By Jorge Zetino
The Gospel of Mark tells the story of Bartimaeus, a blind man, who while begging on a roadside in Jericho, hears that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by. He shouted, “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me!” While others in the crowd were trying to shush him, Jesus orders them to bring him to where he was. It is here that the story gets interesting. Jesus notices that the man who was crying for his help was blind, so he asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” To which the blind man answered, “Master, I want to see.” (Mark 10:46-52)
This story has always hit close to home for me. My grandfather became blind long before I was born. He found in the story of Bartimaeus a reason to hope that one day he, too, would regain his sight. That never happened. However, God did grant him his wish in a different way. He learned to see with “the eyes of faith” as he would call it.
Growing up, I heard the story of Bartimaeus being told by mi abuelito (Spanish for grandfather) multiple times. Each time I came across this story, I’d think, “C’mon Jesus, you know he wants to be healed, do you have to ask?” It was what I call a “duh moment.” It seemed obvious. However, it wasn’t until I entered the Divine Word Novitiate Program that the story of Bartimaeus took on a different dimension. He is no longer a biblical character that represented a symbol of hope for my grandfather. It dawned on me that Bartimaeus has become a symbol that reflects my own vocational discernment.
It has been in the time of prayer and silence at the novitiate that I’ve come to understand the question Jesus asked the blind man in the dusty streets of Jericho, “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked Bartimaeus what he wanted (or desired), not so much for his sake, but for the sake of the blind man. Jesus already knew what Bartimaeus wanted and what his heart desired, yet Jesus wanted him to be able to identify and name that desire himself.
This is, I believe, what novitiate is all about. Before I can make a decision about whether or not to apply to profess the religious vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and be admitted into the Society of the Divine Word, I must first be able to know and name my own desires. “What is God asking me to do with my life?” and “how can I best serve God?” These are just two of my frequently asked questions. One of the many graces this novitiate year has given to me so far is that, little by little, I’m beginning to “see” and understand my life, my faith, and my vocation. And I’m doing this in light of Bartimaeus’ encounter with Jesus. Whereas I have come to know what gives meaning and fulfillment to my life, what my life-driven purpose is, I still yet have to discern how to live it out.
The goal of the novitiate year is, to quote from our SVD constitutions, “to mature and clarify a vocation.” (SVD Constitutions 512) Through prayer, silence and spiritual direction; learning about SVD history, spirituality and charism; and the experience in living in a multicultural community, it is the hope that I would able to “mature and clarify” my calling as a Divine Word Missionary. However, this novitiate year is not only about discerning my religious vocation but also a time to gain a deeper self-understanding. Granted, self-knowledge is a life-long process, but it is safe to say that for some of us at the novitiate, this year is the starting point.
As I’ve learned in these first four months of the novitiate program, being able to know and identify my own desires is the key to good discernment. In “The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything,” Father James Martin SJ writes, “Desire is a primary way that God leads people to discover who they are and what they are meant to do,” which is what this novitiate year is all about.
Unlike Bartimaeus in the story, we SVD novices have been given all of the necessary tools and time (one year!) to be able to identify and name our desires. It is as if for one long year Jesus asks the same question: “What do you want me to do for you?” However, before I attempt to articulate the answer to that million-dollar question, I must be attentive not only to what my heart desires but also to what God, who is a God of surprises, has to say. After all, “the deep longings of our hearts are our holy desires,” writes Father Martin.
These desires will become more evident soon as my brother novices and I embark on a month-long silent retreat known as The Spiritual Exercises. What better way to ask and allow my deepest desires to manifest themselves than during that time of silence and solitude? Nonetheless, as one holy, older SVD recently told me, “The key is openness of heart, mind and spirit.” Or as Saint John Paul II once said, “All who open their heart to Christ will not only understand the mystery of their existence, but also of their own vocation.” I pray and hope that, like Bartimaeus, I too may be able to identify and name my own desires to Jesus when he asks, once more, “What do you want me to do for you?”
Jorge Zetino, who was born in Guatemala, graduated from Godwin Heights High School in Wyoming, Mich., and earned a bachelor’s degree from Divine Word College in Epworth, Iowa, in May 2015. He is one of 11 novices in the Divine Word Novitiate Program in North America.