Category Archives: Vocation

Seeing All Things with New Eyes





How are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’ 

In the name of the living God, who creates, redeems and sustains us.

Well, good evening, good evening my brothers and sisters. Welcome on this holy night, this night when we gather to celebrate the feast of our patron, St. Dominic. And a special blessing upon our brothers Jeffrey, Lee, Mike, Steve and Todd. I wish upon you the special blessing of awe, because what you are about to do is an awesome thing: not in the common parlance or the sense of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (“Awesome”), but in the ancient sense of the word. My hope for each of you is the blessing of awe, of fear and trembling at what you are about to do.

In episode V of the Star Wars saga, the Empire Strikes back, Luke Skywalker tries to assure the Jedi master Yoda: “I won’t fail you. I’m not afraid.” And Yoda replies, “Good. You will be. You will be.” When I made my life profession, almost 10 years ago, I was petrified. I was filled with what I now realize was a holy terror. Even that night, I wasn’t sure I was going to go through with it.

And there are good reasons to be afraid, because God is going to change your life in ways you don’t understand yet. And God is going to call you to do work you don’t want to do. God is going to call you to praise, even when you don’t agree with God’s work or understand God’s purposes.   And God is going to call you to be a blessing to God’s children, even when they don’t seem like they deserve a blessing, and you are called to enter into the darkest places of this life, to shine the lamp of God’s light and presence into those places. And God is calling you to preach, even when you don’t have anything to say. God is calling you to preach, even when the world is hostile, or worse, desperately uninterested in what you have to say.

The great theologian, Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote: “Awe precedes faith; it is at the root of faith. We must grow in awe in order to reach faith. We must be guided by awe to be worthy of faith. Awe rather than faith is the cardinal attitude of the religious….” He continued: “The meaning of awe is to realize that life takes place under wide horizons, horizons that range beyond the span of an individual life or even the life of a nation, a generation, or an era. Awe enables us to perceive in the world intimations of the divine, to sense in small things the beginning of infinite significance, to sense the ultimate in the common and the simple; to feel in the rush of the passing the stillness of the eternal.” And so, my brothers and sisters, I wish you the blessing of awe.

Our brother Thomas’s views rested very close to those of Heschel’s. In his Commentary on the Metaphysics, he wrote, “Because philosophy arises from awe, a philosopher is bound in his way to be a lover of myths and poetic fables. Poets and philosophers are alike in being big with wonder.”

Our world today lies in desperate need of awe. We have seen it all before and are wallowing in the doldrums of ennui. Proverbs teaches us that the people are dying for want of vision. We are paralyzed by our polarized politics. We live in ideological silos in which each side of the political spectrum is convinced that the other threatens the life of the country. The people are perishing for want of a vision.

In Texas, in my home state, there is a church called the Rod of Iron Ministries, which worships with AR-15 rifles and seeks to overcome “political satanism.” In the Middle East, some evangelical pastors are preaching that the Covid vaccine contains the “mark of the beast.” The people are dying for want of vision. And across the world, the loudest, shrillest, most divisive, and most authoritarian voices seem to have some strange gravitational pull on our political discussion. We have reached the point where an argument on Facebook looks like discourse, and that somehow passes for reason. The people are perishing for want of a vision.

I am old enough to remember the horrors of Abu Ghraib prison during the Gulf War. We actually engaged in a national debate over the question of whether torture was an effective way of obtaining information from prisoners. We didn’t ask the question of what kind of people we wanted to be; we asked whether it worked. My brothers and sisters, if we cannot find the humanity and dignity of each and every person we encounter, we will never stand in awe of the majesty of the God who created them.  The people are dying for want of a vision.

Last year, in Minneapolis, a police officer took an unarmed black man into custody and placed him in handcuffs. The officer then pressed his knee upon the black man’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds until he died. And in India, where our Sister Pamela lives, over 4 million people have died of Covid. And it’s just another bloody statistic. We have lost the capacity for wonder; we have lost the capacity for awe. The people are dying for want of a vision. As the Book of Samuel observes, there is no lamp that will bring light to darkness of this world other than the light of God.

Who will bring that light to the people? Or, as the author of Romans asked: “How are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent?” How are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? It’s an important question. Well, my brothers and sisters, it’s an odd thing, but the Church has authorized me to do this. And I am sending you, each of you (Jeffrey, Lee, Mike, Steve, Todd, and every single Dominican sitting here or watching on your computers), to proclaim the love of Christ in world. That is your work, that is your vocation.

We are called to speak to the world of the love of God. We find ourselves in a moment in time, a moment in history, when “spin” is struggling against history, when some claim to have “alternative facts.” I cannot recall a time when the world so desperately needed that which the Dominicans proclaim: veritas, or truth. But the truth we need is not mine or yours. As John’s Gospel reminds us, Jesus said: “My teaching is not mine but his who sent me. Anyone who resolves to do the will of God will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own. Those who speak on their own seek their own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and there is nothing false in him.”

We are not called to announce to the world our own speculations or opinions. We are called to proclaim the glory of God, the wonder of God, the awe of God. We are called to preach to the world the desperately counter-cultural message that living for others is a better life than living for yourselves. We are called to preach that God is ready, that God is desperately eager, to forgive sinners. We are called to preach that there is a better way, a new life, waiting for every single child of God on this planet.

