THIRTIETH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR B
Psalm 125: 1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 6
God Is Light
When, in the beginning, our First Parents opened their eyes, they were bathed in the light of the Face of God. Adam and Eve were created in the most blessed of natural states: purity of heart. “Blessed are the pure in heart,” says Our Lord, “for they shall see God” (Mt 5:8). Before the fall, which darkened their minds and clouded the vision of their souls, Adam and Eve knew an immense and perfect happiness in beholding the radiant beauty of the Face of God. “God is light,” says Saint John, “and in Him is no darkness at all” (1 Jn 1:5).
After having lived in the Light, Adam and Eve fell into the darkness; but the memory of the Light has left its traces in every human heart. In all of us there is a nostalgia for the Light which never fades, for the sun which never sets, an indescribable yearning for uncreated Light. You may experience it as an ache, as a sense of incompleteness.
The Gladsome Light of the Face of Christ
The darker the obscurity around us, the more deeply do we experience that there is within us a relentless straining toward the Light, the instinct to stretch the wings of our souls and, like the eagle, fly unblinking into the sun. Within the heart of each one of us, the finger of God’s right hand has inscribed an indelible, a sweet and painful longing for what Saint Peter calls his “wonderful light” (1 P 2:9): the gladsome light of the Father shining on the Face of the Son.
Quaerite Faciem Eius Semper
This is the very meaning of today’s poignant Introit: Laetetur cor quaerentium Dominum, “Let the hearts that seek the Lord rejoice: seek the Lord and He will strengthen you; constantly seek His Face” (Ps 104:3–4). Quaerite faciem eius semper! The chant melody soars and expands over the word eius: “His.” It is the liturgy’s way of signifying that abiding joy and unfailing strength shine from the Face of Christ and no other. It is the liturgy’s way of making us repeat again and again, “His Face, His Face.”
Without Having Seen Him
Darkness had made Bartimaeus, the blind man of the gospel, acutely sensitive to the approach of the Light. Without seeing, Bartimaeus sensed that the Light was drawing near, “the true light that enlightens every man” (Jn 1:9). While Bartimaeus was yet in darkness, the Face of Christ had begun to fascinate his soul. “Without having seen Him you love Him; though you do not now see Him, you believe in Him” (1 P 1:8).
Praying in the Darkness
The best prayer begins in the darkness. Hunger and thirst for God hollow us out, increasing our capacity for the gift of God. Darkness, in its own way, increases our capacity for perceiving the light. “Friend and neighbour you have taken away,” says the psalmist, “my only friend is darkness” (Ps 87:19). Darkness is indeed the friend of the God-seeking soul: a hope-filled darkness, an expectant darkness, the darkness of “the watchman who counts on daybreak” (Ps 129:6), the darkness of the womb, the darkness of the tomb on Holy Saturday, the darkness of the church before the striking of the flint, the new fire and the flame of the Paschal Vigil.
Much of prayer has to do with learning how to sit quietly in the darkness. Darkness is, paradoxically, the friend of prayer, of the kind of prayer that consists in waiting for the dawn. Scripture says: “The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul that seeks Him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord” (Lam 3:25-26). This is why certain souls — I am thinking of Saint John of the Cross, Saint Paul of the Cross, Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta and others — are, in fact, driven into darkness by the Spirit of Light, the same Holy Spirit who drove Jesus into the obscurity of the Judaean desert (Mk 1:12). “I am the man who has seen affliction,” says the poet of the Lamentations, “he has driven and brought me into darkness without any light; He has made me dwell in darkness like the dead of long ago” (Lam 3:2.6).
Until the Morning Star Rises
It is no coincidence that men and women of prayer in every age, have deliberately sought out the darkness in their search of the Light. How important it is to have zones of obscurity in our churches, shadowy corners and spaces quiet and dark, silent invitations to “sit alone in silence” (Lam 3:28) “until the day dawns and the morning star rises” (2 P 1:19) in the heart. Even for those of us who make our daily prayer in a corner at home, there is often a need to turn off the lights after lectio divina, to remain in the quiet dark with no more than the flame of a candle for light. A few lines written by Gerard Manley Hopkins come to mind: “See, Love, I creep and Thou on wings dost ride; / Love, it is evening now and Thou away; / Love, it grows darker here and Thou art above; / Love, come down to me if Thy name be Love” (The Halfway House).
