September 2, 2018

O. T. XXIII (B) Sept 9, 2018 homily on Mark 7: 31-37

1-page summary of OT XXIII (Sept 9) Sunday Homily (Mk 7: 31-37)

Synopsis of OT XXIII (Sept 9) Sunday Homily, Mark 7: 31-37 (L/18)

Introduction: Today’s readings offer two challenges: 1) Become humble instruments of healing in Jesus’ hands by giving voice to the voiceless and caring love to the needy and the marginalized in our society.   2)  Open your ears to hear the word of God, open your eyes to see God’s presence in everyone and loosen your tongue to praise and worship God loudly and to convey the Good News of God’s love and salvation to others. (Anecdote of the “little monk” who opened blind eyes & deaf years).  Scripture lessons: In the first reading (Is 35:4-7), prophet Isiah reminds us that God’s eyes are constantly focused on the helpless. “He comes to save you. Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the mute will sing.”
Today’s Responsorial Psalm (Ps 146) sings of a God who gives sight to the blind, raises up those who are bowed down and welcomes strangers.  That is why, in today’s second reading (James 2:1-5), the apostle gives us some basic and challenging principles of social justice. He exhorts Christians to show no partiality based on external appearance and to practice God’s “preferential option” for the poor. He warns the faithful against scorning or shaming the poor while showing special consideration to the rich.    Today’s Gospel describes how Jesus, by healing a deaf man with speech impediment fulfilled Isaiah’s Messianic prophecy, “The eyes of the blind shall be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped.”  The ailments listed by Isaiah are symbolic of our interior illnesses:  blindness to the needs of our neighbor, unwillingness to hear God’s voice and the inability to speak words of praise and gratitude. Through this miracle story, Mark also reminds us that no one can be a follower of the Lord without reaching out to the helpless (“preferential option for the poor”).

Life messages:  1) We need to allow Jesus to heal our spiritual deafness and muteness &blindness.   We may find it hard to speak to God in prayer and harder still to hear Him speaking to us through the Bible and through the Church.  Let us ask God’s help to open our ears so that we may hear Him while reading the Bible, and praise and worship Him loudly in our family prayer and in our public worship by actively participating in the Holy Mass, singing with the choir and praying with the congregation. Jesus’ compassionate touch will help us to hear the cries of the poor and the sick.  It will teach us to show kindness, mercy and consideration to others. His healing touch will also help us convey peace and hope to those around us. 2) We need to help Jesus to heal the deaf and the mute today. Let us lend Jesus our hands to give his healing touch to the sick. Let us lend Jesus our tongues so that he may speak to the spiritually hungry through us.   Let us lend Jesus our hearts so that he may touch the lives of people in our day through us, just as he touched the lives of millions through saintly souls like Francis of Assisi, Damien of Molokai, Vincent de Paul and St. Jeanne Jugan, St. Teresa of Calcutta (Mother Teresa).

OT XXIII [B] (Sept 9) Isiah 35:4-7a; James 2:1-5;   Mk 7:31-37

Anecdote:  The “little monk” Telemachus who opened blind eyes of an empire:  At the Annual National Prayer Breakfast on February 2, 1984, Ronald Reagan, the former president of the United States, told the old story of “the little monk,” Telemachus, a martyr whose self-sacrificial commitment to Christian ideals opened the blind eyes and deaf ears of the Romans and their fifth century Christian Emperor Honorius. According to the story, this Turkish monk was led by an inner voice to go to Rome in order to stop the cruel and inhuman gladiatorial fights between slaves. He followed the crowds to the Coliseum where two gladiators were fighting.  He jumped into the arena and tried to stop them, shouting, “In the name of Christ, hold back!”   The gladiators stopped, but the spectators became indignant.   A group of them rushed into the arena and beat Telemachus to death.  When the crowd saw the brave little monk lying dead in a pool of blood, they fell silent, leaving the stadium, one by one. Three days later, because of Telemachus’ heroic sacrifice of his own life, the Emperor decreed an end to the games. In today’s Gospel, which describes the miraculous healing of a deaf mute, we are invited to open our ears and eyes, loosen our tongues and pray for the courage of our Christian convictions to become the voice of the voiceless.

# 2: “The Touch of the Master’s Hand“: In the poem, “The Touch of the Master’s Hand,” Myra Brooks Welch tells the story of the auctioning of an old, dusty violin. The violin was about to be sold for a mere $3 when a grey-haired man stepped forward, picked it up, dusted it off, tuned it and began to play. The man played such sweet music that, when he finished, the bidding jumped into the thousands of dollars. What transformed the dusty old violin into a precious instrument? The touch of the Master’s hand. The same “touch of the Master’s hand” continues to transform our lives today. By God’s touch we become His instruments to accomplish the marvelous works described in today’s Psalm 146: to secure justice for the oppressed, give food to the hungry and set the captives free.

# 3: The “Ephphatha prayer:” There is a little ritual in the rite of Baptism — alas it is often omitted — whose name and form are taken from today’s Gospel: “The Ephphatha.” The celebrant touches the ears and then the lips of the one to be baptized saying: “The Lord Jesus made the deaf hear and the dumb speak. May He soon touch your ear to receive His word and your mouth to proclaim His Faith.” This simple ceremony captures not only the kernel of today’s Gospel, but a most profound aspect of our Faith: its ‘giftedness’.

