Chaplain's Comments

One Monday, three priests, a Franciscan, a Dominican, and a Jesuit were having a hard time on the golf course. The golfers in front of the priests were the slowest and worst they had ever seen. Golf balls were going everywhere. Against golfing etiquette, the group never asked the priests to play through. By the eighteenth hole the priests were furious. At the clubhouse, just as they were going over to blast the group, they were told that the men were blind.

The Franciscan, moved with remorse at how they had spoken about the group, said to the Dominican and the Jesuit, "I am going to say Mass every day that God may grant them a miracle and restore their sight." The Dominican, equally filled with regret, told the Jesuit and the Franciscan that he was going to get the blind men an appointment with the best eye surgeon in town. The Jesuit, however, looked at the Franciscan and the Dominican and declared, "I can't see why they don't play at night!"

To have any type of disability in first-century Palestine not only meant financial hardship, but social segregation. Because Jesus' contemporaries did not understand the causes of disability and illness, they assumed it was, to some degree, a curse sent by God in punishment for sins. They also thought the curse could be caught. So the blind, the lame, the crippled, the leper, and the bleeder were desperately poor and socially outcast. Incredibly in our day, with all our supposed sophistication, some Christians have made similar statements about God cursing gay people with AIDS. Given the way Jesus acts toward the\ose he encounters with illness, we know that God never sends disease as a curse for sin.

Bartimaeus is sitting at the gate of the city, a good place to beg for alms. Sensing that a large crowd is passing through the gate and learning that at the centre is the miracle worker from Nazareth, he begins to make a great commotion and call upon Jesus to help. Like so many other desperate people in the Gospel, he has to surmount a barrier to have access to Jesus, the crowd and the disciples, who try to silence him, cry out and shoo him away. This discouragement only serves to make him cry out all the louder, until Jesus asks the blind man what it is he wants him to do for him.

As Bartimaeus considers his options, he hears the voices of those he might have to look at if he regains his sight. The poor remind him that 'once before you could see and what you saw disgusted you.' The hungry ask, "Do you have the courage to experience and share my hunger?" The elderly inquire whether he wants to see those "put away because we remind you of the frailty of life." The captives challenge him to see those "unjustly bound and oppressed." And finally the self wants to know," Are you willing to look inside yourself to see your beauty and ugliness, darkness and light?"

Today we are in the position of making choices about what we look at. Not everything in the world needs to be seen. There is enough violence and abuse of human dignity in real life to discourage us from seeking out most fictionalized portrayals of it. We cannot let ourselves off the hook in regard seeing the world as it is and doing something about creating a better vision of humanity for everyone, everywhere.

As we celebrate this week the journeyman saint St Francis Xavier SJ, a relic of his will tour our cathedral and churches in WA, prompting us to reflect on our own journeys today. In his own day when travellers braved poor diet, hygiene and the risk of disease, Francis Xavier faced the extraordinary in standing up to the colonizers who were only interested in the economic gain from new territories, and in accepting the difficult mission of the church to preach justice in the colonies especially to bring the good news to the orphan, the widow and the stranger in the Far East, a journey that took him to India, Indonesia, and Japan and around islands. He died while attempting another great journey to China, in the island of La Sanchian off the coast of China in 1552.

As we contemplate and revere this relic this week, says Frank Brennan SJ, we are invited to commit ourselves afresh to go to the frontiers, crossing the bridges of cultural and religious divides, and travelling into the often unmapped territory between faith and human knowledge, between faith and modern science, and between faith and the fight for justice.

Moving from physical boundaries and frontiers to existential and spiritual boundaries and frontiers, we do not stay focused on a moribund, severed arm. Rather we remember that Francis with this arm always pointed towards Christ, and always embraced all before him, especially the poorest of the poor.

We pray that like Francis we might fight the good fight, finish the race and keep the faith. (2 Tim 4:6-8) In these challenging times for our Church, let's recall that when the Counter-Reformation was celebrated with the canonisation of four saints in 1622, their number did not include any popes, cardinals or bishops. Teresa of Avila, Philip Neri, Ignatius Loyola and Francis Xavier led the Church through prayer and service.

We pray for the grace to respond accordingly to the great challenges confronting us in the world and within our suffering Church.

Fr Gaetan Pereira SJ
College Chaplain