“He has done all things well. He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” In fact, He, Jesus, has done much more than that. He has also destroyed death and given to each of us the gift of eternal life. It seems to me that this week’s Gospel and Sunday readings contain a very powerful reminder about what our faith is all about and where it is as Christians that we are really called to place our faith.
There is a beautiful prayer that is said when an infant is baptized. It is known as the Ephphatha Prayer. Based on today’s Gospel story, the prayer goes like this: “The Lord Jesus made the deaf hear and the mute speak. May He soon touch your ears to receive His word and your lips to proclaim His faith, to the praise and glory of God the Father.” As the celebrant of baptism says this prayer, he is to touch the infant’s ears and mouth. This prayer is said at the time that a child is baptized. In almost all cases, those children for whom the prayer is said have no impediment in hearing and speech; so why is it said? I like to explain it in this way: During the child’s life, he or she will hear millions of words. Many of these words will give them negative messages; telling them that they have no value unless they are rich or successful; and at times leading them to forget that they are children of God. The prayer asks that all those who are baptized will hear the Gospel and the Good News of Christ’s salvation and recognize it as the Word of God and that he or she will also speak God’s word and proclaim His saving actions so that other people will also come to believe in Christ and know His salvation.
It strikes me that this is a prayer that is very important for the whole Church today. “The Lord Jesus made the deaf hear and the mute speak. May He soon touch your ears to receive His word and your lips to proclaim His faith to the praise and the glory of God the Father.”
These days, as we hear reports of the sinful deeds of a small minority of the Church’s priests and bishops, both Christians and those outside the Church, are becoming deaf to the Good News of salvation to be found in Christ. As I have said so many times, the message of the Church is not about the goodness of its members, but that Jesus has come to save the members of the Church who profess Him as their Lord and Savior. What the Church invites us to hear as its message is about the fullness of life and salvation to be found in Christ. As we learn of the tragic sins of a small number of priests and Church leaders from around the world, many good people become deafened to the Good News of salvation to be found in Christ. The failures of the members of Christ’s Body should never prevent any from hearing the Good News of salvation which Christ came to bring to each of us in our brokenness. The Gospels are full of accounts of the apostles and disciples’ weaknesses. The Good News contained within them is that Jesus comes to the sinners in our broken world and Church to save them through His love and mercy. “The Lord Jesus made the deaf hear and the mute speak. May He touch your ears to receive His word.”
Most of the time, I make a point of trying to wear my collar and identify myself as a priest. Since these events in Pennsylvania have been reported, I have caught myself removing it more often than normal. Some of my friends have told me that they feel embarrassed acknowledging that they are Christians. Part of what Jesus asks us to do as His disciples, as Christians, is to speak of the Good News of what He has done for us. Think about it: When was the last time you spoke openly about what Jesus has done for you? Do you ever speak about how his presence in your life makes a difference? We begin each Mass by acknowledging that we are all sinners in need of God’s love and mercy. Since we are all sinners and have failings, it is easy to speak about the failings of those in the Church and contribute to the spreading of despair, cynicism and hopelessness. That, however, is not what Christians are called to speak about. Our call is to proclaim the Good News of Him who has called us out of darkness, set us free, and saved us from sin and death. When all we do is speak about sin and the failures of others, we literally become servants of the Devil, proclaiming his victory over goodness and we contribute to the spreading of darkness and sin over the earth. Jesus has anointed all of us to proclaim His Good News; to invite people to turn away from sin and to proclaim the hope that all of us are to find in Him alone. When the sins of others make us silent to the Good News of Jesus Christ, we are rendered mute by sin and fail in our mission as disciples of Jesus Christ. “The Lord Jesus made the deaf to hear and the mute to speak. May He soon touch your ears to receive His word and your lips to proclaim His faith, to the praise and glory of God the Father.”
The reports that we are hearing in these days about the failings of the members of the Church are shameful and shocking. We must not dismiss them and we must all work to see that these actions are not tolerated. We must say an emphatic “no” to sin and abuse. However, these sins of other human beings must not deafen us to the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. When the sins of other human beings deafen us to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Devil is victorious. At the same time, when we as Christians hear about these sins and betrayals, they should not have the power to silence us. The Gospels face head on the weaknesses of Jesus’ followers when they report openly the betrayal of Jesus by both Judas and Peter. They could have tried to hide these embarrassing facts about those chosen by Jesus himself. Instead of being silent about these failures of Jesus’ followers, the Gospels use these human failings as reasons to proclaim the salvation to be found in Christ through His Church. Again, if our sins, or the sins of others, lead us to silence, then the Devil and despair are victorious. The only proper response for a Christian who is confronted with sin is to proclaim the Good News of the Savior who alone can free us from sin. When sin and evil are clearly evident, the only thing for a Christian to do is speak with greater conviction and certainty of the salvation and freedom to be found in Christ.
The words which the Lord spoke through the prophet Isaiah to the people who were discouraged are very appropriate for us today:
“Thus says the Lord:
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.”
The psalmist reminds us what it is that we are called to do as Christians— to praise the Lord. As the psalm reports— it is the Lord alone who saves. This alone is the Christian message. This is the message that Christ calls us to hear. Salvation is found in Jesus and professing Him alone as our God and Savior. With this in mind, may we all make our own today that prayer which was spoken on the day of our baptism:
“The Lord Jesus made the deaf to hear and the mute to speak. May He soon touch your ears to receive His word and your lips to proclaim His faith, to the praise and glory of God the Father.”
Fr. Michael McGourty
Pastor- St. Peter’s Parish— Toronto.