In the Gospel story of the healing of the blind man a detail of the story that often draws my attention is the way Bartimeaus cast aside his cloak. I’m quite sure that cloak must have been like his badge of identity for God knows how many years and presumably had been given to him by someone. It not just represented his past but who he was, how he saw himself and how others related to him. In his journey to Christ it was necessary that he let go of who he was not in order to discover who he really was.
Sometimes a cloak is necessary to wear for a while. Like the cloak of grief that enraps the Corish family right now. It might be hard to imagine a time when it will be appropriate to cast aside that particular cloak. However just as day follows night and spring follows winter the season of grief will pass and it will be possible to throw aside that cloak.
Some people are inflicted with heavy cloaks from a very young age. One man told me how from his earliest days his father would tell him that was a idiot, and good for nothing who would never come to anything. When he did eventually find something he was good at he went overboard thinking he could never do enough and nearly destroyed himself still trying to disprove what his Father had said. At a seminar in Laois an elderly woman shared how in school she was continually told that she was useless, so useless that she should be shot but that it would be the waste of a good bullet. She lived her life under that cloak and it wasn’t until her children were reared and her husband was dead that she decided to cast it aside and now finds herself doing things that she never believed possible.
Many can identify with that story when we think of times we were shamed or belittled, made feel insignificant or stupid. The problem is that whatever we were told at a young and vulnerable age we may still believe about ourselves. It may well have become our cloak of identity.
Here let me say that not all cloaks give to us are bad and need to be discarded. As a priest every year I get invited to speak at numerable conferences, seminars and retreats. That has happened not because I have always had an ability to speak in public. The reality is that in early years I would have been shy and hesitant in that area. But I did have someone who encouraged me; someone who believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. It was as a result of that that man’s encouragement that I then developed the gift that I didn’t know I had. I say that because to give your child the cloak of encouragement is truly the gift of having confidence for life.
Back to the cloaks we need to discard. Whatever was done to us in our childhood, like being compared with others, being put down, or continually criticized, is precisely what we may still be doing to ourselves. Its no longer a parent, teacher or relative that is doing or saying horrible things to us but now we are doing and saying them to ourselves. So I end up being my own worst enemy and now I compare myself continually with others and act as my own judge jury and executioner.
If I have made serious mistakes or feel that I have made a mess of my life I am still much greater than anything I may have done and the cloak of my past is something I may need to throw off. I am not condemned unless I see myself as condemned and I am not unworthy unless I believe myself to be so.
I don’t need to say any more. The cloak of Bartimeaus is our cloak too, just designed a little different for all of us. Whatever its colour, or whatever its shape, its our decision whether we hold onto it like a safety net or comfort zone or whether like Bartimeaus we throw it to one side and respond to the invitation, ‘Get up he is calling you’. The place the Lord calls us to is always back onto the road of life that leads to eternal life.
The question to ponder is what might the cloak of Bartimeaus represent for me?