“Shout with joy for Jacob …. The Lord has delivered His people, the remnant of Israel. Behold I bring them back from the land of the north…they departed in tears, but I will console and guide them.” The prophet Jeremiah wrote these words, prophesying that God would deliver His people from their enemies and lead them out of exile. (Jer. 31:7-9) What got the nation into exile in the first place was that they failed to realize that they were in God’s presence. They had stopped seeking God and instead sought their own pleasure, lost their sense of justice, and in so doing, stopped being able to recognize the blessings God had given His people throughout the ages. They tried to ‘go it alone’ mostly because they had fallen prey to the allure of the false gods of pleasure, power, greed, and complacency. But in the end they realized that God had never left them and they turned their hearts back to Him.
The fall of the Israelites was avoidable and God did everything He could to try to prevent it. In becoming self-centered, however, they forgot how to recognize God’s presence. They rejected Him, but what made it so complete was that they replaced their ability to recognize God by assigning their faith to that which was not God. In short, they did not see or hear what had previously been plain to them. That did not keep God from trying to break through to them by speaking through numerous prophets. After much travail they eventually responded in sorrow, accepting their responsibility for what had happened. They learned to recognize His presence even in exile, and rejoiced in gratitude when they were freed. They had finally learned to see.
The Gospel tells us of a man, Bartimaeus, who also learned to recognize Jesus in the midst of adversity. This is not to say that his adversity was due to his sinfulness; we know that this man was faith-filled despite his infirmity. In the passage, Jesus was making His way through a sizable crowd when the blind beggar, Bartimaeus, heard that He was passing by. He cried out “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.” When he was invited to approach Him, Bartimaeus “sprang up” and rushed to Jesus with obvious energy and desire. When asked what he wanted Jesus to do for him, he said he wanted to see. Jesus told him, “Go your way; your faith has saved you.” Jesus said nothing about physically healing the man, though the man did receive the gift of eyesight. Mark, the writer of this gospel account, underscored the man’s faith rather than the healing because the real message here is that this man already saw that in being with Jesus he was in the presence of God.
Part of what ails our world today is that many do not recognize the presence of God within it. People claim that God does not show Himself anymore. On the contrary we have more direct access to Him insofar as Jesus left us His presence in the Eucharist and through the sacraments: we have personal, face-to-face, intimate encounters offered to us on a daily basis. We also have the presence of Jesus every time we pray, every time we share in a loving encounter with another person, and any time we open ourselves to beauty. Miracles abound if we have the eyes to see. We cannot say that God does not reveal Himself, or that the presence of evil in the world shows that God does not care, or that we simply do not know where God is. God is ever present, but maybe like Bartimaeus we need to ask for the gift of sight. This is important because as His disciples it is our mission to bring His presence visibly into the world through our love, mercy, and work for justice. He relies on us to make His presence known, especially in the darkest places of suffering, loneliness, and brokenness. But first we have to let Him into those places in ourselves.
To be eternally present to us in this way is the reason Jesus came into the world. This is why the prophets proclaimed the message of God about a coming messiah, and this was the meaning in the words of Gabriel who told Mary that her son would be Emmanuel, God-with-us. He revealed that God was doing something never before done, an act of love so great that it would be enduring for the rest of time and beyond. God’s own Son was leaving Heaven in order to truly enter into our human condition so that we could know His love for us with firsthand experience. God wanted us to know Him intimately and so the Son became fully human, while still fully God, to live, teach, suffer, die, rise, and ultimately save us from ourselves and our sinful nature, and then remain forever present to us. To be unable to recognize the presence of Jesus is a terrible tragedy, given all of that.
Perhaps what keeps us from seeing is that we distract ourselves by focusing only on what is negative in our imperfect world or within the church or government, thinking problems are too big to be fixed. Perhaps we limit our sight to our own imperfections, or get caught up in the daily grind to such an extent that our concerns blind us to the reality that we are not alone in them. Perhaps we are too busy to see the beauty in the world around us, the people with whom we come into contact, the written word, a moving piece of music, or the lovely gesture of some artwork. Perhaps we have lost our vision due to the pain of suffering or our distress in seeing the suffering of others.
We must never give up or let the world take over. If we give in to the temptation to believe that it is futile to try to have faith we will find ourselves as lost as the Israelites were in the time of exile. If we give in to the ways of the world, putting our trust in material things, cutting ourselves off from our family of faith, giving up on the power of prayer and that which is given to us in the sacraments, we will have little chance of opening ourselves up to the gifts God has given us. But if we are patient, like Bartimaeus, we can learn to recognize Jesus in the midst of it all. We can learn the sound of His voice in order to respond when He is near. By spending time with Him in studying the gospels and through our prayer, we can come to know His loving presence and open ourselves to the wisdom He gives so we know how to proceed. Even in our pain we can become aware that He is there since Jesus is no stranger to excruciating pain and the aloneness of suffering. Especially where it feels darkest and almost hopeless, when we feel Him the least, is when He is actually the closest, deeply within our hearts saying, “I am here!”
If you have trouble knowing where to begin, try asking specifically for what it is you need. Sometimes having a more visual, tangible experience helps, so you can imagine you are present in a Scripture passage, letting Jesus speak directly to you, such as imagining you are Bartimaeus, or that you were there in the crowd. Also you can let your faith lead you as you receive the Eucharist, trusting He is truly present there. Sometimes we forget that we need to become present to Him in the Eucharist. It is not a one-way street: we are present to each other. Also, remember that Jesus does not stay in the church when we walk out the door. We receive communion so that we take Him with us into the whole of our lives, asking Him to bless everything we experience. Our communion helps us do that which He taught, which means to be generous with everything: to give unselfishly, to offer forgiveness as we have been forgiven, to be compassionate rather than judgmental, to welcome the stranger, to work for justice by being just, and to give our care to the suffering. He has been lavish in His gifts to us and so He wants us to share of what we have received with those around us. In sharing, what He has given is multiplied within and around us. And in so doing His presence opens the eyes of the blind to see that He is indeed here... with us.
May we allow our spiritual and physical sight to be awakened to the presence of Jesus! May we be beacons of hope for others, showing them the presence of God through our love and actions! May we have faith that when we feel Jesus the least that He is indeed closest to us! May we continue to be open to all the ways Jesus is present in our world! May we strive to be Christ for others and to let others bring Christ to us also! And may we have the faith and hope of Bartimaeus, responding joyfully at being in the presence of Jesus who brings healing and peace! Let us continue to meet in the heart of Jesus! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
The top photo is mine. It was taken in Big Bend National Park, TX. I chose this because it reminded me of the people's return to Israel from exile when looking through the pass into the land in the distance.
Next is a painting called Jesus Opens the Eyes of the Man Born Blind (detail) by Duccio di Buoninsegna (14th century)
An icon by Fr. William Hart McNichols is next. It is called Cristo Pantocrator. To find it click on this link: http://fineartamerica.com/featured/cristo-pantocrator-175-william-hart-mcnichols.html if you are interested in purchasing a copy as a print, card, plaque or in many other mediums.
(Check out Fr. Bill's entire site at Fine Art America. You can click here: http://fineartamerica.com/profiles/william-hart-mcnichols.html?tab=artworkgalleries
Remember I do not get any remuneration for this promotion. I simply love his work and enjoy sharing it!)
The remaining two photos are mine. A sunset in Driftwood, TX, and then the Atlantic Ocean taken at Westhampton Beach, Long Island, NY. I chose the last photo because of the footprints, which seem to speak of presence.
Heart Speaks to Heart