#4: “Five past two.” Two older men were talking. One of them was bragging just a little bit. “I just purchased the most expensive hearing aid ever made,” he said. “It is imported and is guaranteed for life.” The second man asked: “What kind is it?” The first man answered, “Five past two.” We can laugh about the hearing loss that comes with aging. It is a minor problem that will affect most of us sooner or later. In fact, experts predict that years of rock music, leaf blowers, and noise pollution in general will result in millions of baby boomers with hearing loss. According to a recent study by the National Institutes of Health, there has been a stunning 26 percent increase in those suffering permanent hearing loss between the ages of 35 and 60, compared to 15 years earlier. [With Adam Hanft, Dictionary of the Future (New York, NY: Hyperion, 2001), p. 3.] Today’s Gospel passage tells us how Jesus healed a deaf man who was mute.

Introduction: Today’s Scripture readings offer us an invitation to become humble instruments of healing in Jesus’ hands by giving voice to the voiceless, the needy and the marginalized in our society.   Today’s Scripture also invites us to open our ears to hear the word of God and to allow the Holy Spirit to loosen our tongues to convey the Good News of God’s love and salvation to others.    The first reading (Is 35:4-7), reminds us that God’s eyes are constantly focused on the helpless.   God especially cares for “the frightened, the blind, the deaf, the lame, the mute,” and He encourages the powerless to “be strong and fearless.” Today’s Responsorial Psalm (Ps 146), sings of a God who gives sight to the blind, raises up those who are bowed down and welcomes strangers. The psalmist thanks God and asks us to rejoice because “the God of Jacob keeps Faith forever,” by keeping His promise of peace and fullness of life for His people. That is why, in today’s second reading (James 2:1-5), the apostle gives us some basic and challenging principles of social justice. He exhorts Christians to show no partiality based on external appearance and to practice God’s “preferential option for the poor.” He warns the faithful against scorning or shaming the poor while showing special consideration to the rich.   Today’s Gospel describes how Jesus, by healing a deaf man with a speech impediment, fulfills Isaiah’s Messianic prophecy, “The eyes of the blind shall be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped.”  The ailments listed by Isaiah are symbolic of our interior illnesses: blindness to the needs of our neighbor, unwillingness to hear God’s voice and the inability to speak words of praise and gratitude. Through this miracle story, Mark also reminds us that no one can be a follower of the Lord without reaching out to the helpless (“preferential option for the poor”).

First reading, Isaiah 35:4-7, explained: ‘When the words, “Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the mute will sing “were first spoken by Isaiah of Jerusalem, the immediate reference was the hoped-for return and restoration of Israel after the Babylonian Exile. By the time of Jesus, those words were understood as pointing to the further restoration of Israel in the messianic age.’ (Dennis Hamm S. J.) The Jews are returning to their homeland after decades of exile in Babylon. Their arrival causes great friction with the other tribes already there, especially the Edomites. Hence, Isaiah reminds Israelites that when God leads his people home, He will work miracles on behalf of those who need it most: blind, deaf, lame and mute persons.  The Lord God’s message expresses the promised redemption in terms of health, healing and well-being for the disabled. Through Isaiah, He assures them that He blesses their return, and that they should be confident and not fearful. The prophetic admonition opens with one of the most frequent Biblical commands, “Fear not.” The life-giving streams of water bursting forth in the desert symbolize whatever is needed to achieve peace and fullness of life. The prophecy gives the Israelites the assurance that God will continue to save them from their enemies, will open their eyes to the reality of what He is providing for them and will open their ears to what He has to tell them through His priests and prophets. This reading from Isaiah echoes the words of compliment given to Jesus by the people in today’s healing story, “He has done all things well; he makes the deaf hear and the dumb speak.” Mark presents Jesus as the kind of savior prophesied by Isaiah, one who “makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

Second Reading: James 2:1-5, explained:  In this very practical pastoral letter, James points out to the members of the Church that they should treat others, whether they are rich or poor with equal honor and courtesy. James is not writing speculative theology, but reacting to real hurts inflicted on real people, and calling real Christians to a higher level of charity and responsibility. He exposes the sad irony of a Christian’s giving special consideration to someone who is fashionably dressed and wearing gold rings, while shaming the poor man in his shabby dress.  The poor man, James says, is poor in the eyes of the world but rich in Faith because he recognizes his dependence on God for everything and acknowledges that dependence in the way he lives and acts. James insists that Christians “should show no partiality.” In a society like ours, which values people who have much money, great power or celebrity status, James’ admonition turns our cultural assumptions upside-down and inside-out. That’s what makes our showing respect to everyone we encounter, despite social and/or economic status, and our treating all people as children of God, our brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ, a most valuable, living witness to Jesus who died to save us all. Hence wealthier Christians should show concern for the poorer members because (in baptism) God has chosen the poor to inherit the kingdom. At times, the Church was the only place in the ancient world where social distinctions did not exist. Master sat next to slave, poor beside rich.

