Thursday, May 30, 2013

Asking And Seeing (A Testimony)

*phew* Okay, let's keep 'em coming. I was asked to give a short testimony/talk at St. Thomas Aquinas High School, my alma mater. The Gospel reading for today was from Mark 10:46-52, which depicts Bartimaeus, the blind beggar. And here we go:

There’s the old saying that goes, “Love is blind.” Ah. But here’s the truth about that saying: it’s a bunch of garbage. I know that because I know God.

 My name is Jeremy Keong. I graduated from STA in 2007. I also graduated from UBC last year with a major in English Literature. And throughout my time at STA and UBC and into the present, I have been pretty steady in my faith. Here at STA, I was involved with campus ministry, and maintain really good friendships with Mr. Grossling and Mrs. Robertson. And starting in Gr. 11, I became heavily involved in archdiocesan youth ministry, which I continued doing all the way through university. And I’ve also been involved in a lot of parish youth ministry.

So: no major crisis of faith here. But when I say that I’ve had a “steady” faith, I don’t mean that my faith has been bland. I don’t mean that I haven’t grown. In fact, it is only because of my faith that I have grown as a person as much as I have. As I went through high school, I was active in my faith, and of course I learned things along the way, but for the most part I just accepted things as true without ever really wondering why. Either that, or I forgot the things I learned as soon as the test was over.  There was no realization that what I was doing wasn’t entirely honest with myself or with the faith that I had been brought up in.

This changed in the summer of 2008 (the year after graduating from STA), while I was in Australia for WYD. After WYD ended, my friends and I took a three-day sailing trip off the coast of Australia. There we were on this little boat: three of my friends and I, another seven or so passengers, and the captain. Now, at WYD, all the pilgrims get a ton of stuff like backpacks and hats and water bottles and t-shirts. So everyone on this boat knew we were Catholic. One day, the captain struck up a conversation with my friends and I, and he kept asking questions and making assertions about the Catholic faith. And I couldn’t respond to most of what the captain said. He was very respectful, and was just genuinely curious about the Church. But I couldn’t respond. I couldn’t answer his questions, and I couldn’t actually tell him why I believe what I believe, and explain to him why it made sense.

That night, while everyone was lying in his or her bed falling asleep, I was lying on the deck of the boat. Remember, we were in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, so besides the stars, it was pitch black. I’ve never felt as alone as I did that night. I looked up into the sky, and I distinctly remember asking God, “Who are you?” In that moment, I realized that while being active in my faith and having a community was good and necessary, there was much more for me to discover; I realized that I needed to know God in a more personal way, in a much more intimate way – the same way that best friends know each other. I wanted to have an actual personal relationship with Him that went beyond the mechanical motions of merely attending Sunday Mass and saying prayers before meals. I wanted to really know him. As Mumford and Sons sings, “you were meant to meet your Maker.” Since then, I’ve learned that in coming to know Him, I’ve come to love Him. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the captain on that boat. Through him, God gave me a swift kick in the pants.

Which brings me back to that whole ‘love is blind’ business. Love isn’t blind. Love has perfect vision. Love ignores nothing, and sees everything. If you want to love something – if you want to love someone – you need to get to know them. You need to want to see them, and you need to want to let them see you. Bartimaeus, the blind beggar in today’s Gospel, figured it out – he cried out to Christ persistently and asked him to heal his vision. But the gospel then says that after Bartimaeus began to see, he followed Christ. Regaining his physical sight was not the end, but the beginning of a continual opening of his spiritual blindness. Likewise, for me, reaching out to God on that boat in Australia, asking Him who He really was, was the beginning of me striving to know him intimately, and therefore to know myself and my life differently, and responding to all of it appropriately.

I have always been unsatisfied with fluffy and sappy answers about our faith. This has never been enough for me. I’m not saying that the fluff necessarily has no truth to it; I’m just saying that the fluff never has the full depth of the truth. I don’t recall any Scripture that describes Jesus talking about puppy dogs and ice cream.  Yes, I know that Jesus loves me and that he died on a cross to save me. But these have become buzz phrases. On their own, they don’t satisfy me. They probably don’t satisfy you either. What do those phrases actually mean? It’s up to all of us to find out.

If you find those fluffy answers unsatisfactory, good! Don’t settle for less; you deserve more. I’ve realized that those answers don’t satisfy because they don’t speak to me as a person – the truest answers will always speak to you, as a person, all at once. And once you start to see those answers, you will realize that everything is embedded within it so much more meaning. Goodness. Beauty. Wonder and Awe. If you constantly cry out to the Son of David, he will answer you, and you will be amazed at how much the true meaning of things touches you to your core. In today's first reading, the writer of Sirach asks, "Can one ever see enough of [God's] splendor" (Sir. 42:25)? If you cry out to Christ, you will be able to respond to the writer of Sirach with a resounding "No!" 

So search for Jesus like the blind man in today’s gospel reading. Search for Him in the concrete reality that is your life, and see how He searches for you, whether it be through your family, your friends, your teachers, or captains of sailing ships off the coast of Australia.  In your search for Jesus, you will be challenged, but you will surely come to see, just as the blind man did in the gospel.

Domine, ut videam

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