What do you want me to do for you?
This question posed to Bartimaeus by Jesus is also asked of us: what do I want Jesus to do for me? If we truly have the faith of the blind man, our inner longings will be satisfied. However, do we really know what we want Jesus to do for us?
There is an old saying, “be careful of what you ask for, you may get more than you bargained for.” A teenager may ask to have a car but then end up with a clunker. A man may desire a trophy wife and end up with a shrew. A woman may ask for a promotion and end up getting unwanted attention about her personal life.
Of course God is not capricious like humans. He would not give us something that would harm us. God wants to give us good things. However, we need to ask in a responsible manner. Also, our request may take some time. A case in point: I remember when I was a child and my mother watched religious programming on TV. One TV preacher suggested that if you pray for anything, God will give it to you. So, we prayed to get a Cadillac (Dad did not participate in this endeavor). Of course, the Cadillac never appeared. However, many years later, as Secretary to the Cardinal and to the Archbishop, I drove a Lincoln Town Car (as a chauffeur). So, God does have a sense of humor.
A couple of lessons can be learned from this. First, the prayer was misbegotten: we were praying for a material possession which we really didn’t need. We were treating God as a kind of Daddy Warbucks. Second, God did answer the prayer, just not in the way or in the time in which it was expected. In contrast, Bartimaeus prayed for pity from Jesus, then he asked for the gift of sight. Jesus granted his request because it was not out of line nor was the request of a selfish nature. Moreover, it was the faith of Bartimaeus that saved him. Finally, his response is quite telling: after receiving back his sight, he followed Jesus on the way.
Whatever we pray for should lead us closer to the Lord. And our response to having received what we asked for in prayer should be a deepening of our faith. Getting a Cadillac in the mid-1970s probably would not have led me closer to God.
On this priesthood Sunday, the responsorial psalm “The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy” is most appropriate. For 19 years, the Lord has been with me throughout my priestly vocation. When I told my father that I was entering the seminary he asked me, “Are you going to be happy?” My response at the time was, “If I don’t like it, I’ll leave.” Well, one month turned into one year and so on until June 12, 1993, I was one of 11 priests ordained for the Archdiocese of Detroit.
In these past 19 years I’ve never regretted my decision and by and large, I’m happy. A few weeks ago, we heard Jesus telling his disciples that those who have given up family and possessions for the sake of God’s Kingdom will receive blessings many times over. In my case this is true. As an only child, I never had siblings. As a priest I have hundreds of brothers, some of whom are much closer to me than a sibling would have been. As a child I lived in one house. At one time when I was the Cardinal’s secretary, professor at the Seminary, and weekend assistant at a parish, I had five places to call “home” (but most of the time, I felt as if I were living out of a suitcase).
Over the past 19 years, I have received many blessings and experiences which have helped me to grow as a person and as a priest. And those blessings continue as I now serve as a Pastor. I want to thank those who have helped me to become a better priest. I tell married couples that they are responsible for helping their spouse to get into heaven. In an analogous way, a priest and his parishioners have a similar relationship: a pastor’s role is to lead his parishioners closer to Christ while parishioners help the priest to be a better representation of Christ as an alter Christus. In other words, we must support one another in our quest for eternal life.