Gospel Exegesis:  The human touch and the symbolism of Baptism: Today’s section from Mark’s Gospel begins with the healing of a deaf man with a speech impediment and ends with the healing of a blind man in the non-Jewish area of the Decapolis. (Mark 7:31-10:52). ‘Mark uses the highly unusual word mogilalon (literally: “with difficulty of speech”) to describe the deaf-mute whose healing is recounted in today’s gospel reading, for mogilalon is precisely the same Greek word used in the Septuagint for the word “dumb” in Isaiah 35:6.’(Reginald H. Fuller). In a culture where physical disabilities and sickness were commonly interpreted as signs of a person’s sinfulness (as a “curse” from God), many Jews would have considered this man to be stricken by God — a sinner. Hence, Jesus shows his tender consideration for the weak by leading the man away from the crowd so as not to embarrass him. The miracle is described in seven ritual-like steps: (1) Jesus leads the man away from the crowd   (2) puts his fingers into the man’s ears  (3)  spits on his own fingers  (4)  touches the man’s tongue  with the spittle (5) looks up to heaven  (6)  sighs  (7)  and speaks  the healing command: “Ephphatha”  (“be opened.”) “Jesus humbles himself to share the limitations of this one deaf man. By undignified dumb show, the love of the Lord heals the deaf man’s soul as well as his ears.” (Eleonore Stump). Jesus’ listeners, who were familiar with Hebrew Scriptures, would have recognized another signal in Jesus’ command, “Ephphatha! Be opened!” The ancients believed that words contain power. If translated, the word would lose its power. ‘By reporting the original Aramaic word, Mark underscores Jesus’ power as a traditional healer.’ (Jon J. Pilch). Six centuries earlier, Ezekiel had prophesied, “that day your mouth shall be opened, and you shall be dumb no longer” (Ez 3:27). Why does Jesus carry out this elaborate ritual, while in other miracles he simply speaks a word or touches the individual?   It is probably because the man cannot hear Jesus’ voice or express his needs.   People of that day also believed that the spittle of holy men had curative properties.  The early Church Fathers saw an indirect reference to Baptism in the way Jesus healed the man. In Baptism, the priest or deacon who baptized us touched our ears and mouths that we might hear the word of God and speak about Christ to others, sharing the “Good News” with the poor, the imprisoned, the fearful, and the broken-hearted.

 

God’s love in action: What we see is not simply the healing of a physical defect, but a concrete sign of the transforming power of God’s Love. The power of God’s Love is working in our lives to transform sorrow into joy, sickness into health, death into new life. The dumb man who is unable to communicate also symbolizes our own communication problem vis-à-vis God. In order to perceive and proclaim God’s message, we need to be transformed. The miracle is not only about the physical healing of a person who was deaf and dumb. It also points to the opening of a person’s ears so that he may hear the word of God and loosening of his tongue so that he may speak his profession of Faith in Jesus. The miracle has great relevance to us, because a person can have perfect hearing, and yet not hear the word of God, have perfect speech, and yet be unable to make an act of faith.

A challenge for the Church: All three readings speak of a God who is partial to the voiceless and the afflicted.  Today, however, many of us have lost the ability to recognize the voice of God calling us for action in our modern society.  We are asked to give hearing and voice to the deaf and the mute.   The person healed became a witness to the power of God. A Church that is to bear witness to the example of Jesus’ love must not neglect “those who are bowed down.”   Through its healing presence the Church must give voice to the voiceless.

Instruction to Keep Silence:   Why did Jesus ask the man to keep silence? Jesus knew that he still had more to accomplish before his final showdown with the religious leaders in Jerusalem.   If the crowds were to attempt to make him the leader of a revolt, a probable result of spreading the story of this healing around, it would spoil his Heavenly Father’s holy plan. Also, it seems likely that Jesus realized that people could easily misunderstand his healings and could see him simply as a human Messiah figure, a great miracle-worker and healer. In doing so, they would fail to grasp the larger message he had come to preach and live, which included humility and the necessity of suffering and the Cross before Resurrection (Dr. Watson).

Life messages:  1) We need to help Jesus to heal the deaf and the mute today.  Jesus desires to give us his healing touch in order to loosen our tongues so that he may speak to the spiritually hungry through us.   He invites us to give him our hearts so that he may touch the lives of people in our day through us, just as he touched the lives of millions through saintly souls like Francis of Assisi, Damien of Molokai, Vincent de Paul and Teresa of Calcutta (Mother Teresa).  Like them, we are also invited to become the voice of the “poorest of the poor,” the helpless, the downtrodden and the unwanted who are set aside by the “new economy,” or who cannot even “speak plainly and fearlessly” about their concerns. Jesus’ touch will reveal to us how we neglect, scorn or shame some people while showing favor to others.  His compassionate touch will help us to hear the cries of the poor and the sick.  It will teach us to show kindness, mercy and consideration to others. His healing touch will also help us convey peace and hope to those around us.

2) We need to allow Jesus to heal our spiritual deafness and muteness.  In times of grief, despair and failure, we can be “deaf” to the presence of God in the love and compassion of others; or we can become so preoccupied with the noise and clamor of the marketplace that we are unable to hear the voices of those we love and who love us. We may find it hard to speak to God in prayer and harder still to hear Him speaking to us through the Bible and through the Church.  This may be because many of us are satisfied with what we have learned in catechism class about the Seven Sacraments, the Ten Commandments of God, the Six Commandments of the Church and the seven deadly sins. We don’t want to hear more about our Faith through further study of the Bible or the teachings of the Church.  It is not infrequent to meet Catholics who are highly qualified in their secular professions but are basically illiterate in their Faith. Hence, let us imitate the dumb man in the Gospel by seeking out Jesus, following him away from the crowd and spending more of our time in coming to know him intimately as we study Holy Scripture and to experience him directly in our lives in personal prayer.   Our growing awareness of the healing presence of Jesus in our lives will open our ears and loosen our tongues.

 

3) Let us bring Jesus’ holy word “Ephphatha” to a generation blighted by the materialistic cultural aggression of our times:   We are reminded that Jesus has the power to heal the spiritual deafness caused by habitual sin. Hearts that have become hardened by a refusal to hear, be changed by, and then live out his words are once again challenged: “Ephphatha! Be opened!” In their day, the Romans imposed their language and culture on Palestine.  Modern secular culture, in fact, is no better. Religion and God are being evicted from schools, colleges, courtrooms, politics and public life. One cannot speak of virginity or marital fidelity without a contemptuous laugh from others.   The unborn child with a precious soul is often considered a “mere nuisance,” a “product of conception,” a “fetus,” “a blob of tissue,” or a “tumor that can be gotten rid of,” with no human rights. In today’s motion pictures, all religious gestures are either forbidden or relegated to the ignorant or superstitious.   We are told that sixty-five percent of our Catholic youth have no formal religious education beyond the eighth grade. They are exposed to the culture of free sex, loose relationships, liquor, drugs and violence.   No wonder, then, if they become deaf and blind to Christian ideals of morality, holiness in life and social justice! May our Lord touch us through this Gospel so that we also can say “Ephphatha” (“Be thou opened!”) to everything and everyone shut in from or closed to God and His loving Providence.

