On Priesthood and Humility and Healing

by Jen Owens

These readings fall on the same weekend as the diaconate ordination of my Jesuit colleagues who are in formation here at the Jesuit school in Berkeley. So the Second Reading feels particularly prescient. It describes the characteristics of a good priest–one who is humble and patient with others because of an awareness of one’s own shortcomings and weaknesses, one who is “called by God.” As much as I celebrate the ordination to the transitional diaconate of my Jesuit colleagues, I am equally pained by the absence of women I have known who have shared with me their own callings to priesthood, also called by God but with little recourse within the Catholic tradition as it stands.

These things fresh in my mind, I turn my attention to the Gospel for the week. Here we come across Mark’s telling of the healing of the blind man, Bartimaeus. When we meet Bartimaeus, he is at the side of the road, begging for food. When he learns that Jesus is nearing, he cries out, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me!” Although the crowds that accompany Jesus try to quiet him, he persists, “Son of David, have pity on me!” Jesus stops, tells the crowd to call him over, and Bartimaeus “threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus.” Jesus asks Bartimaeus what he seeks, and Bartimaeus replies, “Master, I want to see.” And Jesus responds, “Go your way; your faith has saved you.” But Bartimaeus does not go on his own way. He follows Jesus instead.

What strikes about this passage on the heels of my experiences this weekend is the humility that the blind man has. It’s the kind of humility, of awareness of our humanity and our weakness, to which all of us are called. As I pray over and reflect upon the news that came out of the Vatican this past week, I am struck by how much our tradition’s leadership desperately needs the kind of humility that Bartimaeus demonstrates in the Gospel. His disability brings him face-to-face with his need for Jesus, a Christ who is moved by the persistent presence of those whom society outcasts, sees as filled with sin, and ultimately rejects. If the leadership of our tradition is to live into the reality of this Gospel, they need to convert from their sin of exclusion. Are they to be like the crowds, who tell the outcast to hush? Or will they follow the example of Bartimaeus who, aware of his frailty, comes to Jesus for healing. If we as a Catholic community are being honest with ourselves, we are sharply divided, desperately in need of the healing that the humble Bartimaeus seeks.

So my prayer for the church today is this. That we may embrace the example of the humble Bartimaeus, clinging to the Jesus whose heart he touched, to the Christ who can heal us. Amen.

Jen Owens is a first-year doctoral student in systematic and philosophical theology at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, CA. She is one of the co-editors of From the Pews in the Back.

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