09 September 201823 Ordinary Time

Homily from Father James Gilhooley
23 Ordinary Time
23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle B - Mark 7:31-37

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? Mark is the only Evangelist who tells us this sensitive story. The Teacher had little over one year to live. The police were after Him. He and His people slipped north across the border into today's Lebanon and yesterday's Phoenicia. He spent some time hiding out in the still existing cities of Tyre and Sidon. He may have spent as many as eight months on the run.

Then it was time to break camp and return to Palestine. There was serious work to be done there. But His route would be a tortured one. He would slip into Palestine's back door located east of the country. This was the area of the Ten Cities or the Decapolis. The Ten Cities had been founded by veteran Greek soldiers after the death of their legendary young leader, Alexander the Great. The Teacher was well known among these people for at least one miracle and very possibly many others. The fellow, brought to the Nazarene presumably by his family, was deaf but not mute. He could make incomprehensible sounds. He must have suffered greatly throughout his life from people ridiculing him.

The Teacher at this point was surrounded by a huge mob of groupies and paparazzis. He was yesterday's version of today's rock star. Everybody wanted a piece of Him. Unhappily for them, there was only so much of Him to go around. Mark tells us Jesus "took the man aside." And, at the risk of being redundant, the usually terse writer adds "away from the crowd." Why did Mark make such a point of all this? The explanation that is most reasonable is that the Lord was anxious to spare this afflicted man any more embarrassment than necessary. The poor man had suffered from people taunting him far too long. The man was not a client for the Christ but a person in deep trouble. And, luckily for him, the Master had no need to grandstand for the crowds. Besides, the Christ wanted to make this man feel special at least once in his life by making a fuss over him. And there we have the answer to the questions posed at the beginning of this homily.

Paying taxes is not enough. Nor is giving at the office. Rather, like Christ, we ourselves must get involved with the people who need us. We must dirty our hands. Work at a soup kitchen will hurt none of us. Pope Gregory the Great wrote, "Feed the hungry man. If you don't, you have killed him." St Peter Claver said, "We must speak to the needy with our hands before we speak with our lips." Also we must perform our kindness with the gentleness and consideration Jesus brought to this deaf gentleman. The wonderful word here to the deaf man was of course the Aramaic "Ephphatha" or "Be opened." This was the only word Jesus spoke in this Gospel. I like the treatment the Benedictine Daniel Durken gives to this term. He feels we should make it part of our own vocabulary whenever we run into situations where people are uptight. Specifically he says we should say "Ephphatha" to "the old who are closed to creativity and change, to all who have lost their sense of humor and turned sour and cynical, to co-workers so that they stay open to challenges and surprises, to ourselves so that we live with eyes open to God's wonders, ears open to God's wisdom, arms and hands open to hug and help and heal. What a wonder-word it is - EPHPHATHA!" "And now, God, what can I do for you?" The answer to that question is easy. Take care of His poor. After all, He leaves us no choice on the question. But remember the monk who told us that while Christ could perform His miracles in a flash, we must work at them more slowly.
Homily from Father Joseph Pellegrino
23 Ordinary Time
Twenty-third Sunday of Ordinary Time: He Touches Us

He took him away from the crowd. He touched his ears and his mouth and said, "Be open". And the man left singing the praises of God to the world.

This is a miracle story. This is a story with baptismal overtones, for during baptism the priest or deacon touches the neophytes ears and mouth and says be open. This is a story about our lives with the Lord.

There is a great deal of noise in our lives. Interesting word, noise. It even sounds bad. NOISE. Say the word out loud a number of times and you’ll get a head ache. There is much noise in our lives. There is audio noise, like the sound you hear when someone has their phone connected to a fax machine, I hate that. The radio, the TV, the phone, the kids, the neighbors, those driving down the street with their radios on overkill, are all audio noises. There is also noise that is not due to sound. There is the disturbance created by the continual worrying about tomorrow, the hanging on to the battle stories of the past. Noise. Noise. Noise. Ludwig van Beethoven became deaf, as I’m sure you know. But his deafness was not a lack of sound. He suffered from severe tinnitus, a continual ringing in his ears that became so intense he could not hear anything else. The noise overpowered the sounds of his own music. Beethoven never heard his own Ninth Symphony. The same thing can happen to us. The noise of our lives can overpower our ability to hear, to hear the Lord speaking in others.

