Growing up, my brothers and I were involved in the Boy Scouts. There was a certain honor society within the Scouts with a detailed initiation process. Part of the process involved 24 hours of silence, on two separate occasions. What made it particularly challenging was that you were surrounded by others who could talk…and sometimes tested your ability to remain silent. That was the first time in my life I had spent a significant amount of time not talking. Then as a seminarian and as a priest, we regularly have silent retreats which last upwards of four days, an experience which many of you, I’m sure have also experienced. What I always remember, whether it was the first time as a teenager or as a priest, is the joy of being able to speak once again – after only four days at the most!
The Gospel presents us with a man who had not only been unable to speak, but unable to hear – and that presumably for years! Think about how much we presume and depend on the ability to hear and speak, how much of our day is
filled with communication – hearing others, speaking. How easy it can be with those abilities, and how frustrating it is when we can’t hear someone, for example, on the phone, or when we can’t communicate for any number of reasons. Imagine the joy that man experienced on being able to hear the beautiful sounds of the world around him for the first time: birds singing, wind in the trees, voices of his loved ones, the melody of a song, and the freedom of having a conversation with anyone he wanted without resorting to signs, gestures, or pointing.
This is the joy and the relief that this man experienced on being healed by the Lord. How fitting are the words of the prophet Isaiah: [When] your God…comes to save you. Then…the ears of the deaf will be cleared…the tongue of the mute will sing. Not only are the mute able to utter words, but they desire to sing, so full are they with the joy of being able to speak and hear, not only for its utility but for the sheer joy of hearing & producing beautiful sounds. It isn’t only this one man, for the end of today’s Gospel as well as other passages suggest that our Lord healed many who were deaf and mute. Maybe it’s idealizing the situation, only slightly however, because I imagine they would have often paused to reflect upon their newly-acquired abilities, so that, when they would hear words, they would always think of Jesus Christ, Who gave them the ability to hear, and when they would speak, they would do so knowing it was a precious gift not to be used in a careless manner.
With that in mind, I want to draw a connection…if you’ve been to a Baptism recently, you’ll recall a very short, but beautiful prayer which takes place after the pouring of the water, and after the giving of the baptismal candle: the “Ephphatha” Rite, which takes its name from today’s Gospel passage. The bishop, priest, or deacon who baptizes, says these words:
The Lord Jesus made the deaf hear and the dumb speak. May he soon touch your ears to receive his word, and your mouth to proclaim his faith, to the praise and glory of God the Father.
Obviously, the overwhelming majority of those who are baptized, whether infants or adults, already have the ability to hear and possess, or soon will possess, the ability to speak. As the prayer suggests, it’s not a physical hearing and speaking we’re asking for; rather, it’s a particular kind of hearing and speaking: hearing the Word of God not only with our ears, but with our minds and hearts; using our ability to speak to praise and give glory to our Father in Heaven. Since it was perhaps before most of us could remember, we often forget about our Baptism, but Pope Francis has repeatedly reminded us of the importance of remembering that day, asking us to mark the anniversary on our calendars and celebrate it, calling us to remember that moment every time we bless ourselves with holy water, but even more, to actually order our lives, base our every decision and choice upon the fact that we’re sons and daughters of God the Father, the Eternal King.
Recall the mute and deaf man of the Gospel. First, there’s a gratitude in his heart for the gift of hearing and speech. Then, that gratitude led him to go everywhere proclaiming Jesus Christ to everyone. Lastly, he couldn’t be silenced, even when the Lord asked him to do so. The Lord’s request, however, was not because He didn’t want the message to go out, but He wanted to wait for the message to be completely given before going out with it.
By virtue of our Baptism, we are also called to these three things. First, we should be grateful for all our gifts and abilities, both natural and supernatural. As we look around, we realize that even natural gifts and abilities are not a given for every person in this world. Further, we have been given supernatural gifts, first and foremost, of being God’s adopted children. Then, there’s the gift of faith to see from God’s perspective and accept His word, the gift of hope to be able to look forward with confidence to the Home God is preparing for us, and the gift of love, first being loved by God, then being able to share that love with others so they might experience the joy we do. Next, that gratitude should motivate us to proclaim the goodness of our Heavenly Father in Jesus Christ thru the Holy Spirit with everything we do. Not only should we express prayers of gratitude for these gifts, but we can express our gratitude by the way we use these gifts, so we ask: are we listening to the Word of God with our hearts and minds? Are we using our speech to proclaim His praises & glorify Him? This is why things like foul language, taking God’s name in vain, lying, gossip, slandering others, and foul jokes are particularly evil, or even listening to music with anti-Christian messages, bad jokes, or gossip. It’s not a good use of the gifts God has so generously lavished upon us. This proclaiming of God’s praises doesn’t mean we can only ever speak to God or about God, but our everyday language should reflect the fact that we know Him, and love Him, and want to show Him our gratitude.
Lastly, we should not be able to be silenced. Edmund Burke famously said: The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. Admittedly, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the complexity of the world and by the seemingly impenetrable dominance of evil in our culture, to be overloaded with information with no way to sift through or boil it down. It thus seems easier to say, “I can’t do anything” or “What difference will I make?” Imagine, however, that Bl. Mother Teresa or Bl. Junipero Serra had said as much, soon-to-be St. Junipero Serra, who was almost single-handedly responsible for the founding of the Franciscan missions of southern California. Also, a little closer to home, what about the likes of Lila Rose, the young woman responsible for Live Action, one of the most vocal pro-life organizations in our nation, or Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood employee who now speaks nationally about the evils she has seen in the abortion industry.
As we celebrate Labor Day, this work of praising and glorifying God is the noblest and most ennobling work we can do. The Lord believes in us; He’s at work in us to will and to do the good. He wants us to do good and participate in His work of saving the world. Just the other day, I met a woman in Bellevue, a retired nurse who now volunteers at a crisis pregnancy center and also as a sidewalk counselor at the local abortion mill. It’s not feeding the hungry or sheltering the homeless. It’s only one thing, but she’s giving herself for it; this is the niche that God has called her to fill. Let’s not forget about the noble task of parenting, that is, forming the next generation. As proof, think about your habits, dispositions, and default responses to any number of circumstances. Compare them to your parents’; are they not often the same? The culture will rise and fall based on how parents prepare their children to live.
Our Lord has entrusted to us – from the day of our Baptism – the noble task of praising and glorifying His Holy Name. He has endowed us with the grace sufficient to sing His praises with our lips and with our lives. This holy day, may we rededicate ourselves to this lifesaving work, that we may so benefit from the beloved Son’s great gifts as to merit an eternal share in His life.