Author: Fr. Mike Byron
October 28, 2018

I think the very best thing about “my job” is the endless parade of holy, inspiring people whom I have the honor to meet and to serve all the time.  One of them is named Mary and she lives in Bloomington.  She turns 95 years old this month, and I first met her when I was a brand new priest.  She and her husband Pete were daily Mass goers, who together raised ten children and who loved to laugh and party and relish great friends.  Mary still does.  Pete died a few years ago and I had the privilege of presiding at his funeral.  And the most amazing part of their story to me is that Mary is blind in one eye, and Pete was blind in both.  He never saw his wife, nor any of his children.  And their faith and their joy is absolutely extraordinary.  And I get to be a friend to that family.  How wonderful is that?  Pete was blinded in WWII when an explosive blew up in his hand while he was serving in Europe.  He was flown back to Washington, D.C. to recover from his injuries, and the hospital nurse who tended to him was Mary.  That’s how they met.

It was 27 years ago that one of their young adult children died from a horrible disease.  Because of Mary’s nursing background they were able to care for their son at home during his last days.  I was part of that process, and as it happened he died on my birthday.  Many never forgot that coincidence.  So every year since then she has gathered a bunch of friends to go out to lunch in order to celebrate “my day,” which we both know is really about their son’s day.  At one point a long time ago the guest list was about 50 people.  By now most of them have died or become disabled, so last month our gathering was about a dozen.  And it was as marvelous as ever.

I don’t believe in God because of theology books or catechisms.  I believe in God because of people like Mary and Pete and their children.  Mary is touring Ireland this month with one of her sons… a man whose own relatives sometimes mistake him for me—so handsomely Irish is he.
What a difference a week makes in the gospel reading at Mass.  Last weekend, if you recall, Jesus asked a question of his disciples James and John, specifically, “What is it you want me to do for you?”  In today’s gospel, just a few verses later, Jesus asks the blind man, Bartimeus, the very same question: “What do you want me to do for you?”  Last week the response was, “We want to be glorified with you in your kingdom.”  This week the response is quite different: “Master, I want to see.”  So what are we engaged in this quest for Jesus in order to do?  Is it about some sort of personal privilege or reward?  Or is it about learning how to see, learning what is true and right and good and beautiful in our world?  And what are our responsibilities for that?

James and John had it all wrong, and this nameless blind beggar Bartimeus—literally the “son of Timeus” in Hebrew—a person with no proper name of his own—had it all right.  His request was disarmingly simple:  Lord, I want to see.  Not merely in a physical, sensory meaning.  But I want to know how to live.  I want to know what is worthy of my passion and my sacrifice and my ultimate commitment, and what is just fleeting, disposable window dressing, passing decoration.  Do we assemble here each week for glory?  Or for vision?  The difference is everything.  
All of us are presented daily with the temptations to embrace something shallow as our life’s rewards: money, power, sex, material goods, reputation, control, bling.  That’s not what this gospel offers.  What it does offer is the ability to navigate the real experiences of our existence with a clear eye to what is enduringly important.

I’ll bet my great friends Mary and Pete prayed a lot for the gift of physical vision, which neither of them ever received.  But in the end they knew that it wasn’t eyesight which would define their lives and their relationship with God, or with others.  And we need to be clear about that too.


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