Tell them that Jesus is alive, that God is alive, in the world today. Tell them that how we treat the least of God’s children is the best indicia of how we feel about God. We are called to preach that Jesus offers a way out of pain, a way out of sorrow, and that the darkness in this world cannot and will not overcome the light of God. Preach that, my brothers and sisters. Preach that.

James R. Dennis, O.P. © 2021

What Do You Want Me To Do For You?

blind_bartimaeus_arminian_225h

This homily was preached at Chapter, the annual gathering of Anglican Dominicans, on Friday, August 14, 2015.

The text for this sermon can be found here:

In the name of the Living God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Good morning, my brothers and sisters, good morning.  As the Psalmist says, how good it is when the brothers and sisters live together in unity. Well, close enough. And we come together this morning and find ourselves compelled to confront this text, this story of a blind man named Bartimaeus, a blind beggar. And I want us to try and view this story, and perhaps the readings today, in the light of our own vocations as Dominicans, our vocation as followers of St. Dominic and Jesus.

Jesus finds Bartimaeus  in Jericho, a city where walls come down, a city that resonates with the deliverance of Israel and the promises of God.  And all we know about Bartimaeus at the outset of the story is that he is blind, and he is a beggar. He is, as the Psalmist writes, “like an owl among the ruins.” But to be blind in those days didn’t just mean to be handicapped. Blindness was much more than an impediment. Blindness was a mark of being unclean, of being impure. Blindness meant that you would be ostracized from both God and his people.  So, blindness carried with it a spiritual separation as well as a physical impairment.

And Mark often uses blindness to connote a spiritual impairment, an inability to see what’s going on around you. He contrasts those who are physically blind with those who are blind to the reality of Jesus. And that’s a theme carried forward in this Gospel reading today.

It is much the same notion that we find in one of the Church’s favorite hymns, which tells the story of John Newton, a slave trader who awakened to his participation in the industry of sin and bondage. Newton wrote, “I once was lost, but now I’m found; I was blind, but now I see.”

Hold that thought for a moment, while we meander back through the readings for today and look at the story of St. Paul in Acts. Paul tells us that in his former life he was “zealous for God, just as all of you are today. I persecuted this Way up to the point of death by binding both men and women and putting them in prison….”  He tells us that on the way to Damascus to engage in further persecutions of the early Church, he was confronted by a great light and the voice of Christ accused him of persecuting Jesus.  And Paul was struck blind and could not see until Ananias spoke the word to him, because Paul had a special mission to see the Righteous One and bear witness. The confrontation with the light of Christ required Paul to set aside all that he thought he knew about God, joining those who trod the Way. So Paul, like John Newton, who had acted as an instrument of cruelty, bondage and spiritual blindness himself, found his way out of his own darkness only through the light of Christ.

So, let’s get back to the story of Bartimaeus the beggar sitting by the road. When he hears that Jesus is there, he begins to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” In his opening address, Bartimaeus recognizes Jesus as God’s Messiah. In some ways, Bartimaeus reminds me a bit of my spiritual director, a retired Bishop. He often says of his own ministry, “I’m  just a beggar myself, trying to show the other beggars where they keep the bread.” We don’t know how, but somehow Bartimaeus knew where the bread of life was.

If Jesus came to the world as part of God’s self-revelation, if he was God’s way of telling us “This is what I am like” then what do we make of the humble life He lived. This is a notion sometimes referred to as The Poverty of God. Bartimaeus could see the divine life in Jesus. But I think we should ask whether we can see the divine in the life of Bartimaeus. Because, as St. John Chrysostrom said, “If you cannot find God in the beggar on the street, you will never find him in the chalice.”

And Jesus asks him a really important question. He asks Bartimaeus “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus was able to minister to this blind beggar because of two important factors: he cared, and he took the time to find out what the problem was. Too often, I think our fumbling efforts to fulfill the Christian life look like the missionary who shows up at a burning house with a stack of bibles, or the evangelist who goes to a land of famine with a handful of crucifixes. That’s all pretty, and interesting, but it’s not exactly what they need.

As Dominicans we are called to meet the needs of God’s world and God’s children, proclaiming and preaching the good news of God’s love. This world can be a very dark place. There are 60 million refugees in the world today, displaced by war and human hatred. In America alone, 5 million people suffer from Alzheimers. Worldwide, 3.5 million children die from hunger each year.  We daily confront the horror of war, of genocide, of one natural disaster after another. Joseph Stalin once famously said that one death was a tragedy, but a million deaths were a statistic. We live in a world where pain and misery have been reduced to a statistic.

And this world groans, not only in pain, but also in exhaustion. Many people, many good people, suffer from compassion fatigue. They just don’t feel up to the challenge of another crisis, another story of misery in a very long collection of such stories. And yet, there is this blind beggar on the road. Lord, let us see him.

I want to suggest to you that on that day in Jericho, it was Bartimaeus who heard the same call we have heard: to proclaim and preach the rightful place of Jesus in the world and in God’s kingdom. Lord, let us listen to his message. Lord, let us hear and heed the call, as Dominicans, to testify to the light in a world that wanders in darkness. Amen.

© 2015 James R. Dennis