Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino
Thirtieth Sunday: Some Stories of Trust
In the light of the baseball season in the middle of the playoffs, I thought I'd begin with a little story that combines sports and one of the themes of today's Gospel.
There was an elderly lady named Miss Nancy Jones, who lived in a small Midwestern community. She had the notoriety of being the oldest resident of the town. She was well into her nineties. No one knew of a time that she wasn’t in the town. But no one really knew her. She was very much a loner. She wouldn’t let anyone know her. She didn’t want to bet be bothered with people. She felt it was just too risky. You can get hurt when you deal with people, you know. She would do her shopping, and talk to as few people as possible. She rarely opened her door for anyone. Sometimes people left her a note inviting her to Thanksgiving Dinner, or a Church social or something, but she would just ignore the invitation. Well, one day someone noticed that her newspapers had piled up on her doorstep. He called the police to investigate, and, sadly, they found that poor old Miss Jones died.
Now the editor of the local newspaper wanted to print a little caption noting Miss Jones' death. After all, she had been the oldest person in town. However, the more he thought about it, the more he became aware that no one knew anything about her. While he was worrying about what he should write, the editor went down to the local Starbucks to have his morning coffee. There he came upon the owner of the tombstone establishment. The editor asked him what he was going to put on Miss Jones' tombstone. "I haven't a clue," the man said. "She was the oldest person in town. We should have more than just the dates of her life on the tombstone, but I don't know what to put. You're the journalist. You or your people at the paper should be able to come up with something. I'll put the epitaph you come up with for the paper on the tombstone."
The editor decided that he had spent enough time on this. So he determined that when he got back to his office he would assign the first reporter he came across the task of writing a few lines suitable for both the paper and the tombstone. Well, when he got to the office, the first person he saw was a young college student who was interning to be a sports writer. The editor, didn't care, he gave the intern the job.
Now I am told that if you go to that small community and find Miss Jones’ place in the cemetery, you'll read the following on her tombstone:
"Here lies the bones of Nancy Jones,
For her life held no terrors.
She trusted no one,
She died all alone,
No hits, no runs, no errors."
It’s a sad story. She would not take risks; so she died all alone.
Blind Bartimaeus took a risk. He heard that this Messiah, this Jesus, was approaching, so he took the risk of calling out to him. Other's tried to quiet Bartimaeus, but what he lacked in eyesight he made up for in lungs. He just called louder. According to the Gospel reading, Jesus heard Bartimaeus, and then told his disciples to bring him over to him. At first, Bartimaeus hesitated, but then he took a step of trust in the Lord. He threw off his cloak and went to Jesus. This throwing off his cloak might not seem significant to us, but it was an action that was full of meaning. Bartimaeus' cloak was his mat, his bed, his warmth, his security blanket, and his one possession. To let it go was to let go of everything he depended on and to trust in the Lord. Bartimaeus let go and let God. And Jesus rewarded his trust, his faith, with sight.
Bartimaeus wasn't just given eyesight. He saw the Work of God. Jesus told him to "Go your way; your faith has saved you," but Bartimaeus didn't go. Instead he followed the Lord.
We are called out of our blindness into the light of the Lord. But to do this, we have to trust in God rather than in ourselves.
Many of you took a leap of trust when you fell in love and committed yourselves to that special person who became your husband or wife. For your love to grow, you know that you cannot hold on to any security other than simple faith, not just in your spouse but, more importantly, in the Lord. You have to have faith that He will help you to love as He loves. That is why it is so important that husbands and wives pray for each other and with each other and pray that they might respond to their vocation to marriage by being good husbands and wives.
Certainly, the raising of children demands trusting in the Lord. In this computer age, we check the Internet for the answers to all questions. The only thing is that raising children is not a scientific process. Children have souls, and personalities, and their own unique reflections of God. The closest thing to a handbook on how to raise a child properly is called the Bible. All parents find times that they are overwhelmed. It is a tremendous task to raise a child. You are called to form Christian children, capable of reflecting their unique images of God; yet you have to do this in a society that deifies materialism. You have to trust God to help you raise your children. Continue to pray for your children every day. Continue to ask God to help you be a good Mom, a good Dad, and trust Him.
