September 5, 2021 Homily

Christ healing the deaf-mute by Philippe de Champaigne, circa 1665. (Public domain)

September 5, 2021 Homily

‘A New Beginning in Every Instant’

My dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

In our Gospel passage for today, our Lord faced a very intriguing situation involving a man who was deaf (i.e., unable to hear). Unlike other passages where Jesus often performed miracles in view of everyone, He took the deaf man aside. Through a somewhat simple but elaborate ritual, He cured him of his deafness with the words, “Ephphatha! Be opened!” Sometimes we do not hear the very words of Christ, except to acknowledge His presence. Through the intervention of Christ, the man, whose name we don’t know, could now not only hear but also, in quite an astonishing way, speak - which also depends to a large degree upon hearing.

Oftentimes, in the various events we read about in the Gospels, there is something more involved. Simply put, Jesus met a man who could not hear and now he hears again; and not only hears, but speaks. That, in itself, would be miraculous, even by today’s standards. In some instances, through the wonders of science and medicine today, technical advances enable some to hear for the first time. It’s really quite remarkable! In our Lord’s time, I could only surmise that here was a person who could not even ask for what he needed. Others had to present him. His deafness also was a barrier to communications. His relationships with others would obviously be strained (as much as I would struggle in a foreign country where I didn’t know the language or the culture). He would be relegated to the sidelines, the peripheries, likened to the “poor in this world” but one who has become “rich in faith and [heir] of the kingdom.” This is “our God who comes to save us” as the prophet Isaiah observes in the first reading. 

Just as with blindness or other maladies, deafness can be, in another sense, a striking metaphor for our own inability to hear in the widest possible sense, not only with our ears but with our hearts: the “ear of our heart,” as St. Benedict would say. How do we learn about our relationship with God or the Mystery without some event or some experience that awakens our senses to the something more? Knowledge depends so much on our senses and ability to process information and reason. As in this situation, hearing rightly can address the very needs of the soul itself.  Remaining ignorant about our faith, not exploring the deep human questions and longings we have, not opening ourselves up to the reality of what is truly before us, can make us seem deaf to others and to ourselves. Our liturgical, educational, catechetical and social teaching methods help to open us up to what is truly before us and to hear in the heart of hearts what God is either whispering to us in the quiet and beauty of a moment or shouting to us through the din of daily life.

Indeed, the very method itself is Christ – Who became flesh – to show us how to live. 

About 10 years ago, I stumbled across a letter written by a member of the national police of Italy. He had already served his military duty in the Balkans, Iraq, and Afghanistan where life was never easy and where he noted, “The stench of death was in the air.” He writes: “My love for Christ, and the awareness that I could make Him present, helped me go forward, believe, and hope that – against all evil – humanity could rise again and begin to live. His presence has erupted in my life like an explosion of joy after I met you … I always thank the Lord for that wonderful gift. … I often think back to something that happened … when at a meeting Marcello read this sentence: ‘Life is beautiful because it is a new beginning in every instant.’ I always think about it, I repeat it to myself often, and I repeat it to people who were shrouded in desperation. … Only Christ could think of something this great; only He could make me hear these words and permanently imprint them on my mind and heart.”

Here at our Cathedral parish, the Gospel challenges us again to “Be open!” But for what? The presence of Christ is here with us refashioning us anew. Because Christ is here in the heart Birmingham, Alabama, (or wherever you are when you hear this), we can echo these same sentiments, “Life is beautiful because it is a new beginning in every instant.”

This new beginning is evident again in our own personal lives in so many ways – from a greater appreciation of someone we’ve forgotten about, a new job, a change in status, moving homes, beginning again after a loss, to name a few. It is a new beginning with the new academic year underway. It is a new beginning because we have a greater appreciation for our security and the certainty that we rely on.

And it begins with those words of Jesus to the deaf man, “Be opened!” These words take the deaf man to the depths of a new world before him – as it is with each of us today. In the midst of our joys and sorrows, “Life is beautiful because it is a new beginning in every instant.”

And, one final thought about a curious line in the Gospel: “He ordered them not to tell anyone.” The next line tells us how well they listened to the Lord and heard him: “The more He ordered them not to, the more they proclaimed it.” In fact, this is the third miracle where Jesus cautions people not to say anything: the curing of the man with leprosy (1:44), the raising of a dead girl to life (5:43); this miracle event, and then, after this episode a fourth - the curing of the blind man (8:26). I can imagine if that were me, it would be hard to remain silent – when one of the most dramatic impossible things ever to happen to you, occurs. Biblical scholars suggest that Jesus “wanted people to come to His mission of Messiah in the light of His death on the cross” – and not through the miracles He was performing. So, the blind see, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life – signals that the Messiah is among us. St. Augustine noted that our Lord “wanted to show the lukewarm and half-hearted with how much zeal and fervour those commanded to proclaim His Name should act, if those who were forbidden to speak were unable to keep silent” (De Consensu Evangelisatarum, 4, 4, 15).

Yet, one of the greatest events of Christ happens right here before us. His Word is proclaimed, bread and wine become His Body and Blood, the Sacrifice of the cross is renewed and we are filled with grace to be sent out on mission. What an amazing thing that happens today at this Mass! Christ becomes present today! Be open! See and hear the wonders that God is doing today! Unlike the deaf man, we are sent to tell the world of His amazing love! Afterall, “life is beautiful because it is a new beginning in every instant!”