He Threw Aside His Cloak

I woke up this morning still thinking about a line in yesterday’s Gospel, the story of Jesus’ healing of the blind man Bartimaeus. It is a passage I have read and prayed with often.

What struck me when I listened to the reading at Mass yesterday was the description of Bartimaeus’ action when people told him Jesus was calling him. “He threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus.” And that is the phrase that I woke up with this morning. He “threw aside his cloak.”

A begging blind man has very few possessions. And if you’ve seen homeless beggars on the street, you know that they guard their few possessions very carefully, keeping them close and carrying or pushing them around with them when they move from place to place.

But Bartimaeus was so anxious to meet Jesus, so excited to know that he had been called, that he threw aside what was probably one of his only possessions.

That the phrase stayed with me, suggests it is one worth praying with. Are we willing to drop everything when Jesus calls? Are we so excited for him and his healing touch that we can drop our need to control and guard our plans, our possessions, our everything?

What Do You Wish Me to Do For You?

In today’s Gospel, James and John approach Jesus and tell him they want him to do whatever he asks of them. Jesus replies by asking, as he asks people so often, “What do you wish me to do for you?”

And what is the response of James and John? “Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left.” The response is particularly jarring because this passage in Mark follows immediately after one of Jesus’ predictions of his passion. James and John don’t seem particularly anxious to be at Jesus’ left and right during his suffering.

What came to mind as I reflected on their response was the passage in the Second Book of Chronicles, where God appears to Solomon and says “Whatever you ask, I will give you.” Salomon asks for “wisdom and knowledge” to govern God’s people.

The contrast is striking. James and John want to be rewarded with the choicest seats in the house; Solomon asks for the grace he needs to carry out the task to which God as appointed him.

Jesus asks the same of you and I: What do you wish me to do for you?

How do you reply?

Does your response sound more like James and John’s or like Solomon’s?

Are We Like Bartimaeus?

Today’s Gospel from St. Mark is one I love to pray with: Jesus’ encounter with the blind man Bartimaeus. Hearing Bartimaeus calling to him from the roadside, Jesus asks his followers to bring Bartimaeus to him. When they do, the first thing Jesus says to him is “What do you want me to do for you?”

What do you want? This is the first thing Jesus so often asked people when he met them. And He asks the same question of us. What do you want? What do you desire from me?

We are often uncomfortable talking about desires. We’ve been conditioned to be suspicious of our desires, to think that living a faithful Christian life means overcoming desires.

But to live vital and passionate lives requires that we pay serious attention to our desires when we discern how we are intended to live and love in this world. Our desires reflect the longings of our heart and point to an incompleteness in us that longs for fulfillment.

If, as Saint Iranaeus said, the glory of God is the human person fully alive, then desires are an incredibly important part of our discernment; getting in touch with our desires helps us discover what is lifegiving to us. Failing to take our desires seriously ignores (in the words of E. Edward Kinerk) “the greatest source of human vitality and passion which God has given us.”

Bartimaeus is able to name his desire.  Can you name yours when Jesus asks what you want?

But there is something else about Bartimaeus:  Look at his insistence in wanting to encounter Jesus! People are “sternly order[ing] him to be quiet,” trying to push him out of the way – saying essentially, you are not important enough to bother Jesus.  But Bartimaeus’ desire is so great he responds by crying out all the more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me.”

Do we display the same persistence in our desire to be close to God? Are we easily dissuaded when things are difficult? When others try to distract us?  Or do we show the same insistence as Bartimaeus that nothing will stand in the way of his encountering Jesus?

Some questions to sit with as you reflect on this passage.

Getting in Touch With our Deepest Desires

Last night was the first evening of a monthly program I am offering with Christine Luna Munger at St Catherine University titled Now What? Deepening Your Ignatian Retreat Experience. The progam series is aimed at people who have had some experience of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius – through a preached weekend retreat, a parish retreat in daily living, an online retreat or otherwise. The goal is to help people deepen their experience, to make it part of their reality. As I quipped to participants last night, St. Ignatius’ interest was not in providing people with fantastic retreat experiences, but in transformation, in inviting them into a new way of life.

The topic of our first session was desire, or, as we titled it What Do You Want? Getting in Touch with Our Deepest Desire. Although many people are suspicious of desire – thinking of desires only in terms of surface or sexual desires, desire is what motivates us. Ignatius believed that our deepest desires, the desires that lead us to become who we truly are, God’s desire for us. That at the deepest levels, our desires and God’s desires are the same. And that makes desire a key way God’s voice is heard in our lives, an important way that God leads us to discover who we are and what we are meant to do. As James Martin writes in his most recent book, Jesus: A Pilgrimage,

Once we scrape off any surface selfishness, our deepest longings and holy desires are uncovered: the desire for friendship, the desire for love, the desire for meaningful work, and often the desire for healing. Ultimately, or course, our deepest longing is for God. And it is God who places these desires within us. This is one way God calls us to himself. We desire God because God desires us.

