The curtain-raiser – well, the first part – is almost ready to go... beyond that, just get ready: while every day on this beat can't always be Christmas, here comes 10 straight days of it. Indeed, after three years of prep stretching across two pontificates, only now is it all starting to feel real.
More on the other side of a nap, but in the meantime the schedule and just-published Visit Missal are worth brushing up on... and to start putting things in perspective, we bring you the following Ecclesial Service Announcement from the impending Visitor himself, given off-the-cuff in July to the clergy and religious of Bolivia:
In the Gospel of Mark we also heard the experience of another disciple, Bartimaeus, who joined the group of Jesus’ followers. He became a disciple at the last minute. This happened during the Lord’s final journey, from Jericho to Jerusalem, where he was about to be handed over. A blind beggar, Bartimaeus sat on the roadside – greater exclusion than this is difficult to imagine – and he was pushed aside. When he heard Jesus passing by, he began to cry out, he made himself heard, rather like the young Sister who played the drums and made herself heard, saying “I am here!”. Congratulations Sister: you play very well....The point of the exercise is the heart of everything that's to come: may these days be a time of "rootedness" and a moment of grace and embrace for us all.... In other words, whatever you do, don't "zap" your way through it.
There were three responses to the cry of the blind man and today these three responses are also relevant. We can describe them with three phrases taken from the Gospel: “pass by”, “be quiet”, “take heart and get up”.
“They passed by”. Some of those who passed by did not even hear his shouting. They were with Jesus, they looked at Jesus, they wanted to hear him. But they were not listening. Passing by is the response of indifference, of avoiding other people’s problems because they do not affect us. It is not my problem. We do not hear them, we do not recognize them. Deafness. Here we have the temptation to see suffering as something natural, to take injustice for granted. And yes, there are people like that: I am here with God, with my consecrated life, chosen by God for ministry and yes, it is normal that there are those who are sick, poor, suffering, and it is so normal that I no longer notice the cry for help. To become accustomed. We say to ourselves, “This is nothing unusual; this were always like this, as long as it does not affect me”. It is the response born of a blind, closed heart, a heart which has lost the ability to be touched and hence the possibility to change. How many of us followers of Christ run the risk of losing our ability to be astonished, even with the Lord? That wonder we had on the first encounter seems to diminish, and it can happen to anyone. Indeed it happened to the first Pope: “Whom shall we go to Lord? You have the words of eternal life”. And then they betray him, they deny him, the wonder fades away. It happens when we get accustomed to things. The heart is blinded. A heart used to passing by without letting itself be touched; a life which passes from one thing to the next, without ever sinking roots in the lives of the people around us, simply because it is part of the elite who follow the Lord.
We could call this “the spirituality of zapping”. It is always on the move, but it has nothing to show for it. There are people who keep up with the latest news, the most recent best sellers, but they never manage to connect with others, to strike up a relationship, to get involved, even with the Lord whom they follow, because their deafness gets worse.
You may say to me, “But those people in the Gospel were following the Master, they were busy listening to his words. They were intent on him.” I think that this is one of the most challenging things about Christian spirituality. The Evangelist John tells us, “How can you love God, whom you do not see, if you do not love your brother whom you do see?” (1 Jn 4:20). They believed that they were listening to the Master, but they also made their own interpretation, and the words of the Master are distilled by their blinded hearts. One of the great temptations we encounter on the path as we follow Jesus is to separate these two things, listening to God and listening to our brothers and sisters, both of which belong together. We need to be aware of this. The way we listen to God the Father is how we should listen to his faithful people. If we do not listen in the same way, with the same heart, then something has gone wrong.
To pass by, without hearing the pain of our people, without sinking roots in their lives and in their world, is like listening to the word of God without letting it take root and bear fruit in our hearts. Like a tree, a life without roots is one which withers and dies....
And now, back to the prep.