Our new parish priest is blind.

When he arrived, my nine-year-old son was enthralled. Living with ADHD is a daily battle for my son, and he had never wanted to be an altar server. He has a difficult time with fidgeting, controlling his movements, and is terrified of making mistakes.

Sometimes I have to place “fidgets” in his hands so he can focus. He has chewed the corners of the little black Mass book he received for his First Communion.

Then Fr. J arrived.

This Sunday, instead of saying he didn’t want to serve, he put on his t-shirt that reads “The Presence is Real,” with a picture of a host and monstrance on the front, tucked it neatly in his khaki pants and hopped right in the car.

“I can’t wait to serve for Fr. J,” he said.

Rather than crying nervously and being afraid he would do something wrong in front of the entire congregation, now my son feels needed and valuable.
Why? Because Fr. J does everything deliberately, slowly, and relies on all of us.

No amount of catechesis or rule-enforcing I did before mattered to my son before Fr. J showed up. The first children’s Mass book I tried to get him to use frustrated him with its lengthy descriptions. He generally asked to go to the bathroom four to five times during Mass as a means of getting a “break,” which is common with ADHD kids.

Now, he stands rapt with attention as he watches Fr. J celebrate Mass and says repeatedly (his brain works on a repetitive loop, which is mildly maddening when you live with a child who sings the same songs over and over and over): “I love Fr. J. I really love Fr. J.”

Fr. J has motivated him with love and connection. He has a train set and he loves dinosaurs; so does my son. He does things slowly and deliberately; so does my son. And he loves and trusts others; so does my son.

When a blind priest stands in front of a congregation and exhorts them to trust in Jesus, who could possibly ignore him? We know how difficult his journey to the priesthood must have been, yet he has chosen to spend his life serving others. Trusting is a part of his daily life; parishioners drive him places, help with household tasks, and serve as his “eyes” in many ways.

Quite honestly, he is just what our parish needed. Now more than ever, we have to get out of our pews and become more active members of the body of Christ.

Bartimaeus and Us

The story of blind Bartimaeus involves a beggar who was part of a crowd following Jesus on His way to Jerusalem as He left Jericho, a week before His death.
Bartimaeus cried out, “Jesus, Son of David. Take pity on me!” (Mk 10:47).

The Jews believed that the Messiah would be a descendant of King David; they also believed that blindness was a punishment from God because the person or their family had committed sin. The crowd told Bartimaeus to be quiet; instead, he cried all the louder and Jesus asked him what he wanted. He asked for his sight; Jesus told him, “Your faith has made you well.”

The curing of Bartimaeus is a turning point because until this time, Jesus had told those He cured to remain silent and not tell anyone; in contrast, Jesus does not tell Bartimaeus to be quiet because the time has come for His identity as Messiah to be revealed as He heads into Jerusalem to face His death.

We see in the story of Bartimaeus an example of blind faith: the blind beggar had faith in the Rabbi whose fame had spread and believed he would be cured if he called on Him. This faith was rewarded immediately, but only because Bartimaeus had the courage to go against the crowd, so to speak.

And that is what we all must do when we come to follow Christ.

Life Finds a Way

Fr. J is a fan of Jurassic Park, hence his love for dinosaurs. The tagline from the book and movie, “life finds a way,” was a phrase he used to describe what happened when some subterranean animals survived during the eruption of Mt. St. Helens. He spoke in his homily today about that historical event and how amidst the turmoil present in our Church today, we can rise from the ashes and emerge if we have faith in God and trust His plans for us.

At that altar today were two adoptees – myself and my son – and a blind priest. And I thought about the miracles that had to take place for the three of us to be there at the same time.

My biological grandfather was a pharmacist, and his first response when he learned his young teenage daughter was pregnant with me was concern for the health of his first grandchild. Her family had to go through an expensive, stressful process to ensure my birth and adoption, as did my adoptive parents, who were married in the Church where I served as Eucharistic minister this morning. Blind faith in the plans of the Lord for that unborn baby that was me had been planted in all their hearts.

My son was born to a young woman who was struggling at home with a toddler and could not raise a pair of newborn twins. In a heartfelt letter she wrote addressed to me, my husband and older son, she thanked us for “taking them in and giving them everything they deserved.” She had blind faith in God’s plans for their lives.

Fr. J said his parents refused to “send their son away” when he became blind as a young child and instead raised him at home. He was able to flourish in their local public school system with the help of wonderful teachers. I cannot begin to imagine how long and arduous his journey to the priesthood has been; but there he stood this morning, delivering a wonderful homily about how life always finds a way… and indeed, it does, if given a chance.

How different my story would have been if my biological family had listened to the crowd telling them to abort the life of an unplanned infant. How different my son’s story would have been as well. How different would have been the story of Fr. J if his family had not deemed him capable of using his many God-given talents and following his dreams of becoming a priest, despite his blindness?

We will never know how the course of history may have been changed if Bartimaeus had not had the courage to ask the Lord to cure him right before the week of the Passion, prompting many others to believe in and follow Him, ultimately sharing the story of the Resurrection.

As Pope Francis likes to say, our God is a God of surprises.

Indeed, He is. It took a wonderfully loving, kind and compassionate blind priest to help my young son see that he, too, has something to offer the Church: that just like the rest of us, he is a needed and valuable member of the body of Christ, fidgeting and all.

Image: The Healing of Blind Bartimaeus by Fernando Gallego workshop, 1480-1488, oil on panel – University of Arizona Museum of Art – University of Arizona – Tucson, AZ – DSC08346.jpg. Public domain.

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Kristi McCabe is an award-winning freelance writer, Catechist, a former teacher and editor who lives with her family in Owensboro, Kentucky.  As an adoptive mother of four and an adoptee herself, Kristi is an avid supporter of pro-life ministries.  She is active in her local parish and has served as Eucharistic minister and in various children's ministries.

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