People of the 1980’s will be familiar with A-ha and their ground-breaking video of ‘Take On Me’ – which children of this generation might think of as dated or something like that. In the video Morten leaps into a comic-book story that he’s reading and becomes part of the action in it. Sometimes I find myself going into a picture that I’m looking at, though maybe not as vividly as Morten.
Yesterday, while celebrating Mass, a memory opened up in front of me right in front of the altar. I stepped into it and have been moving around in it ever since. It’s a memory of the Camino that began in the small village of Hornillos del Camino.
I got up at 6.30am. It was a Sunday and I really wanted a place, a church in which I could celebrate Mass because I was frustrated by the number of churches that were locked along the way. I told this to God and an inner voice suggested "the Lord will provide!" It's the word that came to Abraham when young Isaac wondered where they would find a sacrifice - the Lord will provide was Abraham's reply. He did! And Abraham is part of this particular journey of mine so I trust!
Along the way I stopped to watch the morning sky and prayed the rosary sitting on a rock. It was beautiful. Further on up the hill I came on Becky & Mark who were sitting eating oranges which they shared with me. Then came the young man Bilal with his long stride. His name means "clear water" and he was doing the Camino on a shoe-string which might not last as far as Santiago and if he runs out of money he said he would have to give up. I said to him "God will provide!"
In the village of Hontanas at 11.30 the people were emerging from the church after Mass and I thought I've just missed my chance because they lock the churches immediately after Mass. But a bold streak came into me and I walked up to the sacristy where the priest was preparing to leave and when I asked if I could celebrate Mass he said "of course". A very welcoming, kind man who had great respect for the pilgrim. It meant he had to tell the sacristan to keep the church open which she wasn’t too pleased about because she probably wanted to get home to cook the dinner.
Bilal was standing at the back of the church and asked if he could stay. He explained that he was neither Christian nor Catholic and I said he was welcome but asked him to go back up the road to call the others – especially Mark and Becky who are committed Christians and I felt they would welcome some form of worship on a Sunday.
When the group arrived, we made an interesting congregation - a Moslem, a Jew, two Episcopalians, two or three Catholics, a Scotswoman, Hungarian, American, Israeli, Dutch, Irish. A nice mix of humanity! I said to them that they probably wouldn’t understand what I was doing in the Mass but they could pray in their own way.
Bilal told me later that, while he was waiting outside the church for the others, a woman came up to him and gave him bread and he thought of the promise "God will provide!" For him the bread of the woman was the fulfilment of the promise; for me Mass in a church was the fulfilment of the same promise of God.
Bilal and I met maybe a couple of other times along the way but the great thing is that he made it all the way to Santiago, didn’t have to abandon his pilgrimage because Providence looked after him in different ways through different people along the way.
Last night I sent him a message to say I was thinking of him. We might have contacted each other two or three times in the intervening seven years. He wrote back to speak of the pure beauty and the everlasting mark that we have been in each other’s lives.
God will provide! This is what we witness with Jesus and the blind beggar man in Mark’s Gospel chapter 10. And I’m thinking of the old hymn – reach out and touch the Lord as he goes by. You will find he’s not to busy to hear your heart cry. He is passing by this moment!
But Jesus is not passing by. He is on a journey, on the road that leads into our lives and He stops on the road in the place where we are and He is attentive to the cry that emerges from us. Jesus Son of David have pity on me!
Jesus is God providing. In Him God is looking after our life situations but we encounter obstacles. For Bartimaeus, the people in front of him are obstacles. They tell him to be quiet. They try to silence the cry.
Who or what in my life, in yours, is trying to silence the cry, the genuine prayer that we are trying to make to God. Who or what is blocking my way to Jesus? We have to deal with these because Jesus is our destiny and we should not allow anyone or any thing block our way to Him. And it is important that we try as much as we can to keep or focus on Jesus rather than on the people who may be making life difficult for us.
Bartimaeus has his own obstacles, things in his life that are a hindrance in his approach to Jesus. These are represented by his cloak – “throwing off his cloak, he jumped up and went to Jesus!”
So, what is it within myself that I need to throw off in order to get to Jesus, to that particular blessing that He is providing for my life right now?
There are of course the positive voices, people and situations that encourage me towards Jesus. “Courage”, they said, “He is calling you!” These we need to acknowledge, ponder and treasure. They are the amazing grace of God in our lives.
And then, when we come face to face with Jesus, He asks the question, “What do you want me to do for you?” The honest answer lies differently within each one of us, an answer, a cry that we have to uncover in order to move forward or if we can’t uncover it at least allow it to surface under the influence of the Holy Spirit.
And within each of us there exists another obstacle – that of our expectations. Something in us usually wants all of it now but the lesson I learned with Bilal is that God doesn’t usually give the whole lot all at once. He gives piece by piece, day by day, a step at a time and this requires trust on our part as well as the capacity for surprise.
God will provide in one way or another. Jesus comes in one way or another and, even though Bilal is not a Christian, I believe that we were Jesus to each other in that moment along the road.
As a priest I have come to understand that my place in life is what is written in the letter to the Hebrews - to live in the limitations of weakness and act on behalf of people in their relationship with God by hearing their cry and pointing them in the direction of Jesus. (Hebrews 5:1-6)