There is indeed a great deal of noise in our lives: "Did you see what she was wearing? To Church of all places? Guess who just broke up?” Noise Noise Noise. “Mom, Dad, can I have.....? go......? would you buy me......?” Arguments over who played what role in a movie, or who did what on a sports team. The phone rings, "You have a tremendous opportunity to save money now by having your driveway resurfaced this week instead of putting it off and have to redo the entire driveway three years from now." NOISE. We are surrounded by so much noise that we can become deaf to the cries of God’s people, to the cries of the Lord coming from his people. There are blowhards in the political sphere who make so much noise that we can easily become deaf to the needs of the poor, the immigrant, the sick, and so forth.

The ranting of the blowhards can result in our looking at those who have needs as being evil. Immigrants are not evil. My grandparents were immigrants. They weren’t evil. They were just looking for a way to escape the poverty and turmoil of Calabria and create a better life for their family. The immigrants around us are not evil. They are hard working people who are trying to care for their families. The poor are not evil. They are people struggling to live with the bare necessities of life. The sick are not evil. They are our brothers and sisters who need our care. The blowhards are making a great deal of noise to get votes by appealing to people’s most depraved instincts. And that’s instinct with a capital Stink. Their noise can drown out God’s voice telling us, “As often as you did this for the least of my brethren, you did it for me.” And Jesus took the man away from the crowd, away from the noise. He took him to have a personal encounter with the Messiah.

He calls us away from the crowd, away from the noise into his quiet.

-- Quiet before the Lord is so important.
We need a few moments before and after Mass,
-- out of respect for the presence of the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament,
-- out of respect for the needs of others to get away from the noise,
-- out of respect for our own need to listen to the Lord in the quiet.

We need quiet in our homes.
-- Fifteen minutes of quiet, before the morning gets going,
-- or after the kids are in bed,
-- or together as a family,
-- just a little quiet time.
-- A little time to get away from the noise.
-- A little time with the Lord so he can touch us.

He touched the man's ears and he said, "Be opened."

He calls us to hear.
-- Hear the still small voice Elijah heard, whispering that God has a plan for each of us.
-- Hear the voice of Christ on the cross, telling us in the darkest moments of our lives that we will get through this together.
-- Hear the Holy Spirit singing the Love Song of God in our hearts.
-- Hear the voice of Mary, reassuring the concerned wine steward at the wedding feast of Cana, and reassuring us, saying, "Do whatever he tells you."
-- Hear the voice of our conscience within, calling us to the new life of the Lord's love, calling us to holiness.

--Hear the Word of God.
-- Alive in the Bible,
-- proclaimed in the Church,
-- proclaimed by the Church.

-- proclaimed by the loving husband and wife in their continual gifts of themselves to each other,
-- proclaimed by parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, all good people, giving themselves to the children, to others who need help.

-- Hear the Word of God
-- proclaimed by children in their steps away from self centeredness.
-- proclaimed by the retiree concerned with the future of others, not just himself or herself.

-- Hear the Word of God. And then He touched the man's mouth and said, "Be opened".
-- He tells us not to be afraid to stand up for our beliefs and our lifestyle, even if we are told that we are not in concert with modern society.
-- He tells us that he needs our voices. He needs us to proclaim that he is indeed alive.
--The Resurrection continues.
-- He opens our mouths to proclaim His presence in the world.
He drew the man away from the crowd. He touched his ears and his mouth, and he said, "Be opened." And the man left proclaiming the love of God.
He touched him.
He touches us.

Homily from Father Phil Bloom
* Available in Spanish - see Spanish Homilies
23 Ordinary Time
Sins of Innuendo
(September 9, 2018)

Bottom line: May Christ open our ears and cleanse our lips that we might hear his word and gently speak it to others.
This month we read from the letter of St. James. In one part he describes the sins of the tongue. It's a small member, he says, but like the rudder of ship it can determine the direction of one's life. The same tongue can both curse and bless. In today's Gospel Jesus heals a deaf mute by touching his tongue. This a good moment to address the sins involving a misuse of the gift of speech. Coincidentally this week I am at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival which features a production of Othello. As you might know, the play tells how a villain named Iago brings down Othello. He uses gossip and innuendo to turn Othello against his blameless wife, Desdemona.

