“Master, I want to see” Popular Devotions and the Gift of Sight – By Dr. Francisco Castillo

The Scriptures are filled with images and stories of people who need to see in order to believe. In the Gospels we read of many instances where Jesus healed the blind. Those whom Jesus healed received their sight and came to believe in him. The power of these miracles lies in the fact that people were made whole again, and at the same time they have gained the spiritual sight that will lead them to gain Salvation from God.

Sight is a sense that is most essential in our lives. The Gospel writers were aware of how difficult life must have been for those who suffered from some type of physical impairment. In Jesus’ time, the blind and those who suffered from most types of physical and mental ailments, were cast out and neglected by society. The sacred writers use blindness as a metaphor for sin; not having the gift of sight makes it difficult to achieve the Salvation we all desire. Being blind is paramount to not being able to rise above the challenges and limitations we face in life. It means being trapped in a world of darkness that leads to despair. Yet, our sense of personal flourishing and a desire to overcome this darkness is present in our human condition.

When Jesus healed the blind, he did so because he perceived a sense, or a kernel of faith in those who could not see. Jesus was moved out of love and compassion to heal them by restoring their sight, granting them forgiveness of their sins, and by increasing their faith. These miracles of healing happened during an exchange, a conversation, or interaction between Jesus and the person afflicted. Such encounters or meetings took place because Jesus, who is God Incarnate, walked through the towns, villages, and cities. Indeed, he continues to do so today. These encounters were filled with meaning, imagery, and metaphor, as attested by many such stories in the Bible. They give us a glimpse of the early Church celebrating God’s healing in communal, public ceremonies and rituals.

One of my favorite passages in the Gospel of Mark is Mark 10:46-52, the story of Blind Bartimaeus. When I envision this story, I see a great procession. I see Jesus walking along through town with his disciples and a crowd of other followers and onlookers. The story of Bartimaeus is one that is rich with images and symbols, easily ritualized and performed in order to teach and to help people draw meaning from it. In a similar way, popular devotions – especially as they have traditionally been lived and celebrated in many countries – are the ritualization of biblical narratives to help educate, form, and catechize. Popular devotions provide a different way of living, transmitting, and celebrating the faith. These celebrations tend to be rich in tradition, art, music, and drama. They involve all of our senses, especially the sense of sight. In most cities of Latin America, for example, patronal feasts are celebrated with a procession. In these processions, people rely on the ocular, the dramatic and colorful depictions of sacred images of Saints, Christ, or the Virgin Mary to live and express their faith. People participate in popular devotions by contemplating the many colorful altars, Nativity sets, or statues of Saints; or by venerating paintings or sacred images, as in the case of Our Lady of Guadalupe, or El Señor de los Milagros. Salvation is understood as seeing, believing, and following, such as in the case of processions, pilgrimages, the reenactment of the posadas, or the journey of the Magi.

Blindness, as a powerful image of unbelief, is a theme that is quite present in our culture and society today. The theme for this year’s Religious Education Congress in Los Angeles is “See”. Catechesis and religious education are definite sound ways to combat and cure our spiritual blindness and for us to come to see God’s Salvation. In celebrating and participating in popular devotions, not only can we see that Salvation, but also learn and transmit it beyond the pews and the classrooms. Pope Francis, in his Apostolic Exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel, asserts that through popular piety Christians discover and learn the faith in a rich and fertile way. Believers, according to the Pope, discover and express the content of the faith more by way of symbols than by discursive reasoning. Bartimaeus, and the many other blind people who are healed by Jesus, do not come to the faith necessarily by receiving instruction, but by seeing and believing and then following and celebrating Christ, who is the Light of the world.

Francisco Castillo is the Senior Editor, Multicultural Specialist for RCL Benziger.

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Lent: Fasting, Prayer & Almsgiving in the 21st Century

A conversation that fellow parishioners had with their two daughters a few years back made a big impression on me.

Lent was approaching, and they began talking about what they might undertake as a family for the Lenten season. They discussed options that would be meaningful, prayerful, and really help them discover more deeply the Lord in their lives. The homily that Sunday suggested families do something EXTRA for Lent rather than simply giving up candy, desserts, TV, or things that aren’t good for us anyway.

The two girls were excited. They started naming really wonderful ideas: organize a clothing drive; assist weekly at the neighborhood food pantry; help out younger students at school with their reading skills; and various other ideas.

The parents could have “jumped on the bandwagon” and tapped into that enthusiasm. But Dad, showing a great amount of wisdom, challenged, “These are great ideas, but what are you going to give up in order to fit these new activities into your spring schedule?” Being very involved in sports, music, and clubs at school, not to mention homework, chores, and friendships, the girls were suddenly reluctant to give up any of these things. Homework was suggested, but Dad just smiled!

I imagine many of our schedules are like those of the two girls. In our 21st century lives we are presented with great ideas and options for taking an active part in outreach efforts, all intended to make this world a better place. Thanks to modern technology, social media, and ongoing access to world news, such opportunities come to us from every direction and at every minute of the day.

But our Church continues to invite us to remember that we need to regularly declutter and create quiet time so we can simply “let go and let God.” Let God speak to our hearts. Let God guide us in our efforts. Even our Lord, who could have spent the 40 days doing more teaching, more healing, more feeding of the multitudes, instead went to the desert to pray and fast. He needed such uncluttered, unscheduled, quiet time in order to have the spiritual strength to be about his Father’s will.

So, what might help us at this point in history to more faithfully follow the Lenten practices of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving in order to be about our Father’s will? Here are three practical suggestions:

Fasting Simplify, simplify, simplify! Is it possible to take your family schedule and clear it out a bit? If, for example, you are being pulled in too many directions at once, how can the demands on your time be simplified or reduced?

Prayer RCL Benziger’s free reproducible resources for Lent can be prayed with any age students or even on one’s own.

Almsgiving Intentionally look for opportunities to give money to those in need. My Dad has a $5 or $10 bill tucked into his wallet at all times. Its only purpose is to be given to the person he WILL meet who will need it more than he.

Going back to those two sisters, I really don’t know what they chose to do. All I do know is that they were going to put a lot of prayer and sharing into the decision-making process, which, in itself, is a great way to start Lent!

Do have a blessed Lent. Declutter the schedule, and create the quiet time that will nourish and strengthen you to be about your Father’s will.

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