06 September 2015

Homily - 6 September 2015 - To be unmistakably Catholic

The Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

Dear brothers and sisters,

No one opens a door, or a box, or a window without some reason, an express purpose for doing so. We open a door to leave or to enter a room or a building, to receive a guest or to send away a salesman. We open a box to put something inside it or to take something out of it, though sometimes we open a box simply to see what is in it. We open a window to let in a breeze.

Similarly, Jesus never does anything without a specific purpose. Why, then, does he open the ears of the deaf man and open his mouth to let loose his tongue? Was it simply to give him use of all five of our sensory faculties? Possibly, but I suspect there is something deeper behind his curious actions. Why else did he stick his fingers in the man’s ears and put his spit on his tongue?

Before Jesus healed the man, we can see in his deafness and in his speech impediment a signification that

he had been closed, isolated, it had been very difficult for him to communicate. For him healing meant an “opening” to others and to the world, an opening which, starting with the organs of hearing and speech, involved his whole self and his life: he could at last communicate and thus relate in a new way.

However, we all know that a person’s closure and isolation do not only depend on the sense organs. There is an inner closure that affects the person’s inmost self, which the Bible calls the “heart”. It is this that Jesus came to “open”, to liberate, so as to enable us to live to the full our relationship with God and with others. This is why … this small word, “ephphatha — be opened”, sums up in itself Christ’s entire mission. He was made man so that man, rendered inwardly deaf and mute by sin, might be able to hear God’s voice, the voice of Love that speaks to his heart, and thus in his turn learn to speak the language of love, to communicate with God and with others.[1]

For this opening to take place, two things were necessary: first, the action of God and, second, the action of the man. Notice that Jesus first actively takes the man “off by himself away from the crowd” and that the man passively allows Jesus to lead him away from so many distractions of life (Mark 7:33). So it is with us, if we wish to learn to speak the language of love, to communicate with God and with others.

Truly, Jesus “has done all things well” (Mark7:37); he loved us with so great a love that he willingly allowed his heart to be opened for us when the centurion Longinus thrust his lance into the side of the Savior (see John 19:31). Jesus allowed his Precious Blood to flow out of his wounded heart to wash over our timid and frightened hearts that we might be set free from sin, that we might be strong, and that we might receive an everlasting inheritance (see Psalm 146:7, Isaiah 35:4, and the Collect).

All of this he did for us at the moment of our baptism into his Death and Resurrection, when the life-giving waters cleansed us and when the priest touched our ears and our mouth, as if to say, “Ephphatha!” As he touched our ears and mouth, the priest said, “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 praise to the glory of God the Father.” Through his sacred minister, the Lord Jesus reached out and touched us to heal us of our inward deafness and muteness caused by sin, but we must still allow him to take us away by himself; we must open our hearts to him.

When Jesus opened our sensory faculties to his love, he said to us, “Be strong, fear not” (Isaiah 35:4)! It was as if he said to us, “As I have opened my heart to you, so you must open your heart to others.” Is this not why Saint James admonishes us with the order to “show no partiality as you adhere to the faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ” (James 2:1)? If we show partiality or favoritism to our neighbors within the Body of Christ, it must surely mean that we have not fully opened our hearts to God. If we show favoritism or partiality to our neighbors outside the Body of Christ, it must surely mean that we have not fully opened our hearts to others. We cannot forget that “anyone who needs me, and whom I can help, is my neighbor.”[2] It was Blessed Teresa of Calcutta who said, “I see God in every human being,” so fully had she opened her heart to God and to others. What keeps us from doing the same?

Here in Hawaii, we are blessed with the shining examples of two saints who opened their hearts fully to God and to others. Is this not why Mother Marianne said, “I am hungry for the work and I wish with all my heart to be one of the chosen ones” to serve at at Kalawao and Kalaupapa? Is this not why Father Damien said, “I wish to give myself unconditionally to the poor lepers?” Like Saint Damien and Saint Marianne, we, too, must first open ourselves to the word of God and then proclaim his praise in each encounter we have with others; we must open our hearts to see God in everyone, in our family, friends, and coworkers, yes, but also in the stranger, the homeless, the immigrant, and the refugee.

When Samuel Clemens – more commonly known as Mark Twain – visited these islands in 1866, he observed that the Roman Catholic Mission

…goes along quietly and unostentatiously; and its affairs are conducted with a wisdom which betrays the presence of a leader of distinguished ability. The Catholic clergy are honest, straightforward, frank, and open; they are industrious and devoted to their religion and their work; they never meddle; whatever they do can be relied on as being prompted by a good and worthy motive. These things disarm resentment – prejudice cannot exist in their presence.[3]

These are words of great praise, but it is what he said next that I find most striking: “Their religion is not nondescript – it is plain, out-and-out, undisguised, and unmistakable Catholicism. You know right where to find them when you want them.” Here is talking about the priests, but it seems to me he is also talking about the laity. To be unmistakably Catholic, what does this mean?

As Catholics, we are called to imitate Christ the Lord in all things, to be, if you will, manifestations of his love. To be unmistakably Catholic, then, is to be so closely conformed to Christ Jesus that we, too, do all things well, that we do all things with our hearts fully opened in love to God and to others.

If Mark Twain saw us at random moments in our lives today, would he think us to be unmistakably Catholic, or would he think us to be just slightly Catholic? It is not until we open our hearts fully to God and to others that we can be seen to be unmistakably Catholic. We must open our hearts to be so filled with the love of Jesus and that sin is driven out.

Let us, then, strive to make this prayer of Blessed John Henry Newman our own:
Dear Jesus…, penetrate and possess my whole being so utterly that my life may only be a radiance of yours. Shine through me and be so in me that every soul I come in contact with may feel your presence in my soul. Let them look up and see no longer me, but only Jesus! Stay with me and then I will begin to shine as you shine, so to shine as to be a light to others. The light, O Jesus, will be all from you; none of it will be mine. It will be you, shining on others through me.

If we can make these words our own with sincerity of heart, then it will rightly be said us, as well, that we have done all things well. Amen.

[1] Pope Benedict XVI, Angelus Address, 9 September 2012.
[2] Pope Benedict XVI, Deus caritas est, 15.
[3] In Mark Twain’s Letters from Hawaii. A. Grove Day, ed. (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1966), 175-176.

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