People often need to be encouraged to recognize these deep longings, which can help guide their lives, especially if they have been told to ignore or eradicate their desires. Once they do so, they discover a fundamental truth: desire is one of the engines of a person’s vocation.

In my talk, I spoke about the distinction between surface desires and our deepest desires and about what Ignatius might call disordered desires or attachments and we spent some time with Ignatius’ Principle and Foundation. After my talk, Christine instructed the group in the prayer exercise she had prepared for them and after a period of silent reflection, we ended with small group sharing and a larger group discussion.

It was a great kickoff to the series and I will be looking forward to future sessions. For those in the Twin Cities: You can find more information about the program here. Each session is a stand-alone topic so you can feel free to attend as may or as few as work with your schedule. So join us even if you missed the first session!

What Would You Ask For?

In today’s first Mass reading from the Book of Kings, God appears to Solomon in a dream and says, “Ask something of me and I will give it to you.”

This is a little like finding the lamp with the genie: “Your wish is my command. Ask anything.”

ANYTHING! What would you ask for?

It is so tempting to think small, to ask for things that satisfy our immediate material needs and causes of pain and anxiety. My current house has been on the market for a couple of months and we don’t yet have a buyer. Since we have already closed on the purchase of another one, this is no small source of anxiety for me. How tempting to say, “Lord, please, just let someone make an offer on my house today.”

But in our hearts, we know that that sort of wish would not be worthy of the gift God offered Solomon.

Solomon knew that. He doesn’t ask “for a long life for [himself], nor for riches, nor for the life of [his] enemies.” Instead, Solomon asks for wisdom: “Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong.”

I sat with the passage this morning, and with Solomon’s response. What would I ask for? My first thought, not surprisingly given the level of conflict in Gaza and elsewhere was for an end to conflict, an end to war and violence.

And for myself? What if I could wish for something for myself? I know the answer to that; it is part of my prayer often. Let me love more, Lord. Let me love like you.

What would you ask for?

P.S. In full disclosure, I do also pray that someone soon makes an offer to buy my house. 🙂

I Had Rather One Day in Your Courts

The responsorial psalm for today’s Mass is from Psalm 84, a psalm described by Sr. Macrina Wiederkehr as a pilgrim song.

In the most powerful lines for me in that psalm, the psalmist shares, “I had rather one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I had rather lie at the threshold of the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.”

When I read those words this morning, I was reminded of Stuart Kestenbaum’s poem Psalm. It harkens back to a different psalm but conveys the same longing and desire expressed in today’s psalm. The poem always touches me. Perhaps it will touch you also.

The only psalm I had memorized was the 23rd
and now I find myself searching for the order
of the phrases knowing it ends with surely
goodness and mercy will follow me
all the days of my life and I will dwell
in the house of the Lord forever only I remember
seeing a new translation from the original Hebrew
and forever wasn’t forever but a long time
which is different from forever although
even a long time today would be
good enough for me even a minute entering
the House would be good enough for me,
even a hand on the door or dropping today’s
newspaper on the stoop or looking in the windows
that are reflecting this morning’s clouds in the first light.

Search Deep To Lead Your Own Life

In New Seeds of Contemplation, Thomas Merton asks, “How do you expect to arrive at the end of your own journey if you take the road to another man’s city? How do you expect to reach your own perfection by leading somebody else’s life?” Merton insisted is that we need to have the “heroic humility to be yourself and to be nobody by the [person], or the artist, that God intended you to be.”

It is fine to have heroes, people whose lives and commitment to their vocation we admire and aspire to be like. Their example gives us inspiration and strength.

But each of our lives is unique and how we live out our vocation, our discipleship, will look different.

How do we know what it means to live our own life? How do we reach our own perfection? We are exploring questions such as these at our semi-annual vocation retreat for law students this weekend.

Anthony deMello expressed one answer in a story he once told of a conversation between a Master and one of his disciples. The disciple, a Jewish man, asked, “What good work should I do to be acceptable to God?” The Master answered, “How should I know? Your Bible says that Abraham practiced hospitality and God was with him. Elias loved to pray and God was with him. David ruled a kingdom and God was with him too.” The man persisted, “Is there some way I can find my own allotted work?” The Master responded, “Yes. Search for the deepest inclination or your heart and follow it.”

What is your deepest desire?

What Do You Desire?

In today’s Gospel from St. Mark, we hear of Jesus’ encounter with Bartimaeus. Hearing Bartimaeus calling to him from the roadside, Jesus asks his followers to bring Bartimaeus to him. When they do, the first thing Jesus says to him is “What do you want me to do for you?”

