Their Healing & Our Blindness
The Synod of Bishops in Rome concludes today. Now a lot of unofficial accounts have made their way into print media, radio, and TV these last three weeks, some of them allegedly first person accounts from bishops in attendance, but quite alarmingly presenting what looks like an extremely fragmented gathering of leaders, contentious even. Now some openly cynical media outlets have described it as the demise of the Catholic Church, for all the turmoil and squabbling that according to them Pope Francis has provoked between extreme factions among the bishops and within the church at large. It reminds me of those days not too long ago when Pope Benedict announced he was stepping down from the chair of Peter. The secular media and some groups unhappy with the Church pretty much said the same then, that the Catholic Church was coming undone. But we’re still here, still struggling to hear God’s word and live it faithfully, still rubbing elbows and knocking heads with our fellow Christians and Catholics who hear the Father’s voice a little differently from us, still trying to walk in the footsteps of Jesus and love one another as he commanded us, still arguing with the Holy Spirit about how best to renew the face of the earth. It’s a messy undertaking–this earthly existence, especially since we don’t always know what we are doing while we believe God has a wonderful plan for all his created universe.
Fr. Lou Cameli, a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago, shared some insights on his experience accompanying Archbishop Blaise Cupich to the Synod. He writes, “[Pope Francis] called for a different kind of synod, something that was both new to most of us and yet also deeply rooted in our tradition. And that different kind of synod would inevitably have bumpy spots. … Much of what is characterized as infighting at the synod and confusion stems—in my estimation—from the difficulty that synod participants have had in grasping Pope Francis’ intent. Some have not been able to look at things differently. … One issue is a bias in favor of solving problems. Most meetings find energy and direction by working to resolve problems. Bishops, with responsibility for governing dioceses and as veterans of many meetings, are often skilled problem solvers. However, although there are plenty of problems affecting marriage and family life today, the synod is not primarily about solving those problems. Rather, it is about finding the ways that the Word of Life can take root in marriages and families, in other words, how the message can be received and lived.” [http://americamagazine.org/issue/bumps-road-synod-2015]
It seems perhaps that God is inviting us, the bishops at the Synod and all of us ordinary Christians and Catholics in our parishes and in our families, to see with new eyes and trust that God is trying to do something awesome and beautiful. But we are often set in our ways. Our hearts have become hardened and our minds closed to new life and new possibilities. Consequently we end up resisting God’s creative Spirit and hindering God’s plan. We need to learn from the blind man in today’s Gospel. We have to figure out why we are still blind, and whether we want to see.
The blind man Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus, was begging by the side of the road and minding his own business when Jesus walked by followed by a crowd. Perhaps he had heard about this Jesus who had cured many sick people, that he made the blind see, the lame walk, the deaf hear, and the mute speak. He may have thought that this was his only chance, and he was not going to pass up this one opportunity. But unable to see, he couldn’t tell where Jesus was, only that the crowd was walking past him. And when he made up his mind to catch Jesus’ attention, he called out as loud as he could, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me.” The blind among us understand why we need Jesus, perhaps to restore our sight, perhaps to heal us of some other affliction, perhaps to share his presence with us in some amazing and wonderful way. But if we have no desire for Jesus, it is perhaps we don’t think he has anything to offer us. If we have no desire for Jesus, we will not call out to him.
The crowd regarded the blind man a nuisance at first. “Many rebuked him, telling him to be silent.” After all, some among them still considered physical affliction and disability as punishment for sin. Why would the teacher want anything to do with him? Besides, they all came to see Jesus, too, and were not all that sympathetic toward an unsightly, unwashed, blind man begging by the side of the road. So when the Bishop of Rome called his brother bishops to gather in synod to address the pressing challenges of marriage and family life, some among them and some among us saw it as a great opportunity to reassure those who were already doing everything right. There would be no room for unsightly, unwashed, blind women and men begging by the side of the road. Their irregular status—as divorced, remarried, or gay—was of their own making, more than likely sinful as well, since good people didn’t do these things. And if any of them even try to draw attention to themselves, we would have little difficulty rebuking them, and telling them to be silent.
When Jesus called him over, the blind man probably didn’t have a plan since he didn’t know how Jesus would respond. He sat each day in the same spot by the side of the road to beg, and he was wrapped in an old cloak, possibly his only possession of value. He wore it like a garment everyday. He slept in it. He ate his meals in it. Most likely, it had not looked or smelled its best in a long time. And he threw it aside when Jesus called for him. So when Jesus calls us to his side, are we willing to set aside our cloaks of comfort and security, and trust that he has something better to give us?
Jesus then asked the blind man, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man replied, “Master, I want to see.” If Jesus asked us the same question, what would we tell him? If we were blind, we might ask him to restore our sight. And if we were broken in any way, we might ask him to make us whole once again. The lack of sight is just one manifestation of brokenness. But even worse is the sort of blindness that afflicts the soul. Pope Francis had invited the bishops at the synod to help extend healing to the many forms of brokenness that afflicted their sisters and brothers. But if all they wanted to do was pat each other and everyone on the back already doing all things right, the Church has missed a singular opportunity to bring to Jesus the broken who sit begging by the side of the road, because we are convinced that is where they belong.
How is it we continue to resist Jesus’ message of compassion and healing? Are we more concerned what blind women and men healed of their blindness might do if they walked among us? Should we not rather be concerned that we still refuse to see?
Rolo B Castillo © 2015