26 May 2016
Memorial of Saint Philip Neri
We humans are blessed with the ability to think and to reason. It’s a unique gift that no other creature in the universe has. And our brains help us to see the “light of truth.” On the flip side, however, our ability to think through things can also lead us away from that light.
Now, Bartimaeus is a unique character in the Gospel of Mark—mostly because we’re told what his name is (it’s unusual for Mark to do that). And Bartimaeus’ name means, literally, “son of Timaeus.” And some scholars think there’s a connection to be made here between Bartimaeus and the Timaeus who is the title character of one of Plato’s writings. Timaeus gives one of the early accounts of how the created world works; he is a man of knowledge and thinking.
Perhaps Saint Mark is trying to say that Bartimaeus is a man whose background is strong in “thinking” and “reasoning.” But that, perhaps, he’s overused his brain, and has become blind to the “light of faith.” After all, it’s Bartimaeus’ faith which “saves him,” and allows him to see again.
And, actually, Saint Philip Neri had a similar experience. He studied philosophy and theology while in Rome, but then realized his studying was interfering with his ability to pray. And so, he set aside his intellectual search for knowledge, and relied simply on his faith to bring him to the light of truth.
These lessons from Scripture today are more important than we perhaps realize. In a few days we’ll be celebrating the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. And with that, we’ll be celebrating the central Mystery of Faith which can only be approached through faith. The Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist is both illogical and goes against the laws of nature. If we try to approach that mystery with our brains only, we’ll be blind like Bartimaeus, like much of the world today which relies only on hard science and provable facts, to the exclusion of faith.
We humans are blessed with the ability to think and to reason. It’s a wondrous gift. But an even more astounding gift is our gift of faith. If we want to see what Jesus proclaims to us, what he shares with us, what he promises us, then we have to reach out in real faith and say: “Jesus, Son of the Living God, help me to see. I want to see.”