Sunday, October 28, 2012

In Order

   Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time   B 

It’s good to be back!
To answer everyone’s question at once:
Yes, we had a wonderful trip!
As most of you know,
last Sunday morning I was in Rome
as Pope Benedict XVI canonized seven new saints for the Church.
I made the journey in particular for the one
who is most familiar to us here in the North Country,
but whose name was the most difficult of the bunch to pronounce:
Saint Kateri Tekakwitha,
or as her Mohawk people say it,
'gaderi degaˈgwit-ha.

I suspect you know 
the general lines of her life’s story.
She was born near Albany in 1656.
A smallpox outbreak when she was very young
killed her brother and both her parents,
leaving Kateri still alive 
but severely scarred and nearly blind.
She first encountered Jesuit missionaries 
in her late teens,
and was baptized at the age twenty.
Facing persecution for her newfound faith,
she moved to a settlement of Christian Mohawks outside of Montréal.
There she died in 1680 at the age of 24.

What’s in that unusual name?
Kateri—a shortened form of Catherine—
is the Christian name she was given at her baptism.
But Tekakwitha is another story.
It’s the Mohawk nickname she bore since childhood,
and it can mean several things.
It means, “one who feels her way ahead,”
or, “she who bumps into things”—
clear references to her impaired vision.
But it can also mean, “one who moves things before her,”
or, “she who puts thing in order.”

That tongue-twisting name—Tekakwitha—
sheds light on this Sunday’s gospel,
and on what it means for our lives.

A motorist with poor eyesight 
was driving through dense fog
and was trying desperately to stay within sight
of the taillights of the car ahead of him.  
As he squinted and worried his way along,
closely following those taillights 
on every twist and turn,
the car in front suddenly stopped,
and the man hit it from behind.  
He got out from his car 
and demanded to know why the other driver 
came to such an abrupt stop. 
“I had to,” he replied.  
“I pulled into my garage!”

We all have had the experience of trying to find our way in the dark.
Maybe it was because of a power outage.
Maybe it was a nighttime trip to the bathroom.
Maybe we were sneaking in after curfew.
Most of us can find our way OK in the dark…
…just as long as everything is in it’s proper place.
One toy or shoe or piece of furniture out of order,
and we pretty quickly start to stumble.
(That was the case
when making my way to the window early Friday morning
to find out what all the sirens in the neighborhood were about.
As if my jetlag wasn’t enough, a laundry basket nearly did me in!)

Figures like Bartimaeus in the gospel
and our new saint, Kateri,
remind us that there is a manner of seeing far more essential
than that of the two eyes in our heads.
Notice the movement of the blind beggar in the gospel.
We first find him seated by the roadside:
he’s immobile; he’s stuck; he cannot find his own way.
But as soon as he knows that Jesus is calling him,
he springs to his feet—even before his sight is restored.
Faith had saved his soul though it has yet to heal his eyes.
He begins to follow Jesus before he can see the way.
Likewise, while Tekakwitha may have tripped about the village,
shielding her sensitive eyes from the burning, bright sun,
she certainly wasn’t stumbling along the pathways of the spirit.
She had come to know the Lord
who makes sense of this often topsy-turvy world,
who alone can put our lives in proper order.

Many people today needlessly bump into things.
In these foggy, confusing times, they try to find their way alone.
But rather than making true progress,
they instead wander about in circles—
or end up stuck along the side of the road.
A recent survey confirmed
that the fastest growing religious group in the U.S.
is the “nones”—not the Grey Nuns or the Ursuline Nuns,
but those who have no religious affiliation at all.
How crucial, then, for us to make every effort to know our faith,
and to love our faith, and to live our faith in joy!
Yes, faith is an exercise of the mind.
If we’re going to live according to our creed,
then we must first be sure to understand it.
But even more: faith is the vision of the heart.
Faith is in-sight,
recognizing in Jesus the only one who can save us:
the high priest 
who alone can bridge the gap of sin
between God and man, 
between heaven and earth.
Following Jesus in faith
means staying close to him in the sacraments,
especially Eucharist and Penance—
coming to Mass and going to confession—
visible means by which he has promised
to remain close and present to us.
Following Jesus in faith
means living according to his teaching,
which is handed on in each new generation 
by his Church.
Along the twisting, turning pathways of life,
we must trustingly stay within sight 
of these taillights,
only stopping when the Lord has led us home.

Faith isn’t simply an intellectual experience:
to grasp a concept or to pass a test.
Faith grows out of a personal encounter—
out of meeting God face-to-face.
It is God’s stated desire to heal us.
“What do you want me to do for you?” the Lord asks.
Have we tripped and stumbled in the dark enough
to recognize our blindness, our weakness,
our inability to fix things for ourselves?
Only then can we acknowledge and state our need for healing.
(You can’t really believe in a Savior, after all,
unless you first believe that you need to be saved.)
With Bartimaeus, with Saint Kateri Tekakwitha,
let us respond to the Lord’s call:
Master, increase my faith!
Master, put my world in order!
Master, I want to see!

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