Beneath the surface of God’s Word

Given by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde on the Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington.

Sometimes there is a lot more to what we see and hear than we initially think. We just heard, in today's Gospel account, how the Lord Jesus cured a deaf man with a speech impediment. No doubt, we too echo what His original audience expressed: "He has done all things well, He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak."

But is there something more in this event for us? Something beneath the surface, so to speak, for us to learn and to apply to our lives? Why are we being urged to reflect on this Gospel event today, more than 2,000 years after it took place in the district of the Decapolis, that is, the district of the Ten Cities?

Yes, there is much more than we think for us there and now! But, first, let us recall that a person who is deaf cannot speak clearly either. Why? Because such a person does not hear sounds, and we learn to speak as we hear the voices of those speaking to us. So, the person unable to hear is also not able to speak clearly.

We turn back to our basic proposal: there is something for us in this Gospel event that is far more than just listening and praising God for the cure of a deaf man with a speech impediment. So, what is the deeper meaning of this Gospel event? How does it relate to us today?

The deafness and resulting speech impediment which the Lord Jesus cured was physical. But there is also an inability to hear and to speak which is spiritual. Are you and I often deaf to hearing what God says to us? And, when we are not hearing Him, are we not also unable to speak to others the message which He is giving us to proclaim?

We are so often spiritually deaf, unable to hear what God is speaking because we are surrounded and enveloped by other voices and distractions. The culture around us rarely resonates with God's Word, the Truth He speaks above all in the Person of His Only-begotten Son Jesus Christ and also through the Teaching Office of the Church which His Son founded and which He sustains through the unfailing assistance of the Holy Spirit.

In order to cure the deaf man, Jesus took him away from the crowd. Our spiritual deafness will be cured when we go apart from all that distracts us, from all those other voices which do not resonate with the voice of God made audible in Jesus Christ. We need to let Jesus take us away from all that drowns out His voice, so we can clearly hear what He is speaking to our hearts. We need times of quiet, of silence, for prayer: being with Him, and for study; learning the truth He speaks. We need to put aside the smart phones, the tablets, and to turn off the computers. The Lord Jesus can cure our deafness, if only we let Him.

He does this in the same way as He did it for the deaf man in today's Gospel. "He put His finger into the man's ears, and then spitting, touched his tongue; then He looked up to heaven and groaned and said to him: 'Ephphata' - that is, 'Be opened'!" As Bishop-elect Barron puts it, "It is as though the Word made flesh plugged himself into the man, establishing a sort of electric current which carried the Word to his mind and heart." (c.f. Magnificat, Sept. 2015 issue, p. 80). "And immediately the man's ears were opened, his speech impediment was removed, and he spoke plainly." "Be opened," Jesus said, and once the deaf man was able to hear, he could then speak clearly, passing on what was spoken to him.

The meaning of today's Gospel event and lesson we are meant to learn and to relearn is to come to Jesus, asking Him to remove our inability to hear the truth which He speaks and then, with His help, to live that truth in our lives, and to pass on the that Word of Truth to proclaim Jesus, to others.

In summary, if we are to be "missionaries of love," as Pope Francis urges us to do, evangelizing by our witness and our words, we ourselves first must hear the Word, make a home for Jesus the Incarnate Word, and then bring Him to everyone we meet by the witness of our daily living and by the convincing words we speak. Letting Jesus open us to hear Him, we then speak plainly to others of His loving kindness and mercy.

There is a critical need for us to be evangelized ourselves (to be opened) and to evangelize others (to invite them to become opened themselves). The recent Pew Research Center Survey reports that 77 percent of those raised Catholic who no longer practice their faith and/or have left the Church do not envision themselves eventually returning. There is no single reason, but a synthesis of the various reasons given points to a profound lack of understanding who Jesus Christ is, and the teachings which He has entrusted to the Church He founded to proclaim and to teach. Yes, a profound lack of understanding the real truth is so evident!

People cannot understand if no one proclaims the truth to them. And if the truth is proclaimed, they cannot accept it if they are unable to hear it and they cannot hear it if they remain closed. You and I must pray that we ourselves be opened to the truth and that our brothers and sisters likewise be opened. The witness of our lives is often the one thing that attracts them to want to hear. We go to Jesus today, beseeching Him! "Touch my ears that I may hear You, dear Lord, and loosen my tongue to proclaim You to others!" Yes, sometimes there is a lot more to what we see and hear than we initially think. "Thank you, Lord Jesus, for showing us the deeper meaning of what we see and hear in Your Word."

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015