One of my duties as Vocation Director is to periodically visit parishes throughout the Diocese to preach on vocations. At first glance my choice for vocation-related scripture passages on the Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time during Cycle B seems easy—“you are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek” is part of the second reading for crying out loud! But discerning your vocation isn’t always easy and straightforward. First of all, each and every one of God’s children has a vocation, a calling, a path in life, not simply those called to the priesthood or religious life, a truth beautifully recounted in Vatican II’s Constitution of the Church Lumen Gentium. Furthermore, that call isn’t simply confined to choosing a career or a spouse at the beginning of one’s life, but encompasses a variety of decisions and paths taken and not from the cradle to the grave. In short, it’s complicated. Enter this weekend’s Gospel, Jesus’ healing of blind Bartimaeus.
This week is a smorgasbord for lovers of rhetorical flourishes, references to other stories, unique phraseology, and nuanced word choices. There are numerous separate theological insights contained in this one relatively straightforward story, some of them subtle, some of them obvious. How can this complicated mess teach us about our vocation? Well the very complexity in itself gives us our first lesson. Our lives are complicated messes with a variety of influences from various directions. If we truly want to discern God’s call in our lives, we must recognize that we cannot wait for one simple lightning strike or burning bush. Discernment consists of considering a variety of influences and sources. I certainly did not enter seminary or step forward for my ordination because of a single experience, but years of different sources providing different insights. Lesson one: God speaks to us in a variety of ways, consider them all.
Lesson number two available in this healing account comes from the role of the crowd. Given Bartimaeus’s inability to see, he relies more heavily than most on input and information from those around him. It is the crowd gathered in the street that identifies the presence of Jesus passing by, the crowd that initially instructs Bartimaeus to be silent, and the crowd that encourages him later in the story. It should come as no secret that we are not undertaking a solo journey towards the Kingdom of God as Catholics. Our relationship with God is personal, of course, but also profoundly communal. We rely on others to develop and form our relationship with God in myriad ways. Discernment of our calling is no exception—we rightly lean on the advice and guidance of those around us to help us in our determination of God’s unique call in our life. In some cases, this is as simple as a friend offering words of wisdom. In others, such as in the case of one discerning a call to the diocesan priesthood, it involves the Church formally accepting or disagreeing with your personal discernment. Lesson two: When determining who God is calling you to be, don’t try to do it alone.
Lesson number three might at first sound like a stretch. Still, we should never forget that even the most seemingly minute details in scripture often have a serious rhetorical purpose behind them. The previously mentioned crowd, when encouraging Bartimaeus, says, “Take courage, get up, Jesus is calling you.” To be sure, it’s good advice, but also interesting is the order in which it happens. We typically might think that first, one would recognize the call of Christ and then take courage and finally be redeemed. This is not what happens; Bartimaeus is instead instructed to be filled with courage, then rise, and only then recognize the call. A professor once told me that “praxis precedes theory”; in other words, you cannot fully comprehend the call of Christ until after you begin following him. Lesson three: Don’t wait to know where you’re going to start following Jesus.
The fourth lesson is a common and uncomplicated one. Bartimaeus rises and throws down his cloak. As most of us have undoubtedly heard in countless homilies, the cloak was where a person would keep his money and the object upon which he would sleep and be protected from the elements. To throw down the cloak is to give up all personal security and entrust oneself entirely to the Lord. It’s not easy to make ourselves vulnerable, but it is a necessary step if we truly wish to become the person we are called to be. It’s a risk, but most things worthwhile are. Lesson four: To follow Jesus’ call, you will, at some point, have to take a chance.
Lesson five ties this week’s Gospel together with last week’s. In both readings, Jesus asks his interlocutor a simple question: “What do you want me to do for you?” James and John provide an unsatisfactory answer, “to sit at your right and your left”, which indicates a basic misunderstanding of all they had been taught. Bartimaeus, however, when asked this same question responds, “Rabbouni, I want to see”. Rather than seeking glory and honor, he wants only to know Christ better–to “see” him. There are all sorts of things we work for in our lives without ever stopping to ask what it is we are seeking. We put ourselves on autopilot without ever asking why we are looking for that next thing in our lives, the promotion, the raise, the relationship, etc. If we truly wish to discern God’s call we must first ask ourselves what desires underlie our goals, what we are truly looking for from Jesus. It is difficult to discern God’s desire for us if we are not even sure what our own desires are. Lesson five: Switch off the autopilot and ask the deeper questions, “What do I want Jesus to do for me?”
Our Gospel ends in the perfect place, with Bartimaeus, now able to see, following Jesus. This becomes our final lesson. Ultimately there is one vocation, one universal call to holiness, one objective for the faithful: to follow Christ. Whether we are called to be a sister, monk, priest, wife, father, plumber, or astronaut, in the end, each of us is simply following Christ. Whatever our state in life, whatever our situation, may we have the grace to respond to the presence of Christ in our lies as Bartimaeus did, by seeing him and following where he leads.
Fr. Alex Roche is the pastor of St. Maria Goretti Catholic Church in Laflin, Pennsylvania and serves as the director of vocations for the Diocese of Scranton. Ordained in 2012, he has a Licentiate in Sacred Theology from the Pontifical Lateran University. He went to college with a girl who went to high school with the niece of the guy who played Al in Quantum Leap.
You can listen to his podcast at www.wadicherith.com.