 

JOKE OF THE WEEK: “Being cheerful keeps you healthy. It is slow death to be gloomy all the time” {Proverbs 17: 22}.1) Who is deaf?  An old man is talking to the family doctor. “Doctor, I think my wife’s going deaf.” The doctor answers, “Well, here’s something you can try on her to test her hearing. Stand some distance away from her without facing her and ask her a question. If she doesn’t answer, move a little closer and ask again. Keep repeating this until she answers. Then you’ll be able to tell just how hard of hearing she really is.” The man goes home and tries it out. He walks in the door and asks, “Honey, what’s for dinner?” He doesn’t hear an answer, so he moves closer to her. “Honey, what’s for dinner?” Still he gets no answer. He repeats this several times, until he’s standing just one foot away from her. Finally, she answers, “For the eleventh time, I said we’re having meat loaf!”

2) The new hearing aid: An elderly gentleman had had serious hearing problems for a number of years. He went to the doctor, and the doctor was able to have him fitted for a set of hearing aids that allowed the gentleman to hear 100%. The elderly gentleman went back in a month to the doctor and the doctor said, “Your hearing is perfect. Your family must be really pleased that you can hear again.” The gentleman replied, “Oh, I haven’t told my family yet. I just sit around and listen to the conversations. I’ve changed my will three times!”

3) Webster’s English in the first century!  Helena, a member of the Providence, Rhode Island Women’s Club went to a fund-raising “carnival” staged for the benefit of the Women’s Club. One of the events took place in a tent which had been set up for a medium to conduct séances. Helena bought a ticket, went inside, and sat down at a large round table, presided over by the medium. The medium asked if anyone would like to make contact with a departed person. “Very well,” said Helena, “there is a Bible story about Jesus curing a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment. I would like to contact that man.” After much bell-ringing, moaning and groaning, and humming which seemed to be coming from all directions, a voice from the chandelier announced distinctly, “I am the man whom Jesus cured of deafness and a speech impediment.” To which Helena replied, “I know you can hear me because Jesus cured you of your deafness, and I can tell you that your speech is coming through most clearly, but I have one question.” “Ask me anything,” the voice came back. “All right, then,” said Helena, “tell me, where did you, the Aramaic-speaking, first century Palestinian learn to speak American English?”

 

WEBSITES OF THE WEEK

  1. The Catholic Information Service : http://www.catholic.net/
  2. Catholic Teenagers: http://www.faithfirst.com/
  3. Catholic online: http://www.catholic.org/
  4. Morality in Media: http://www.moralityinmedia.org/
  5. All about angels: http://www.catholic.org/saints/angel.php
  6. Catechism of the Catholic church  summarized: http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/ccc_toc.htm
  7. Reformation meets Rome:  http://www.calledtocommunion.com/

 

20- Additional anecdotes:

1) Ludwig van Beethoven: Did you know, by the way, that the three most popular languages in the United States are English, Spanish, and American Sign Language? There are more non-hearing people in our land than you might imagine. One of the saddest instances of deafness that I know is that of the immortal composer of classical music, Ludwig van Beethoven. For a musician, deafness would be the tragedy of tragedies. As he himself wrote on one occasion, “How sad is my lot! I must avoid all things that are dear to me.” There was a terrible time when Beethoven was struggling to conduct an orchestra playing one of his own compositions. He could not hear even the full orchestra. Soon he was beating one time and the orchestra was playing another, and the performance disintegrated in disaster. There is a pathetic picture of him after he had given a piano recital, bent over the keyboard, oblivious to the applause that thundered about him. He wrote on another occasion, “For two years I have avoided almost all social gatherings because it is impossible for me to say to people ‘I am deaf.’ If I belonged to any other profession it would be easier, but in my profession it is a frightful state.” Beethoven died a broken, bitter man. You and I who have our hearing, have our vision, who are able to get around with a minimum of impediments, ought to thank God every day, and we ought to salute those who overcome obstacles that we cannot even imagine.

2) “You have turned to medicine and drinking, and you are killing yourself.” W. Moore, in his book, When All Else Fails, Read the Instructions, tells about a “made-for-TV” movie years ago titled The Betty Ford Story. The movie was produced with the help, the support and the encouragement of former First Lady Betty Ford, to reveal, out of her own personal experience, the dangers of drugs and alcohol. Mrs. Ford was overwhelmed by the demands and stresses of being this nation’s first lady and by the debilitating pain of arthritis. Consequently, over time, she became addicted to pain medication and alcohol. In the most powerful scene in that movie, her family confronts Mrs. Ford, and one by one, her children express their love and their concern for her. And then straightforwardly, they tell her what they are seeing–that she has become a prescription-medicine addict and an alcoholic. At first, she denies that she has a problem, but eventually she realizes what is happening and gets help. In that poignant intervention scene, one of the children says this to her, “Mother, always before, when you had a problem, you turned to God and to your family, but lately you have shut us out. You have turned to medicine and drinking, and you are killing yourself.” Sometimes the most loving thing you can do for someone is to tell them–in love–the brutal truth. Betty Ford’s family loved her enough to help her see herself as she really was. As long as there is someone who cares for us, there is hope. That is the first thing we need to see. And here is the second thing: No one is hopeless who is open to Jesus. That is why someone brought this non-hearing man to Jesus.

