Halloween happens this week. It’s a time when people’s attention gravitates toward what is scary. Horror and fright are featured in radio interviews and television programs. Houses are decorated with the obvious aim of instilling fear in the hearts of all who visit, particularly the young trick-or-treaters. Most of this is done in good fun. However, there is a real fear that is gripping the hearts of people today, not only in the period around Halloween, and that is no laughing matter.
I encounter this constantly. Among young adults, they will speak of the fear of not measuring up to expectations, both real and illusory. In speaking with older adults, I have come across what is referred to as FOMO, the fear of missing out. This is causing considerable angst and tension in many individuals and families. Of course, there are many other things which engender fear: job insecurity, family dysfunction, geopolitical upheaval and so on.
What frightens you?
The Gospel passage from Sunday (Mark 10:46-52) issues a call to each of us as we struggle with fear and anxiety: ‘Take heart!’ To us who often lose heart because of the difficulties that face us, the Gospel cries: ‘Take heart!’ In other words, don’t be afraid.
In the Gospel narrative, the words are addressed by the disciples to a blind beggar, Bartimaeus. The encounter between him and Jesus gives insight into how to deal with our fears.
Bartimaeus at first cries out to Jesus (“Son of David, have mercy on me”). Jesus then calls for him to draw near. At the encouragement of the disciples (“take heart; get up, he is calling you”), Bartimaeus throws off his cloak and goes to Jesus. He asks Jesus that he might see. Jesus restores his sight in response to his faith (“Go; your faith has made you well”). Then, Bartimaeus follows Jesus “on the way”.
This brief episode is instructive. It summons us, like Bartimaeus, to acknowledge at the outset our need for Christ and to cry out to him. When Bartimaeus threw aside his cloak, he was casting off that upon which he was dependent.
We, too, come to Christ by setting aside all illusion of self-reliance and by casting away all the falsehoods in which we uselessly place our confidence. As we approach the Lord, sometimes we don’t know what to say or what we should be asking for.
Bartimaeus knew. He asked to see. That, too, needs to be our request.
We implore the Lord not for physical sight but spiritual vision. In other words, we ask that we might see the truth of who Jesus is. We want to see that Jesus is not only the Son of David but also the Son of God; that he is the One sent to fulfill God’s plan of salvation (Jeremiah 31:7-9); that he is our high priest, who knows our weaknesses because he assumed them himself (Hebrews 5:1-6) and draws near to us in mercy; that this same Jesus is present with us in the sacraments and walks with us in our daily lives.
When we see this clearly, what else can we do but follow him “on the way” to our Heavenly Father?
Following the Lord does not mean our lives will thereby be rendered free from difficulties. When we can see, though, the truth of the presence of Jesus and his love for us, we have found our reason for hope. We have found the antidote to our fears.
Take heart. He is with us. Do not be afraid.