September 5, 2015

Homily for the Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, September 6, 2015, Year B

Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Director, La Salette Shrine
Enfield, NH

"He has done all things well. He makes
 the deaf hear and [the] mute speak."
(Click here for today’s readings)

When it comes to stories about what Jesus did, Mark’s Gospel is usually the most interesting because he gives the most detail, not leaving a lot of room to the imagination. Today’s passage is something of an exception. This has the advantage of allowing us to do some creative listening, to embroider on the text.

We might embellish various parts of the story. What else did Jesus say to the man as he led him away from the crowd? Who was allowed to accompany him? Why did the evangelist record the word of healing in the original Aramaic language? Why didn’t Jesus want anyone to know what he had done?

But let’s take just one example. Put yourself in the place of the man whose hearing and speech has just been restored by Jesus. Now that you can say something, do you have anything to say? What are the first words out of your mouth?

Presumably they would be enthusiastic. Remember the story in Acts 4, about the man lame from birth who was set on his feet by Peter at the gate of the temple? We are told, “He leaped up, stood, and walked around, and went into the temple with them, walking and jumping and praising God.” Surely the man in today’s Gospel must have had a similar reaction. Our reading from Isaiah suggests, “the tongue of the mute will sing.” Not just talk, but sing! Because of that one word, Ephphatha!

That same word is addressed to us, and to the whole Church, still today. One of the most striking examples is found in the life of Oscar Romero, Archbishop of San Salvador, whose ears were opened to the cry of the poor, and who became “the voice of those who have no voice,” speaking out boldly against the injustices of his country. Thirty-five years ago, he was murdered by a sniper while celebrating Mass.

In a quite different context, the World Wildlife Federation and other animal rights groups also invite concerned persons to be “the voice of those who have no voice,” to join the outcry against the inhumane treatment or neglect of defenseless creatures or the destruction of natural habitats.

Be opened! can also apply to those who preach or even simply proclaim the Gospel. When a Deacon is about to read the Gospel, the celebrant says the following simple prayer over him: “May the Lord be in your heart and on your lips, that you may proclaim his Gospel worthily and well, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

St. Paul wrote in his First Letter to the Corinthians, “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel.” From the time when his ears were opened to the voice of Christ on the Road to Damascus, he knew what he must ever thereafter do and say. The Lord was in his heart and on his lips. He proclaimed the Gospel worthily and well.

The opposite attitude is condemned in our reading from the Letter of James. Any form of favoritism, any superficial distinctions made among believers will always lead to decidedly unchristian behaviors and speech. I am reminded of a quotation from Haile Selassie: “Throughout history, it has been the inaction of those who could have acted; the indifference of those who should have known better; the silence of the voice of justice when it mattered most; that has made it possible for evil to triumph.”

When I say that the word Ephphatha is addressed to each one of us, I do not expect everyone to go out and evangelize their neighborhoods and cities. That would be wonderful, but not everyone is called to speak out in that way. Not everyone can imitate the courage of Archbishop Romero either, but those who are called to do so need at least the encouragement of those who cannot.

But if anyone should ever happen to notice that there is something different about you because you are a person of faith, if anyone should ever ask you why you are a Christian, if in that moment you should hear, as it were, the Lord saying to you, Ephphatha! Be opened! what will be the first words out of your mouth?

No comments :