The 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]

Here is the homily preached to the IHM Sisters on October 25, 2015, the Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time [Year B].

The Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]
Jeremiah 31:7-9  +  Hebrews 5:1-6  +  Mark 10:46-52
October 25, 2015

“ ‘Go your way; your faith has saved you.’ ”

Homilies don’t usually begin by quoting an oil company advertisement.  After all, most don’t think of an oil company’s goals as lining up with the Gospel.  But sometimes you can catch glimpses of the Truth in places you don’t expect.  I won’t tell you the name of the oil company, but listen to the headline of this ad, as well as some of its text.

The headline sets up the ad:  “The world is growing by more than 70 million people a year. … So is that a problem, or a solution?”  That’s an interesting start, making us wonder where this ad is headed.

Then the advertisement elaborates:

“With our planet’s population continuing to increase… our demand for energy is also growing.  And to meet everyone’s needs 25 years from now may take 50% more energy than we use today.

“The key to ensuring success is found in the same place that created this need: humanity itself.  When the unique spirit we all possess is allowed to flourish, mankind has proven its ability to take on, and overcome, any issue.  …

“The problem… becomes the solution.  …

“So join us in tapping the most powerful source of energy in the world.  Ourselves. ”[1]

Now, we might fault the ad for not recognizing that God is more powerful than all of mankind.  But the point of the ad is to contrast the power of man as opposed to the power of fossil fuels.  Nonetheless, the ad is still remarkable for its key insight:  namely, that you either see human beings as a problem, or as a solution.  You either see human life as a curse, or as a blessing.

Catholics believe in the inalienable dignity of every human life, from the moment of conception until natural death.  And yet, we live in the midst of a culture that not only does not share this belief.  We live surrounded by a culture that does everything in its power to root God out of every area of society, including health care, the education of our children, and the definition of marriage.

In the face of this, we need the courage to face squarely the culture that surrounds us.  This courage does not come from resignation, or by turning inward to a bunker mentality, or by aggressively condemning those with whom we disagree.  The courage that God calls us to exercise is a courage that refuses any other way than the Gospel, even when doing so entails difficulty, hardship, and suffering.  This is a courage that desires that those who disagree would see that life is a gift:  that they would join us in seeing life as a blessing to be promoted, fostered, and chosen.

But how do you bring about such a complete change of view?  It would almost be like a blind man regaining his sight.

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In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus gives Bartimaeus his sight when He says:  “Go your way.  Your faith has saved you.”  But notice what the next two phrases of the Gospel reveal.  These next two phrases are linked.  They are really two sides of the same coin.  The evangelist tells us first that “immediately, [Bartimaeus] received his sight”; and second, that Bartimaeus “followed [Jesus] on the way.”

Reflect on how the greatest gift—the strongest virtue—that Jesus offers us is the divine virtue of caritas (sometimes called “divine charity”, and sometimes simply called “love”).  This greatest, strongest virtue is the glory of what it means to be human.  God’s divine glory is the end—that is, the goal—of man.  We pray this truth in praying the Rosary:  the Joyful, Luminous and Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary all lead to the Glorious Mysteries in the same way that the chapters of a novel lead to its climax.  Likewise, all the virtues of the Christian life lead to its goal:  the divine virtue of caritas; divine charity; divine love:  the life of the Trinity who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

We can only see how and why this is true if we see human life itself as gift.  And we only see this truth, if we get the reason for the blind man receiving his sight in today’s Gospel passage.  Jesus did not restore Bartimaeus’ sight just to ease his earthly life.  Jesus worked this miracle also to ease Bartimaeus’ path to Heaven.

Jesus tells us that the blind man regains his sight because of his faith.  But the blind man shows us his faith by what he does.  When Jesus releases Bartimaeus by saying, “Go / your / way,” the man with vision follows Jesus on Jesus’ way.  In other words, the person with vision makes the Way of Jesus his own way.  There is no other way for us to walk if we want to be truly happy.  Every other path results in a dead-end, or an endless circle going nowhere.

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So, then, how do we travel this Way of Jesus?  The answer is:  by a wheel.  Picture a wheel in your imagination, and use this image to sum up how the Christian virtues work in concert inside the healthy Christian soul.

The first virtue always is humility.  Humility is like the center of the wheel.  All the other virtues radiate out from humility.  Or in other words, humility is the mother of all the other virtues.

Then, the virtue of prudence is like the axle of the wheel.  Or in other words, prudence is the “inner ear” of the soul, that helps us to keep our balance, and to steer us.

Most of the other virtues are like the spokes of the wheel.  Take courage, for example.  To begin with, courage flows from humility.  By contrast, false courage seeks to dominate, and make “my ego” ever larger.  But in Christian courage, I do not worry about my ego.  The martyr is even willing to sacrifice his life, because his courage is so firmly rooted in humility.  But this courage also has to be steered, and given balance by prudence.  After all, even the martyr has to choose the best time to be courageous:  he doesn’t want to be foolhardy, giving up his life for a cause that could be defended in a simpler way.

But what is the goal of this virtue of courage?  If the spokes radiate out from humility, and are steered by prudence, where do they radiate out towards?  The goal of every virtue—including courage—is the divine virtue of caritas.  Humility leads us to caritas.  Prudence leads us to caritas.  Courage leads us to caritas.

And so, in humility, we give up our own self, so that we can be transformed into the likeness of Jesus, who is divine caritas in the flesh.  Prudence steers us in all things away from self-indulgence towards the divine virtue of caritas.  Every other virtue, whether it’s courage or patience, justice or diligence, faith or hope, propels us towards the goal of divine caritas.

All of this is what happens in the life of the blind person, as he gives up his own way through the world, which in blindness is no way at all.  Remember that Bartimaeus was sitting at the side of the road because of his blindness.  In his blindness, he could go nowhere.  But after gaining his sight, he could walk his own way, but because of his faith, Bartimaeus knew that walking his own way apart from Jesus would be as aimless as sitting on the sideline.  Bartimaeus instead follows Jesus who is the way.  Bartimaeus follows Jesus on the Way, as the evangelist puts is:  the Way that leads to Calvary, and through Calvary into the eternal life of God.

This divine virtue of caritas is the wheel’s tire.  This divine virtue is where—so to speak—the rubber hits the road, and the Catholic Faith is actually lived out in your daily life.

Reflect on your daily life.  What is the difference between this divine virtue of caritas and the human act of charity?  Sometimes caritas is translated as “charity”, but the danger in this is that we might reduce the divine virtue of caritas to something smaller than it is.

Human acts of charity in and of themselves—whether feeding the hungry, giving shelter to the homeless, or any other corporal work of mercy—focus on this world.  Of course, making this world better is not bad in and of itself.  The very same acts, however, become acts of divine charity only when they have their origin and goal in God:  that is, when we feed the hungry because we see the image of God in each hungry person, and when we offer that food, not merely to fill a stomach and to make our conscience more at ease, but because this sort of action becomes a channel for God’s peace in this world.  Whenever we fulfill the commands of Jesus to exercise the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, we primarily do so not for those in need, and not primarily for ourselves, but for God.  God is all.

Put another way:  acts of divine “charity” are not primarily about the need of the poor for assistance, or the need of students to learn, or the need of the blind to see; or even about our need to give.  These acts are primarily about manifesting God’s glory in this world of darkness, so that the Father’s Will might be “done on earth as it is Heaven”.  Through this call, each person on earth can be invited into the life of God in Heaven.  The beauty of this call is what moves others to see why every one of us finds the meaning of our life in making the Way of Jesus, our own way.