Our first reading from the prophet Isaiah finds the Israelites, the people whom God has chosen as his very own, once again having broken the covenant. Once again they have been unfaithful and are now experiencing the consequences of their actions. They have been overrun by the Assyrians and taken into exile. They are suffering.
Our second reading from the letter of James finds him reprimanding the community for judging by outward appearance and playing favorites.
As our gospel scene opens, Jesus has returned to the area where he had healed a man possessed by a legion of demons only to have those demons escape to occupy nearby pigs, sending the whole herd hurtling over a cliff. The townspeople quickly reacted by asking Jesus to get out of town.
Now they bring to him a man who is deaf and mute. I wonder if they were hesitant, not knowing what might happen this time.
This is a very intimate scene. Jesus takes the man aside into his private company for an encounter that is more personal that can happen in the midst of a crowd.
Jesus’ healing gestures are signs of solidarity with the man. Putting his fingers into the man’s ears and then taking his own saliva and placing it on the man’s tongue are gestures of special intimacy and closeness, a willingness to enter into the man’s infirmities. Is this not like what Jesus does when we consume the consecrated host at Mass and sip the precious blood?
Assuming a posture of prayer, Jesus then prays to the Father and cries out “Ephphatha!” “Be opened!”
Jesus healing ministry always went beyond a simple cure. Jesus is not just some roving miracle healer. Rather, Jesus’ physical healings always brought about something deeper, a transformation of the whole person, a re-orienting of their soul, their interior life.
The man Jesus heals represents each of us.
Healed, he must listen before he speaks. He must enter into intimacy by receiving the other through hearing. Only then, can he speak in response, in relationship. This is how we are meant to be in our relationship with God. We are to listen deeply and only then, speak.
Yet, if you’re like me I’m only half listening most of the time, formulating what I’m going to say, what I want others to hear.
My sisters and brothers,this is a very difficult time for us as Catholics and for the Catholic Church. It is a time like that of Isaiah the prophet when we must recognize as a Church that some priests and religious have been unfaithful, have sexually abused minors and that the leadership of the bishops has failed to adequately and honestly respond.
It is also, and most importantly a time when we recognize the pain of those who have been victimized. We cannot turn away from that pain, no matter how fearful it might be for us. We cannot turn away from our responsibility to the victims and to the hard work of authentic change of accountability, governance and proper transparency.
As the Lord speaks to the prophet Isaiah, “Say to those whose hearts are frightened: be strong, fear not! Here is your God, he comes with vindication, with divine recompense he comes to save you.”
I believe that it is only with humble and contrite prayer that God can save us from the painful challenge we face.
Archbishop Sartain has asked that this letter be read by every priest in every parish this weekend. Please receive this as if he was sending it to you personally. (Get the letter)
Having worked with the Archbishop, I know the sincerity of his heart in what he has written to you. He is deeply concerned for the victims, for each of you, and for the mission of the Church.
Fr. Lou and I invite you this Friday, the feast of the Exultation of the Cross, to join together as a community of faith to pray, fast and make reparation for the sins of the Church.
We will have Mass at 9 AM in the morning, confessions and in time of private prayer beginning at 5 PM followed by Mass at 6 PM and Vespers, evening prayer, at 7:30 PM.
During this time, we will also have our new crucifix that will hang at the Westside Chapel present for all to see, touch and venerate. It will be an opportunity to lay our fears, our needs and our hopes at the foot of the cross.
Personally, please know of my prayer for you daily. And let us together hold one another in prayer. Let us walk together and support one another and speak to each other, “Ephphata.”