The Advent of the Light
The beggar Bartimaeus was sitting at the side of the road. His darkness had prepared him for the advent of the Light. Darkness had been his friend, the companion of his days and of his nights. Bartimaeus’ long night of blindness had readied him to greet the dawn.
The Name of Jesus
At the approach of Jesus he began to shout and to say: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” This is the ceaseless cry of every soul plunged into “places that are dark, in the depths” (Ps 87:7). This is the prayer of the heart:
— Lord have mercy.
— Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God have mercy on me a sinner.
— Lord Jesus, lift up the light of thy Face upon me.
— Most Holy Face of Jesus, look upon me, and have mercy.
— O Jesus, King of Love, I put my trust in Thy loving mercy.
— Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, be to me a Jesus.
These are expressions of the prayer without which it is dangerous to descend into the darkness, for the invocation of the name of Jesus purifies the darkness, warms the night air, dispels fear, sustains hope and terrifies demons. With the prayer of Bartimaeus on my lips and in my heart “though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil” (Ps 22:4). The name of Jesus is the pledge of His presence. “When he calls, I shall answer: ‘I am with you’” (Ps 90:15), says the Lord.
Those surrounding Bartimaeus scolded him and told him to keep quiet. Make no mistake about it: if you are determined to pray and to persevere in prayer, if you have begun to practice the prayer of the heart, calling ceaselessly upon the name of Jesus, you will find yourself surrounded by obstacles on every side. Within and without voices will make themselves heard, scolding and scoffing, sneering at your desire and soliciting your time and your energy for a thousand other things. Like Bartimaeus who only shouted all the louder, “hold firm and take heart, trust in the Lord” (Ps 26:14). “A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand fall at your right”; “everyone who calls upon the name of Jesus will be saved (Rom 10:13). When we are praying in the darkness, perseverance matters more than all else.
Jesus Will Stop For You
Jesus, hearing the persevering cries of Bartimaeus, stopped. So too, does He do for every soul that cries to Him from the heart. “Priest and Levite” may pass you by, but Jesus, the Good Samaritan of our souls, will have compassion on you. He will stop, bind up your wounds, cleanse you with wine and anoint you with oil (cf. Lk 10:31-34). Jesus will stop for you as He stopped for Bartimaeus.
Rise, He Is Calling You
Here a wondrous reversal takes places. The one calling becomes the one called. You will be called by the one upon whom you have been calling. “‘Call him,’ said Jesus. And they called the blind man, saying to him, ‘Take heart; get up, He is calling you’”(Mk 10:49). Do you hear it? There is a chorus of voices saying to us, “Take heart; rise, He is calling you” (Mk 10:49) It is the sound of “great a cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1): our friends in prayer, the angels and the saints. Like Bartimaeus, throw off your mantle, “lay aside every weight” (Heb 12:1) and hasten toward the Face of Jesus, guided not by sight but by faith alone.
That I May See
Then you, like Bartimaeus, will hear the voice of Jesus: “What do you want me to do for you” (Mk 10:51)? “Rabboni, that I may see” (Mk 10:51). Opening wide the eyes of your soul, behold the Light. See “the light of the Father’s glory shining on the Face of Christ” (2 Cor 4:6). See the uncreated Light for which you were created.
A Night As Clear as the Day
For the one who perseveres in prayer, “darkness itself is not dark and the night is as clear as the day” (Ps 138:12). Prayer is the mystery of the bright darkness in which God is hidden and in which God is revealed, in which God is unseen and in which God is seen. “The only Son who is in the bosom of the Father” (Jn 1:18) makes God known to Bartimaeus and to anyone who, like him, prays in the darkness.
The Eucharistic Face of Christ
Christ shows us His Face in the dark and mysterious brightness of this and every Eucharist. To all who love Him without yet seeing Him (1 P 1:8), He says: “Go your way; your faith has made you whole” (Mk 10:52). And then, illumined by His Eucharistic Face, one thing remains: we have to “follow Him in the way” (Mk 10: 52), nourished by the mysteries of His Sacred Body and Precious Blood.