Gospel: Then Jesus took unto him the twelve, and said to them: Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and all things shall be accomplished which were written by the prophets concerning the Son of man. For he shall be delivered to the Gentiles, and shall be mocked, and scourged, and spit upon: And after they have scourged him, they will put him to death; and the third day he shall rise again. And they understood none of these things, and this word was hid from them, and they understood not the things that were said. Now it came to pass, when he drew nigh to Jericho, that a certain blind man sat by the way side, begging. And when he heard the multitude passing by, he asked what this meant. And they told him, that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by. And he cried out, saying: Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me. And they that went before, rebuked him, that he should hold his peace: but he cried out much more: Son of David, have mercy on me. And Jesus standing, commanded him to be brought unto him. And when he was come near, he asked him, Saying: What wilt thou that I do to thee? But he said: Lord, that I may see. And Jesus said to him: Receive thy sight: thy faith hath made thee whole. And immediately he saw, and followed him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God. (Luke 18:31–43)
Pray Without Ceasing The 18th chapter of Saint Luke, from which today's Gospel is taken, is all about prayer: the prayer without ceasing of which the importunate widow is an example; the prayer of the publican that is a cry rising from the depths of the heart; the prayer of the blind man, insistent, persevering, confident. Set into this treatment of prayer, we find Our Lord's words on spiritual childhood; on renouncing all things so as to prefer nothing whatsoever to Him; and on the great mystery of His own passion, death, and resurrection. The Holy Ghost, suggesting, prompting, and instructing us by means of the liturgy would, I think, have us take the 18th chapter of Saint Luke as the ground of our prayer today. For us monks, at, least, fragments of the 18th chapter of St Luke will have accompanied us in the Divine Office all through the day, from Lauds this morning until Vespers this evening.
Introit: Be Thou unto me a God, a Protector, and a place of refuge, to save me: for Thou are my strength and my refuge: and for Thy Name's sake Thou wilt lead me, and nourish me. V. In Thee, O Lord, have I hoped, let me never be confounded: deliver me in Thy justice, and save me. (Psalm 30:3–4)
Thou Wilt Lead Me and Nourish Me Let us, for a moment, however, look at the Mass given us today. The Introit is a development of the blind man's cry to Jesus. The blind man, like the publican who appears in the same chapter of Saint Luke, repeats insistently: "Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me". This is a complete prayer. It asks for all that one could possibly need or want, for when Our Lord shows us mercy, He makes Himself a physician to the sick, a fountain of pure water to the unclean, a radiant light to the blind, a munificent Lord dispensing good things to the poor and needy. The Introit takes the blind man's concise little prayer — immense in meaning and in consequences — and tells us what the blind man leaves unsaid: "Be thou unto me a God, a protector, and a house of refuge, to save me. For thou art my strength and my refuge; and for thy name' s sake thou wilt lead me, and nourish me" (Psalm 30:3–4).
Epistle: Brethren, If I speak with the tongues of men and of Angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal. And if I should have prophecy, and should know all mysteries and all knowledge: and if I should have all faith so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And if I should disribute all my goods to feed the poor, and if I should deliver my body to be burned and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing. Charity is patient, is kind: Charity envieth not, dealing not perversely, is not puffed up, is not ambitious, seeketh not her own, is not provoked to anger, thinketh no evil, rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth with the truth: beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never falleth away: whether prophecies shall be made void, or tongues shall cease, or knowledge shall be destroyed. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, that which is in part shall be done away. When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child. But when I became a man, I put away the things of a child. We see now through a glass in a dark manner: but then face to face. Now I know in part: but then I shall know even as I am known. And now there remain faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity. (Corinthians 13:1–13)
Face to Face Even the Epistle gives us a sense of what the blind man's experience was: "We see now through a glass in a dark manner; but then face to face" (1 Corinthians 13:12). Upon recovering his sight, the first thing that came into focus for him was the Face of Jesus. This is what always happens when a man perseveres in prayer; the Face of Jesus comes into focus until, at length, it fills the soul's entire field of vision.
Gradual: Thou art the God that alone doest wonders: Thou hast made Thy power known among the nations. With Thine arm Thou hast delivered Thy people, the children of Israel and of Joseph. ((Psalm 76:15–16)
Tract: Sing joyfully to God, all the earth: serve ye the Lord with gladness. Come in before His presence with exceeding great joy: know ye that the Lord He is God. He made us, and not we ourselves: but we are His people and the sheep of His pasture. (Psalm 99:1–2)
The God That Doth Wonders The Gradual and the Tract forecast the conclusion of the Gospel. "And immediately he saw, and followed him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God" (Luke 18:43). The Gradual and the Tract are, in effect, the blind man's thanksgiving for his recovery of sight: "Thou art the God that dost wonders. Thou hast made thy power known among the nations" (Psalm 76:15), and "Sing joyfully to God, all the earth: serve ye the Lord with gladness. Come in before his presence with exceeding great joy" (Psalm 99:2).
Offertory: Blessed art Thou, O Lord, teach me Thy justifications: with my lips I have pronounced all the judgments of Thy mouth. (Psalm 118:12–13)
Teach Me The Offertory Antiphon is, again, the prayer of this man who has just received his sight. What is he going to do with the life that has been given to him, a new life, a life in the light, a life with eyes to see? And so he prays, and we with him: "Blessed art thou, O Lord: teach me thy justifications" (Psalm 118:12).
Communion: They did eat, and were filled exceedingly, and the Lord gave them their desire: they were not defrauded of that which they craved. (Psalm 77:29–30)
Come to the Father The Communion Antiphon, strangely, at a first glance, makes no reference to the Gospel. One would have expected an antiphon relating what transpired between the blind man and Jesus but, instead, we are given a antiphon that relates a miraculous food from heaven, the manna that God provided for his people in their desert journey. The people of Israel were on march towards the promised land, having a pillar of cloud to guide them by day, and a pillar of fire to give them light by night (Exodus 13:21). The journey of the Israelites continues in that of the man to whom Jesus gave sight. Saint Luke makes a point of saying, "And immediately, he saw and followed Him, glorifying God" (Luke 18:43). In the Christian life, there is no standing still, because even in the deep stillness of prayer, where our disordered movements and frenzied thoughts are quieted, there is a movement out of self and into God, a following after Jesus into the bosom of the Father. Paradoxically, just when one thinks that one has arrived, an abyss of light opens and the Holy Ghost whispers, Veni ad Patrem, "Come to the Father".
In the end, the blind man's persevering, relentless, insistent prayer — and ours — obliges Jesus to say, "What wilt thou that I do to thee?" And what does the blind man respond, what can we respond, if not, "Lord, that I may see"? This simple prayer opens onto things that we can neither imagine nor fathom. Blessed Elisabeth of the Trinity evokes it:
O my Three, my All, my Beatitude, infinite Solitude, Immensity in whom I lose myself, I give myself to you as a prey to be consumed; enclose yourself in me that I may be absorbed in you so as to contemplate in your light the abyss of your Splendour.
So as to contemplate in your light the abyss of your Splendour . . .