3) Deaf Heather Whitestone did that. When Heather was a child, Daphne, her mother, was advised to send Heather to a school for the deaf and not to expect her to receive more than a third-grade education. But her mother had greater ambitions for Heather. With her mother’s encouragement Heather has been able to turn a hearing disability into an asset. Many of you will recognize Heather Whitestone’s name as Miss America 1995. In Heather’s hometown there is a poster featuring a photo of Heather, taped on a storefront. The poster reads: “They said she would only be able to get a third-grade education. Fortunately, she wasn’t listening!” (Denise George, “Capturing a Nation’s Heart,” Pursuit, Vol. III No. 4, p. 26). Today’s Gospel tells us how a deaf and mute man receives Jesus’ healing touch.

4) The healing touch: The Elephant Man, is a play about a real person. The “Elephant Man” was terribly deformed. People who saw him were repelled. If you saw the play, you will remember his meeting with Mrs. Kendall, an actress who befriended him. He offered her his less-deformed hand, but Mrs. Kendall shakes her head, making it clear that she wants to hold his horribly deformed hand. It takes several minutes for him to summon up the courage to hold out the other hand. Finally, Mrs. Kendall takes it into her hand and holds it affectionately for a minute. Then she leaves. Just before the curtain falls on Act I, the Elephant Man says, “This is the first time I have ever held a woman’s hand.” And much of the spiritual healing that occurs in his life follows this very simple incident. The medical community has been telling us about the therapeutic value of touching. For example, monitoring equipment can measure the effects of the healing touch of a nurse on a patient. The heartbeats of intensive care patients often can be stabilized when a caring nurse holds a patient’s hand. The effects are measurable. A few years ago, in some orphanages in South America, many of the young children were dying mysteriously although they were well fed. Dr. Rene Spitz, who studied this phenomenon, concluded that the babies were dying for lack of touch, for lack of the love that is communicated through touching. Henri Nouwen, author of many spiritual books, has written about his experiences in South America, working among the poor. He talks about the children who come and stand beside him, not looking for a handout, but hoping to be hugged, to be touched, to be loved. They want that more than anything else, he says. Today’s Gospel tells us a story of Jesus’ healing touch, conveying the transforming power of God’s love, which healed a dumb man.

5) “It simply depends on what you are listening to.” A number of years ago, I heard a story about a Native American, a Cherokee, who was in downtown New York walking with a friend who lived in New York City. As they were walking along all of a sudden the Native American stopped and said, “I hear a cricket.” His friend replied, “Oh, you’re crazy.” “No, I hear a cricket. I do! I’m sure of it,” he said. The New Yorker said “It’s noon. There are people everywhere headed to lunch, cars are honking, taxis squealing, there’s all the noise from the city. Surely you can’t hear a cricket above all that.” The Native America said, “Well, I’m sure I hear a cricket.” So he listened attentively and then walked about 10 feet to the corner where there was a shrub in a large cement planter. He dug beneath the leaves and found a cricket. His friend was astounded. But the Cherokee said, “My ears are no different from yours. It simply depends on what you are listening to. Here, let me show you.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a handful of change, a few quarters, some dimes, nickels, and pennies. And he dropped it on the concrete. Every head within half a block turned. “You see what I mean?” as he began picking up all the coins. “It all depends on what you are listening for.” I wonder what the deaf man in the passage today started listening for?

6) Some of you know the name Max Cleland. Cleland is a former United States Senator from the state of Georgia. Max Cleland is a genuine war hero. He lost three limbs in Vietnam. How did he keep going? He says that one of the books that inspired him after his devastating injuries was an incredible story titled Reach for the Sky. This book is about Doug Bader, a fighter pilot of World War II. Doug Bader was a gifted young pilot in the British Royal Air Force before World War II. Just before the war, he was involved in a plane crash that changed his life forever. Both of his legs were amputated, and he was discharged from the R.A.F. as “totally disabled.” However, as Hitler hammered Great Britain in the blitz, England needed every available, trained pilot who could be found. Bader was proficient with his artificial limbs by this time, and desperately wanted to return to active duty. In an amazing and unbelievable turn of events, Bader was returned to active duty in the R.A.F. He had an incredibly successful record as a pilot. He shot down 26 enemy planes and achieved the rank of wing commander. But then he himself was shot down behind enemy lines. As his plane went down in flames, he managed to parachute to safety, but he left one of his artificial legs behind. On the ground, he was easily captured by the Germans. He became a P.O.W. But the story doesn’t end there. He escaped from the P.O.W. camp. When he was recaptured the Germans placed him in a maximum security prison. He remained there until the war was over. The Germans were so impressed by his courage that they allowed the R.A.F. to send Bader an artificial leg to replace the one he left in his crashing plane. When he strapped on the limb, the German officers raised their glasses in a toast of respect. The British celebrated the fifth anniversary of what Churchill called “The Battle of Britain” at the end of the war. Wing Commander Doug Bader was chosen to lead the fly past over London in honor of the occasion. For his incredible courage in World War II, Bader received the Victoria Cross, England’s highest military decoration. [Max Cleland, Going For The Max! 12 Principles for Living Life to the Fullest (Nashville, TN, 1999).] These stories of people who overcame the loss of one of their physical abilities are amazing. Have you ever noticed that Jesus seemed to have had a special love for people with handicapping conditions?

