The first novena or nine day period of prayer took place in the first century (see Acts of the Apostles 1: 4, 13-14). After rising from the dead Jesus told His followers "not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for 'the promise of the Father'"--the Holy Spirit. Then, after Jesus' ascension, "they entered the city" and "went to the upper room where they were staying" and where they "devoted themselves with one accord to prayer, together with some women, and Mary the mother of Jesus...." These nine days of prayer culminated in Pentecost and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
Since then novenas of one kind or another have been offered and today the Church begins the Novena of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. I am privileged to be participating in it at a special place--the Visitation Monastery in Toledo, Ohio.
According to these Visitation Sisters: "Through our Sister,
Saint Margaret Mary, we have received the mission to love and make others love
the Sacred Heart of Jesus." One of the ways in which they do this is through the annual celebration of the Novena of the Sacred Heart.
For the next nine days I will celebrate Mass for the Sisters and visitors to their chapel at 7 AM and 7:30 PM. The novena prayers are recited during the Prayer of the Faithful and after Communion. I'll preach and also celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation after each Mass.
As the followers of Jesus entered upon the first novena with trust and confidence, so do we enter upon this novena. "Sacred Heart of Jesus, I trust in Thee!"
Today's Gospel (Mark 10: 46-52) is a perfect beginning for our novena. The blind man Bartimaeus cries out to Jesus, asking him to "have pity." The crowd tries to silence him, but he continues to cry out. Jesus stops and tells them to call the blind man over. They say these most consoling words to Bartimaeus: "Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you." But then, when he comes to Jesus, he is asked a question: "What do you want me to do for you?" It seems odd that Jesus would ask him that. Isn't it obvious to anyone with common sense much less to one who, as the first reading from Sirach 42 says, "plumbs the depths and penetrates the heart?" The man is blind and he wants to see. But Jesus, with utmost respect, does not make assumptions about the man's desires. He invites him, and us, to be in touch with the deep desires of our hearts and to put words to those desires. Only after the man states clearly "I want to see" does Jesus heal him.
And so, as we begin this Novena of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, we, like Bartimaeus, hear the words of the crowd echo in our own hearts: "Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you." We hear Jesus ask, "What do you want me to do for you?" What is it we want Jesus to do for us and our loved ones and our world during this powerful period of prayer?