Let's go back then to the Gospel: Jesus touches the ears of a deaf man and says, Ephphatha, that is "be opened." It must have been wonderful to hear sounds – children, birds, above all the voice of Jesus himself. But it also must have been a lot of work to begin learning the meaning of so many words – and to distinguish that which requires attention from that which one can ignore. Only after we have listened to Jesus, should we speak. And we need to ask him to touch our lips before we do. Prior to proclaiming the Gospel, the priest prays quietly: "Almighty God, cleanse my heart and my lips that I may worthily proclaim your Gospel." That’s a prayer we could all say before attempting to speak on behalf of the Lord. At the conclusion of the Gospel, before giving the homily, he says (inaudibly) "May the words of the Gospel wipe away our sin." Always essential to recognize ones own sin – and that our goal is not to condemn, but to offer liberation from sin.

Like you, I would be a fool if I did not recognize I need correction. But how and when is it helpful? Once I was doing something in the parish which I thought was OK. A man approached me at a moment when I did not have a hundred distractions, expressed his concern in a kindly manner and showed me an appropriate document. While I was not happy to be corrected (who is?) I appreciated his thoroughness, thought about what he said and made an appropriate change. It also helped that I knew him as a prayerful man who cares about me and loves the parish. Isaiah prophesied,
The ears of the deaf (will) be cleared;
then will the lame leap like a stag,
then the tongue of the mute will sing. (35:5f.)
May Christ open our ears and cleanse our lips that we might hear his word and gently speak it to others.

Homily from Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, Pa
Saint Vincent Archabbey
23 Ordinary Time
Twenty-Third-Sunday in Ordinary Time
Isaiah 35: 4 – 7a Gospel – Mark 7: 31 – 37

God is a hands-on God. Throughout the Scriptures there are beautiful descriptions of God being personally involved with creation, especially with us. From the book of Genesis where we read that God created us by forming us out of the earth and then breathing life into us, to Revelation where we are told that we will see the face of God, and God's name will be on our foreheads, we see how closely involved God is with creation and with us. Most of all we see this when God himself becomes one of us in order to save us. Jesus, truly God and truly man, was born into our world and walked, lived and died among us. All of this so that he could personally take the punishment for our sins so that he would rise and extend to us the invitation to follow him and rise with him. This is all part of God's plan for us. A plan that will be fulfilled with the second coming of Christ. The Prophet Isaiah and the Gospel very nicely illustrate the continuity and progression of God's plan from the Old Testament to the New Testament, and to our own time. Isaiah was a prophet during a period when the leadership of Jerusalem was weak and, against the prophetic advice of Isaiah, entered into an alliance with Assyria. Assyria took control and the people of Jerusalem were oppressed.

The reading for this Sunday has Isaiah prophesying not to be afraid, that God would come to vindicate them. When this prophecy is fulfilled, "Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared." These are prophetic images of Jerusalem being set free, healed and restored. Isaiah speaks of God in a personal manner as the one who knows those basic needs of ours. He spoke not only of the immediate promise of God to restore Israel, but his message looked towards the fulfillment of God's plan of sending a Messiah and Redeemer. Throughout the Gospels Jesus fulfills the prophecy as he opens the ears of the deaf and restores the speech of those with impediments, he also opens the eyes of the blind, heals the crippled, raises the dead back to life, and ultimately takes away our sins. This is so much more than what the people who heard Isaiah's message expected.

In this particular Gospel passage we see the compassion and tenderness of Jesus when he ministered. It was not a ministry from a distance, or one that was preoccupied with formality. It was a ministry in which he personally became involved with those who came for help. In the Gospel the people begged Jesus to lay hands on the deaf man with a speech impediment. Jesus did much more; he put his finger into the man's ears and touched his tongue. This is probably far more than most of us would do if asked to pray for someone, but for Jesus it a natural response of God's love and personal involvement with us. This Gospel is a good reminder and lesson for us of how to look on God. In our minds, hearts and devotions we sometimes place a great distance between us and God, while these Scriptures show us how close God is to us. He desires to reach out and touch us, whether it be to heal us of some infirmity, comfort us during a time of sorrow, or forgive us when we sin against him. When we turn our hearts and lives to God we always receive far more than we expect.
Father Killian Loch, O.S.B.
Homily from Father Alex McAllister SDS
23 Ordinary Time
Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

In our first reading today, we are given an explicit prophesy from the Book of Isaiah about the long-expected Messiah. We are told that one of the signs by which we will be able to recognise the true Messiah is that he will be able to make the deaf hear and the dumb speak. In the Gospel text we see how Christ enables the deaf man to hear and loosens his tongue to enable him to speak fluently. The observers immediately recognise that what Jesus has done is nothing less than a fulfilment of Isaiah's prophecy and so they exclaim: 'He has done all things well, he makes the deaf hear and the dumb speak.' We don't know who this group of observers actually were, they are simply referred to as 'they'. The text says, '"they" brought him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech.' Clearly these people were not scribes or Pharisees; this group of people was broadly sympathetic to Jesus and they clearly wanted healing for their friend. But they are certainly not a group of ignorant peasants, they are quite obviously educated people because they can quote directly from the Prophet Isaiah and have sufficient insight to see in Jesus the fulfilment of Isaiah's prophecy. We also observe that the man was not completely dumb.