7) “There’s no bill now.” : One of the sad truths of life is that people with physical disabilities are often the recipients of abuse and humiliation from others. From a very young age, Henry Viscardi learned this cruel lesson. Henry was born with stumps instead of fully developed legs. He learned to walk well on his stumps, and he was capable of living a normal life, but the prejudices of others hurt him very much. When Henry was reduced to crying out, “Why me?” his mother told him a story that may trouble us theologically, but it helped young Henry. She said, “When it was time for another crippled boy to be born, the Lord and His councils held a meeting to decide where he should be sent, and the Lord said, “I think the Viscardis would be a good family to take care of him.'” It was just a simple story, but it made Henry feel he had a place and a purpose in life. He stopped asking “Why me?” and began making the most of his abilities. Henry did very well in school, and eventually graduated from Fordham University. After years of trying to walk like a normal person, Henry had damaged the skin and tissue of his stumps. He knew that without prosthetic legs, he would have to use a wheelchair. But no prosthesis could be found to fit him properly. Doctor after doctor said it was hopeless. But then one day, a German doctor committed himself to inventing a prosthesis that would work for Henry. It took a few months, but the German doctor finally created a workable pair of legs. For the first time in his life, Henry Viscardi looked and walked like a normal man. But when he tried to pay for the legs, the doctor refused to accept it. Here’s what he said to Henry, “There’s no bill now. But someday, if you’ll make the difference for one other individual–the difference between a life dependent on charity and one rich with dignity and self-sufficiency–our account will be squared.” Henry joined the Red Cross during World War II, and he dedicated himself to helping new amputees deal with their situation. When the war ended, Henry witnessed the problems that many disabled veterans had in getting jobs. So he gathered together a group of sympathetic business leaders and created Just One Break–or JOB–an organization that finds jobs for people with disabilities. Next, Henry started Abilities, Inc., with the same goal in mind. That was over forty years ago. Today, Abilities, Inc. has grown into the National Center for Disabilities Services. They run a school for children with disabilities. All their efforts are aimed at educating, empowering, and rehabilitating those with physical disabilities. As Henry Viscardi says today, “I can’t help but believe that the Lord had a plan for my life that made me the way I was and let me become who I am.” [Eric Feldman, The Power Behind Positive Thinking (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1996), pp. 153-155.] Do you hear what he is saying? Henry Viscardi looked for God’s hand in his life, and he yielded himself to that leading hand and he accomplished far more than the majority of people with two good legs accomplish in their lifetimes. As long as somebody loves you, there’s hope. As long as you are willing to yield yourself to Jesus’ touch there is hope.

This deaf man with the speech impediment had people who cared about him. They brought him to Jesus. And then this deaf man yielded himself to the Master’s touch. Looking up to Heaven, Jesus sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” And immediately this man’s ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.

8) “Something in me wants to live.” Rachel Naomi Remen who has written a popular book titled Kitchen Table Wisdom is a medical doctor. She has learned through the years that the best healing of the human body takes place when the mind, body and spirit work together. She is “one of the earliest pioneers in the mind/body health field.” Dr. Remen understands the importance of Faith within the field of medicine because her first and most important mentor was her grandfather, a rabbi. Dr. Remen speaks of the “life force” in people. It is very similar to Schweitzer’s doctor within. She tells about Max, a sixty-three year old man who was sent to her because he had metastatic colon cancer. In the words of Dr. Remen, “The experts had given him daunting statistics and offered only a guarded prognosis.” Their work together had to do with helping Max to see where his life force was. You see Max had been born prematurely. As a tiny weak baby, he had absorbed his mother’s time and energy in the first few years of his life, which, for some reason, had enraged his father. As a little boy Max overheard an argument between his parents in which his father said, “If that little runt was one of the animals, I’d have put it out to starve.” That comment was devastating for Max. For the next 60 years he lived a self-destructive life that would have destroyed a weaker man. Dr. Remen reminded Max that despite his many brushes with death, the broken bones, the accidents, the risks he took almost daily, he was still here. She asked him what he thought had brought him through. “Luck,” he said quickly. She shot him a skeptical look. No one was that lucky. He sat for a while with his thoughts. Then in a choked and almost inaudible voice, he confessed that he had always wanted to live. She could hardly hear him. “Can you say that any louder?” He looked at the rug between his boots. Unable to speak, he just nodded. Almost in a whisper he said, “I feel ashamed.” Dr. Remen said that her heart went out to him. In a shaking voice he said, “Something in me wants to live.” His eyes were still fixed on the rug. “Say it, Max,” Dr. Remen thought. “Say it until it becomes real.” She wondered if she dared to push him a little further. “Do you think you could look at me and tell me that?” Dr. Remen asked Max. She could sense the struggle in him. Had she gone too far? He had never confronted his father. Most likely, saying such a simple thing out loud, “I want to live,” went against a lifelong pattern. Perhaps he would not be able to free himself even this little bit. With an effort Max raised his eyes, his voice still choked but no longer inaudible. “I want to live,” he said evenly. They stared at each other for a few moments but he did not drop his eyes. Dr. Remen smiled at him. “I want you to live too,” she said. And he did. Max went on to live eight more years. [(Penguin, 1996), pp. 12-13. Cited by Jean A. F. Holmes, http://www.npcpearl.org/Sermons/Sermon10292000.htm.] Imagine! If a conversation with Dr. Remen could have such an effect on a person, what could a contact with Jesus of Nazareth have done for him? Jesus’ works of healing should be the least controversial part of his ministry. Of course Jesus could heal, and he still heals today. Sometimes he heals bodies, sometimes he heals marriages, sometimes he heals broken hearts but he does heal.