What do you want? This is the first thing Jesus so often asked people when he met them. And He asks the same question of us. What do you want? What do you desire from me?

We are often uncomfortable talking about desires. We’ve been conditioned to be suspicious of our desires, to think that living a faithful Christian life means overcoming desires.

But to live vital and passionate lives requires that we pay serious attention to our desires when we discern how we are intended to live and love in this world. Our desires reflect the longings of our heart and point to an incompleteness in us that longs for fulfillment.

If, as Saint Iranaeus said, the glory of God is the human person fully alive, then desires are an incredibly important part of our discernment; getting in touch with our desires helps us discover what is lifegiving to us. Failing to take our desires seriously ignores (in the words of E. Edward Kinerk) “the greatest source of human vitality and passion which God has given us.”

Anthony deMello highlights this in a story he once told: The disciple, a Jewish man, asked, “What good work should I do to be acceptable to God?” The Master answered, “How should I know? Your Bible says that Abraham practiced hospitality and God was with him. Elias loved to pray and God was with him. David ruled a kingdom and God was with him too.” The man persisted, “Is there some way I can find my own allotted work?” The Master responded, “Yes. Search for the deepest inclination or your heart and follow it.”

What do you desire? What is the deepest inclination of your heart?

St. Augustine, Bishop and Doctor of the Church

I managed to get through the entirety of the day yesterday without remembering that it was the memorial of St.  Monica. Today, we celebrate the memorial of her son, St. Augustine, bishop and doctor of the Church. Or, in the words of one commentator, the “sinner turned saint.”

I’ve shared before how important Augustine’s Confessions was to me at the time of my conversion from Buddhism back to Christianity. Indeed, I’ve often thought that it would have been a great help for me if someone has suggested that I read that work when I was 17 and engaged in the struggle that resulted in my abandonment of Catholicism for over twenty years. Augustine’s humanness and his brokenness are evident in that work, as was his intense sorrow for his sins and his equally intense longing for God. At a time when I was having great difficulty finding my way, the book was a great help to me.

I deeply relate to Augustine’s words to God,

You were with me, but I was not with you. Things held me far from you- things which, if they were not in you, were not at all. You called, and shouted, and burst my deafness. You flashed and shone, and scattered my blindness. You breathed odors and I drew in breath – and I pant for you. I tasted, and I hunger and thirst. You touched me, and I burned for your peace.

After writing his Confressions (and I’ve shared this before), Augustine asked himself whether it was good that he had done so. He wondered: If I’ve come to regret my sinful past and if I believe God has forgiven me, why not simply put my past behind me. Why bother putting all this bad stuff from my past down on paper? His answer to that question was that it was the recognition of his own sinfulness that had led him to recognize the love of God. It was only when he realized the depth and extent of the presence of sin in his life that he was able to see who God is and how God worked in his life. Thus, for Augustine, recalling his sinfulness was a necessary part of his praise of God.

That seems to me to be a useful perspective for all of us to keep in mind. But it may be especially useful for those people who have difficulty with the idea of Reconciliation and the idea of confessing their sins. What Augustine understood, in the words of theologian Michael Himes, was that confession “is not about how wicked I have been but rather about how good God is. Like all sacraments, reconciliation is not primarily about my action, whether good or bad, but about God’s action.” There is something incredibly powerful about our own articulation of our sins and our hearing the words of absolution.

It’s All in the Emphasis

One of the songs I played during the weekend Ignatian retreat I gave this past weekend was Danielle Rose’s Agony in the Garden, in which Jesus prays to his father, wondering if there is another path than the one that has been set before him.

The line that struck me was Jesus’ saying: “If your love permits, let this cup pass me by. But let it be as you would have it, not as I,” a line that gets repeated a number of times in the song. The words of the song paraphrase Luke’s Gospel, in which Jesus prays, “Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.

In some ways, Jesus prayer is not very different from my prayers of petition. I ask God for something I want, some result I would like to see, and almost always remember to add, “But your will be done, Lord.”

But if I’m really honest, I have to admit there is an enormous difference between Jesus prayer and mine. I don’t think I relized how much until I heard those words repeated over and over again in the song.

The difference is not in the words themselves – mine are almost exactly the same as Jesus’ words. The difference lies in the emphasis.

When I hear Jesus says the words, what I hear is: IF if is your will, take this cup away from me; NEVERTHELESS NOT MY WILL, BUT YOURS, BE DONE. I see the first part of the sentence in really small type and the second part big and bold.

When I say the words, they come out very different. It is more like: THIS IS WHAT I WANT LORD, but your will, not mine, be done.

The recognition was a good one. As I contemplate it, I know that I want my version of the prayer to sound more like Jesus’ version. But I know I’m not there yet.