The text says that he had an impediment in his speech, but surely this must have been a serious enough impediment to render him practically unintelligible. Maybe he could make some of what he uttered understandable but perhaps not very much. So, to all intents and purposes the man was effectively dumb. We know that there is an obvious connection between deafness and dumbness; if a person cannot hear then they don't know how they sound which makes it difficult for them to pronounce words correctly. This is why some profoundly deaf people speak rather strangely. If you have attended a Baptism recently then you will perhaps have noticed an explicit reference to this very miracle in the Baptism ceremony. After the actual pouring of water takes place the priest makes the sign of the Cross on the ears and lips of the child and says the 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.' The quotation from Isaiah also has some words which could be seen as a connection with Baptism. He says, 'For water gushes in the desert, streams in the wasteland, the scorched earth becomes a lake, the parched land springs of water.' You might not think that this is a very explicit reference to Baptism but the words about flowing water make it an interesting link nonetheless.

Of course, hearing the Word of God and proclaiming it is precisely what the Sacrament of Baptism is all about. No one gets Baptised in order to remain in ignorance or to stay silent in relation to the Gospel. The act of Baptism expresses a desire for faith, even if in the case of an infant it is the desire of the parents on behalf of their child. We get Baptised because we have heard the Word of God and we want to hear more of it. We want to believe in it wholeheartedly and we want to proclaim it to the world so that all may hear and understand it. We can see then how these two important senses of hearing and speaking have a deep connection with the Sacrament of Baptism and are vital to the growth and development of the Christian faith in the world. So perhaps we need to think about how well each one of us hears and speaks. Do we truly hear the Word of God and do we truly proclaim Christ's Gospel of love to those around us? When we speak about hearing the Word of God of course we mean listening to it. We physically hear the Gospel read to us in Church but we use this expression 'hearing the Word' in a much broader sense. We also understand it to mean reading. We read the Gospel. We take the Bible down from our shelf and sit down to read it.

On those occasions we perhaps get more out of it than when we passively listen to someone else reading it in Church. When we read the Gospel text by ourselves we can go over a sentence several times and think what it means. We have the leisure to compare and contrast different passages, we are able to ponder the meaning and to realise that there is sometimes what we can call a subtext. When we read the Gospel in the privacy of our homes we can take the time to savour the words and to meditate on the significance of what Christ has to say to us. The word 'savour' is a good one, it implies that we linger on the text and allow the meaning of the words and phrases to unfold. The former rector of my seminary used to say 'that we should savour the Word of God like a lozenge on the tongue.' He implied that we should turn the words of Jesus over and over in our minds until we had extracted the full breadth and depth of meaning that they contain. Maybe we don't have a Bible in our home. If not, then this is something that should be rectified straight away.

Every Catholic home should have a Bible, a Crucifix and a picture of Mary. And the Bible should not remain covered with dust sitting on a shelf, it needs to be referred to, it needs to be studied, it needs to be meditated upon. I remember hearing a story about a young man going to university. He said to his dad that the fathers of some of his friends had promised them a car if they passed their final exams. His father agreed but gave him a Bible and said that he had one more condition because he wanted his son to read a passage from the Bible every day. If he did this, he said, then he would give him the car. After three years the boy returned having obtained his degree and asked his dad about the car. In return the father asked for the Bible. When his son got the obviously unused Bible out of his trunk the father opened it and out fell a cheque for the price of a car. I have spoken about hearing the Word of God but, of course, that is only half of the story.

The other half is proclaiming the Word to those around us. This may well involve speech. It will surely mean explaining the scriptures to those around us and unfolding God's plan of salvation to them. But it will involve other things too such as proclaiming the Word by means of example. It will mean performing acts of love and kindness. It will mean acquiring attitudes consonant with the Gospel. By doing these things then those words spoken about Jesus may well end up being spoken about us, 'Behold, he has done all things well.'
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