9) “And now, God, what can I do for you?” The story is told of a four-year-old saying her night prayers. She asked God to take care of mommy, daddy, and her cat. Then she asked, “And now, God, what can I do for you?” A question still hotly debated is how do we take care of the poor. Three billion people exist on $3 a day. Over one half billion on $1 daily. A quarter billion children work sometimes in dreadful conditions. Five people will die from malaria in the time it takes you to read this homily. Do we help the poor and ill just by paying our taxes? Or do we give at the office? Or do we get our own hands dirty? The answer to these questions is found in today’s Gospel? (Fr. James Gilhooley) 

10) “The Country of the Blind” is a short story written by H.G Wells. While attempting to summit the unconquered crest of Parascotopetl, a fictitious mountain in Ecuador, a mountaineer named Nunez slips and falls down the far side of the mountain. At the end of his descent, down a snow-slope in the mountain’s shadow, he finds a valley, cut off from the rest of the world on all sides by steep precipices. It was an unusual village with windowless houses and a network of paths, all bordered by kerbs. Upon discovering that everyone is blind, Nunez begins reciting to himself the refrain, “In the Country of the Blind the One-Eyed Man is King”. He realizes that he can teach and rule them, but the villagers have no concept of sight and do not understand his attempts to explain this fifth sense to them. Frustrated, Nunez becomes angry but they calm him and he reluctantly submits to their way of life because returning to the outside world is impossible. Nunez is assigned to work for a villager named Yacob, and becomes attracted to Yacob’s youngest daughter, Medina-saroté. Nunez and Medina-saroté soon fall in love with one another, and having won her confidence, Nunez slowly starts trying to explain sight to her. Medina-saroté, however, simply dismisses it as his imagination. When Nunez asks for her hand in marriage he is turned down by the village elders on account of his “unstable” obsession with “sight”. The village doctor suggests that Nunez’s eyes be removed, claiming that they are diseased and are affecting his brain. Nunez reluctantly consents to the operation because of his love for Medina-saroté. But at sunrise on the day of the operation, while all the villagers are asleep, Nunez, the failed King of the Blind, sets off for the mountains hoping to find a passage to the outside world and escape the valley. Sight is one of the greatest blessings that we enjoy. Since we are able to see from our birth we do not appreciate its value. Today’s Gospel tells us how Jesus, by healing a deaf and mute man, fulfills Isaiah’s Messianic prophecy, “The eyes of the blind shall be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped.” (Fr. Bobby Jose).

11)   Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan: We all know Helen Keller, whose story we read or watched in the play or movie The Miracle Worker. Helen wrote in her autobiography the key experience in her life: “The most important day I remember in all my life is the one in which my teacher, Annie Mansfield Sullivan, came to me. I stretched out my hand as I supposed it to be my mother. But someone took it, and I was caught up and held close in the arms of someone who had come to reveal all things to me, and more than all else to love me.” Annie Sullivan did give the child enormous love, but she also gave her firm and, at times, violent discipline. Annie’s combination of very tender and warm love and very stern and uncompromising discipline touched this child deeply and made her into a human being and a very great one at that. Even a cynical soul like Mark Twain, who got to know Helen Keller, reckoned her as one of the most interesting figures in the nineteenth century, because she had conquered her own physical limitations to become a beautiful and noble lady. In today’s Gospel, we see Jesus dealing with the man who was deaf and dumb, and we can receive many insights for our own life from contemplating the scene. (William Bausch in Telling Stories, Compelling Stories; quoted by Fr. Botelho). 

12) Miraculous transformation:  A working man was strongly drawn towards a beautiful vase he saw in a stall down in the town market. He bought the vase and brought it home. The vase was so beautiful that it made his front room look drab, dull, and indeed plain ugly. So he got bright paints and transformed the whole house. He got colorful curtains to match the paint, a brightly patterned carpet, and he even stripped down and varnished the furniture. Because of the beauty of the vase the whole room was transformed. – When Jesus enters my heart, the areas in need of attention become, oh, so obvious. Holiness consists in discovering that I am a much bigger sinner than I ever thought I was! The closer I come to God the more obvious the contrast!  When Jesus comes to our lives, his touch, and his presence make all the difference! (Jack McArdle in More stories for Preachers and Teachers; quoted by Fr. Botelho).

 13) The Buzzard, the Bat, and the Bumblebee:  If you put a buzzard in a pen that is 6 feet by 8 feet and is entirely open at the top, the bird, in spite of its ability to fly, will be an absolute prisoner. The reason is that a buzzard always begins a flight from the ground with a run of 10 to 12 feet. Without space to run, as is its habit, it will not even attempt to fly, but will remain a prisoner for life in a small jail with no top.   The ordinary bat that flies around at night, a remarkable nimble creature in the air, cannot take off from a level place. If it is placed on the floor or flat ground, all it can do is shuffle about helplessly and, no doubt, painfully, until it reaches some slight elevation from which it can throw itself into the air. Then, at once, it takes off like a flash. A bumblebee, if dropped into an open tumbler, will be there until it dies, unless it is taken out. It never sees the means of escape at the top, but persists in trying to find some way out through the sides near the bottom. It will seek a way where none exists, until it completely destroys itself.

In many ways, we are like the buzzard, the bat, and the bumblebee. We struggle about with all our problems and frustrations, never realizing that all we have to do is look up! That’s the answer, the escape route and the solution to any problem! Just look up.

14) Joshua Bell’s violin performance in a subway station:  On January 12, 2007, at 7:12 AM, The Washington Post conducted an experiment you might have heard about. The experiment involved Joshua Bell, one of the world’s greatest violinists who performed for almost all the world’s orchestras. He was commissioned to play his $ 4,000,000 Stradivarius violin in a subway station in Washington, DC. So he dressed like a street musician looking for tips and sat in the subway station playing for 43 minutes. The Washington Post had a hidden camera to video the entire event. Out of the 1097 people who passed by him, seven stopped to listen! He received $32.17 in tips, not counting $20 he received from one person who recognized him. The story is an excellent illustration of what James tells us in the second reading and what Jesus teaches us by healing a deaf man. (Fr. Joe Robinson; from Guiding Light).

