“We want to see. Help us to see.”

Homily reflects on violence in Pittsburgh synagogue

By Rev. Tom Roach, S.J.

Rev. Thomas Roach, S.J., associate university chaplain, delivered this homily at Mass in the Alumni Memorial Chapel on Sunday, Oct. 28, 2018.

How do we relate to the blind beggar Bartimaeus whom we encounter in today’s Gospel? As far as I know, all of us have been gifted with sight. We might have someone in our family or among our friends who is blind or partially blind, but it is difficult for us to imagine what it meant for the man on the Jericho road to recover his sight. It seems that at some point in his life he had lost his sight—either through accident or disease. He was not able to read or write. He could not work with his hands. Since he had no way to support himself, he became a beggar. He stayed by the side of the road so that he would not get in people’s way.

In today’s episode the crowd found him intrusive when he shouted out to Jesus and interrupted his journey. The crowd told him to shut up. But he would not, and Jesus heard him. He paid attention to him, sent for him, asked him what he could do for him…and cured him. Then Bartimaeus followed Jesus down the road—literally, and probably as a disciple.

Back to Bartimaeus and ourselves. Bartimaeus was physically blind, but I would say that the people who told him to keep quiet and keep his distance were also blind—just in a different way, perhaps we would say spiritually blind. To him he was a nuisance, a misfit, and a nobody. They dehumanized him.

Yesterday, at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, 11 worshipers were murdered. Last Wednesday two African-Americans were murdered in a food store in Kentucky. Whether we are Catholics or not, whether we are Americans or not, we have to ask ourselves if some kind of communal blindness has affected this country we care about.

Let’s also think about the thousands of men, women, and children from Central America making their way to our southern border. How are they seen and talked about? Are not anti-Semitism and racism and all the other ISMS which afflict our country and our world forms of blindness?

Perhaps we need to look with new eyes at one of our most fundamental faith convictions. Every human being began as a dream of God and in time was created by God. Created in God’s image and likeness. Of inestimable value. Loved by God with a love that is tender, unconditional, and forever. That’s the identity of every one of us on the face of the earth.

I would like to conclude with a brief story, and it seems appropriate that it comes from the Jewish tradition.

An aged rabbi once asked his students how they could tell when the night had ended and the day had begun.

“Could it be,” asked one of the students, “When you see an animal in the distance and can tell whether it is a sheep or a dog?”

“No,” answered the rabbi.

“Then when is it?” the students demanded.

And the rabbi replied: “It is when you look on the face of any man or woman and see that it is your brother or sister, because if you cannot see this, it is still night.”

Today, in this place and at this hour we pray to Jesus with Bartimaeus and, like him, we pray insistently: “I want to see.”

We want to see. Help us to see.

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