Priests and religious had to take a step of blind faith in the Lord when they decided to embrace the yearning within them to serve God in these special ways. Our whole lives become a matter of just trusting in God. Sometimes that trust involves accepting new assignments. Sometimes that trust is as simple as saying you daily prayers and knowing that God will help you write the homily that His people need to hear.
A few years ago, one of the priests of our Diocese passed away after a brief sickness, Fr. Edward Wal. He was only 64. Some of you knew him. The story of his life beautifully illustrates trusting in the Lord. Fr. Wal was born in Poland. After he became a priest, he heard about the poor people in the mountains of Peru who had fervent faith but very few priests. So he asked his Archbishop to allow him to go to Peru. The Archbishop was hesitant, but he agreed. Fr. Wal didn’t even speak Spanish, but he taught himself the language. After a time in Lima, Peru, the Bishop there sent him to go high up into the Andes Mountains, about 12,000 to 16,000 feet, to be pastor of a parish that served 242 different native American communities. The villagers mainly spoke a derivative of the Inca language, so Fr. Wal had to learn that too. He spent many years with these people.
Then the troubles started. Communists tried to draw the people away from the faith and to join them in rebelling against the government. Two priests who opposed them were found dead, modern day martyrs. Fr. Wal was next on their list of priests they intended to kill. He had stood up against the communists and had endeared himself to his people. Most of the people were miners, but they had not been paid in nine months. This would have been a great argument for the communists, but Fr. Wal went to the city, found the owners of the minds, and convinced them to pay
the miners their back wages, which the poor people received just before Christmas. You can imagine their excitement. You can also see why the communists wanted him dead. Death threats were made. One of his catechists was murdered. Still, Fr. Wal refused to leave his parish. The Bishop in Lima felt obliged to contact Fr. Wal’s Archbishop in Poland to let him know about the situation. The Archbishop responded by demanding that Fr. Wal leave Peru. Two priests were dispatched to inform him that out of obedience, he could not stay. Another priest would take his place. Against his will, but trusting in God, Fr. Wal left, and ended up in Florida. He was always upset that he had to leave, but he also knew he had to trust in God. He was not blind to the call of the Lord not just to go to Peru, but to leave Peru when called.
I want to conclude by telling you another story. There once was a man named Nicholas who lived on a lovely island in the Mediterranean Sea. He loved this island with such a deep intensity that when he grew old his greatest joy was just walking along the water, looking at the sea, the beaches, the rocks, and the white washed houses. When the time came for Nicholas' life to end, he asked his sons to carry him outside and lay him on the ground. As he was about to die, he reached down by his side and clutched some earth in his hands. Nicholas died a happy man.
Now, immediately Nicholas reached the gates of heaven. God appeared to him in the guise of an old man with a long flowing beard. "Nicholas," said God, "you were a good man on earth, come into the joys of heaven." As they were about to enter the gates, God saw that Nicholas had soil in his hands, so he said, "Nicholas, you must let that soil go." "Never," said Nicholas. So God departed, leaving Nicholas standing outside the pearly gates, clutching his dirt.
After hundreds of heaven years went by, God came to Nicholas again, this time in the guise of one of Nicholas’ old friends. They talked about the good old days, and had a lot of laughs. Then God said, "All right, it's time to enter heaven, friend. Let's go." But Nichols said, "Not if I have to let go of the soil of my lovely island." And once more Nicholas was left standing outside the gates alone, holding firmly onto his precious dirt.
Hundreds of more heavenly years went by when God came to Nick again, this time in the guise of Nicholas’ beautiful and favorite granddaughter. She stepped outside the pearly gates and called, "Grandpa, Grandpa, I love you so much and miss you so much, I wish you were with us in heaven." At that, Nick's heart melted. He gave his granddaughter such a big hug that the soil of his island slipped threw his fingers. Then he walked through the pearly gates with his granddaughter.
The first thing he saw was his beautiful island.
To enjoy the wonders of God's love for us, we have to trust in Him.