15) “I visualize where I want to be.” During a recent interview, American basketball star, Michael Jordan was asked to explain the reasons for his undaunting optimism and perseverance. He replied candidly, “Obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it or work around it. I visualize where I want to be, what kind of player I want to become. I know exactly where I want to go and I focus on getting there.” In today’s first reading, Isaiah’s prophetic message offers his original audience a similar Jordan-like optimism and willingness to persevere. The people had run into a wall, as it were, and Isaiah was offering advice on how to scale it. (Sanchez files).

16) “I’ve always thought our Lord Jesus was a bit of a liberal.” With regard to the proper Christian understanding of law and regulations: “Ernst Käsemann (Jesus Means Freedom) tells the delightful story of a Church in Holland in a year which had seen rising tides and collapsing dikes. One particularly bad weekend, it was necessary for the town mayor to ask the pastor of the local Reformed Church to bring all of his people out to help repair the dikes on Sunday morning or else they might lose the entire town. The pastor called the Church elders together who discussed the matter and concluded that they had been commanded to keep the Sabbath holy, so if they perished it was God’s will, but they would not cancel services. The pastor then mentioned Jesus’ violation of the Sabbath law, hoping it might stimulate some further thought. To which one old elder says ‘Pastor, I have never before ventured to say this publicly, but I’ve always thought our Lord Jesus was a bit of a liberal.” (http://www.preachingpeace.org).

17) Found at a Church door: “May the door of this Church be wide enough to receive all who hunger for love, all who are lonely for fellowship. May it welcome all who have cares to unburden, thanks to express, hopes to nurture. May the doors of this church be narrow enough to shut out pettiness and pride, envy and enmity. May this sanctuary welcome all who seek serenity, renewal, and truth; may it be, for all of us, the gateway to a richer and more meaningful life.” (Dr. Murray Watson).

18) What brought about the sudden change? During World War II, there was in Poland a brilliant and Popular pianist, named Marta Korwin-Rhodes. As a matter of fact, she was in Warsaw when the city was bombarded. The devastation to both life and property was so horrible, that the brave and noble musician decided to stay and help the wounded in crowded hospitals instead of fleeing to safely. One night as Marta was walking through the wards, she heard a soldier sobbing loudly and pathetically. Going over to his side, she watched helplessly as his heart-rending cries literally broke her heart. What was she to do? And how was she to console such a disconsolate person? Suddenly she looked at her hands, and a most interesting thought crossed her mind. “If these hands can produce harmony from the keys of a piano, then surely God can use them to comfort and reassure a person in extreme pain.” Instantly she bent down and gently placed her hand on his forehead and earnestly prayed: “O God, help this man, for he is in pain and misery. Give him your comfort and peace in this moment of trial.” To her stunned disbelief, the man’s sobbing stopped, and he soon fell into a peaceful sleep.
(James V. in “Your Words, O Lord, Are Spirit, and They Are Life” quoted by Fr. Botelho).

19) Crippled hearts- handicaps of the Normal: One day while listening to a talk given by Jean Vanier (Founder of L’Arche) I learnt a great lesson. It was a disturbing one, but I am glad I learnt it. Until that day I thought I had no handicaps.  I had two good hands, two good feet, two good ears, and so on. In other words, I was what is considered ‘normal’. But in listening to Vanier I discovered I too had handicaps – of a different kind. The gospel concerns the cure of a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment. In other words, a handicapped man. Because the man was handicapped, we might think that the miracle has relevance for us, this would be a mistake. The man’s handicaps were physical. But there are other kinds besides the physical ones. In truth all of us are handicapped in one way or another. The fact that our handicaps are not visible as those of the man in the gospel doesn’t make them less real. The greatest handicap of all, however is that of a crippled heart. A paraplegic observed: “Living as a cripple in a wheelchair allows you to see more clearly the crippled hearts of some people whose bodies are whole and whose minds are sound.” Flor McCarthy in ‘New Sunday & Holy Day Liturgies’ quoted by Fr. Botelho).

20) The Buzzard, the Bat, and the Bumblebee:  If you put a buzzard in a pen that is 6 feet by 8 feet and is entirely open at the top, the bird, in spite of its ability to fly, will be an absolute prisoner. The reason is that a buzzard always begins a flight from the ground with a run of 10 to 12 feet. Without space to run, as is its habit, it will not even attempt to fly, but will remain a prisoner for life in a small jail with no top.   The ordinary bat that flies around at night, a remarkable nimble creature in the air, cannot take off from a level place. If it is placed on the floor or flat ground, all it can do is shuffle about helplessly and, no doubt, painfully, until it reaches some slight elevation from which it can throw itself into the air. Then, at once, it takes off like a flash. A bumblebee, if dropped into an open tumbler, will be there until it dies, unless it is taken out. It never sees the means of escape at the top but persists in trying to find some way out through the sides near the bottom. It will seek a way where none exists, until it completely destroys itself. In many ways, we are like the buzzard, the bat, and the bumblebee. We struggle about with all our problems and frustrations, requiring solution or healing, never realizing that all we have to do is look up! That’s the answer, the escape route and the solution to any problem! Just look up. (Sermons.com). L/18

“Scriptural Homilies” Cycle B (No 47) by Fr. Tony: akadavil@gmail.com

Visit our website: http://frtonyshomilies.com/for previous Cycle B homilies, 141 Year of FaithAdult Faith Formation Lessons” (useful for RCIA classes too) & 196 “Question of the Week.” Contact me only at akadavil@gmail.com. Visit http://www.vaticannews.va/en/church.html for the Vatican version of this homily.

Fr. Anthony Kadavil, Chaplain, Sacred Heart Residence of the Little Sisters of the Poor, 1655 McGill Ave, Mobile, AL 36604.