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10/25/15 Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Fr. Reggie

Why does St Mark give so much attention to the blind man’s cloak?

St Mark makes a point of explaining that Bartimaeus “threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus.”

What’s the meaning of this seemingly insignificant detail? To get at it, we need first of all to understand the role of the cloak in ancient Palestine. It was heavy and thick, and it was also the most versatile item of Palestinian clothing at the time. It was protection against the rapid and frequent temperature changes, insulation against the harsh Judean winds, and at night it doubled as a blanket, especially for the poorer residents of the Holy Land, like Bartimaeus. For these reasons, and because St Mark highlights it so clearly, the Fathers of the Church have seen in this cloak a symbol of self- sufficiency, a symbol of our deep-seated tendency to think that we are capable of solving all of our problems on our own. The cloak symbolizes all those things that we wrongly depend on for happiness, that we tend to idolize: good looks, intelligence, athletic ability, money, good education, success, popularity...Following Christ, obeying his commandments and teachings, means putting these other things – good and valuable though they may be – into second place and trusting that friendship with God alone is the real source of the fulfillment we most yearn for.

Even before the blind man leaves his cloak behind, he shows that he has learned this lesson by his faith-filled persistence.

Everyone was discouraging him from putting his trust in God, but Bartimaeus refused to be silenced, and the heart of Christ didn’t let him down.

Some non-Catholic Christians don't believe in infant baptism. They consider baptism to be only the outward sign of an inward decision to follow Christ. And since infants do not yet have the use of their reason, they are incapable of making that decision. And so, these denominations argue, infants should not be baptized.

But the Catholic Church has always looked at it differently. We take what he said in the Gospels literally: "Let the little children come to me!" (Mark 10:14). And we recognize that nothing we can do, no decision we can make, no insight we can conjure up with our own intelligence, is able to redeem our souls and free us from sin. For that, only God's grace will suffice. And that grace is an entirely free gift from God – unconditional, available to all, won by the price paid on the cross by our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. And when we bring a helpless little baby to be baptized, that's what we are acknowledging.

Today, in this Mass, Jesus is passing by our lives, just as he passed by Bartimeaus on the streets of Jericho. And we, like the blind man, want to see him more clearly; we want to know him, and to know how to follow him more closely – that's why we came today. But to make that happen, we need to leave behind our cloak of self-sufficiency. There are two steps to doing that.

First, we have to identify what our cloak is.

We have to ask ourselves what finite thing we tend to idolize.

What do we tend to think will make us truly happy? A degree from the right college? A different job or a coveted contract? A secret pleasure? A promotion, recognition, or award? The perfect spouse? A paycheck, or a bigger paycheck? A football championship?

These are not evil things in themselves.

But if we expect them to fill the deepest part of our hearts, the part that only God can fill, we are idolizing them, and they will become a deadening straightjacket instead of a useful cloak.


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