot of our problems start.
Long before any sociologist ever came to this conclusion though, Mark told us the story of Bartimaeus. This story has the aura of authenticity. Most of the people who benefit from Jesus’ miracles are left unnamed. Here we are not only given a name, but the name of man’s father and even where he lived. This is one of the last miracles of Jesus’ life, and Mark is the first Gospel. So we have a late event to a named individual recorded in the earliest Gospel. The ones reading Mark may very well have known Bartimaeus. They could have heard his story first hand. So Mark has to keep close to the details.
If you remember from last Sunday, the twelve disciples did not impress Jesus with their grasp of His ministry and message. Now in addition to the Twelve, Jesus is surrounded, says Mark, by a “sizable crowd” who also fail Him. As the crowd passes by Bartimaeus, they order him to be silent as he shouts for Jesus’ attention. According to their theology, his blindness was a punishment for sin. Bartimaeus was a sinner who deserved what he got. He shouldn’t be bothering Jesus. Then with profound irony the blind man is praised by Jesus for seeing what the others cannot. “‘Your faith has saved you,’” says Jesus.
Maybe everyone the church wants to call a sinner is not really sinful in the eyes of Jesus. Maybe when we speak all-knowingly about what Jesus approves and disapproves we should remember Bartimaeus and be a lot more humble in our judgments. Maybe we should trust others rather than assume the worst about them. Maybe we should talk less about unseen evil and do more to treat hurt and harm all around us, and maybe one of the first places to start as church is by talking about respect for each other, human dignity, compassion and charity. Then maybe we can trust one another and work with each other to build a better world by trying as hard as we can to stamp out the real evils we can see. Then maybe life won’t be as scary, and the only superstitions will be a part of Halloween’s fun. For this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo