5th September, 2021

Ephphatha National Cathedral Washington DC by Lawrence OP (Flickr image)

 Homily for the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Mk 7: 31-37

I think you will agree with me that although today’s Gospel is very short, it contains a very moving and inspiring story about the healing of a deaf and dumb man with a beautiful message for us all. I found in this passage at least several interesting details that caught my attention. First of all, as we heard: Jesus took this deaf man aside in private, away from the crowd… Perhaps we were wondering why aside and in private. Why at this particular moment did Jesus want to be away from all those people who brought this poor man to Him? After all – as we remember – Jesus always used to perform all His miracles in public, sometimes even in the presence of huge crowds who used to come from many nearby towns and villages to see and witness so many spectacular and miraculous signs, such as: healing of the leper, multiplication of loaves and fish and many other miracles so beautifully described in all the Gospels. This time, however, it was completely different. Jesus wanted to be alone with this man, he didn’t want any witnesses. Perhaps He made this decision so that this poor man would not feel embarrassed by the crowd and all the noise and hustle and bustle around. Or maybe Jesus took him aside in private so that this poor man would feel very special and dear to Jesus. We don’t know that. But the second thought that came to my mind while reading and meditating on this Gospel was the sacrament of confession. I think something similar happens in our lives and in our hearts whenever we go to the sacrament of reconciliation – Jesus takes us aside in private, away from the crowd…

As you probably know, confession is one of the seven sacraments in the Church – as important and significant as baptism, Holy Communion or anointing of the sick – but it seems to me that as Catholics we don’t appreciate confession as we should because we don’t know the value and the deepest meaning of this particular sacrament. And that is why today’s Gospel gives us a wonderful opportunity to think about it for a moment and remember what the essence of the sacrament of reconciliation given to us by God is. As you know, this ongoing time of the pandemic has made it very difficult for us to participate in regular confession, but as we hope it will be easier over time. What we receive from God in confession is first of all the forgiveness of our sins that separate us not only from God but also and very often from our loved ones and neighbours. Every time, whenever we sincerely and humbly ask God, He is always willing to give us a new chance, to strengthen us, and that is something very basic and fundamental to this sacrament. It doesn’t matter what sins we have committed and how many of them, and how far we have distanced ourselves from God by choosing evil or hurting others. He always comes to us with His mercy and forgiveness, as the Father in one of Jesus’ parables patiently waited for his son – the Prodigal Son to embrace him with love and welcome him back to his home as someone very special. Maybe we find this sacrament very difficult at times and hard to understand. Perhaps we wonder at times why we should confess our sins to someone who is just as, or even more sinful than we are? How does it work? How can we explain it logically?

I think that at such moments it is worth remembering this beautiful scene from the Gospel about the healing of the deaf and dumb man and that particular moment when Jesus put his fingers in his ear and touched his tongue with spittle. No one knew why exactly He did it that way, only Jesus knew. We can imagine that it was a great mystery to all those curious people who witnessed and looked at what was happening from a distance. Similarly, we can say that confession is a great mystery that is difficult to understand and explain.

But there is something else that today’s Gospel draws our attention to. Every time we go to confession, we can hear exactly the same words that Jesus said to this poor man, very simple words: ‘Ephphatha’, which means ‘Be opened!’. Be opened, that is, open your eyes and open your heart to God’s Word and to other people. From that moment on, look at your life and the world around you and other people in a completely different way… Let’s see that each of us is in a sense like this deaf and dumb man from the Gospel. Yes, we all – including me – are very similar to him. Each of us is, in some sense, deaf to God and His Word, especially in the Church but also in our homes and many other places when He speaks to us through our parents, friends, teachers and many other people. Each of us is, in some sense, deaf even if we are very young and we don’t have any problems with our hearing. But we know ourselves well and we perfectly know how deaf and dumb we can be to of our loved ones and other people.

‘Ephphatha’, that is, ‘Be opened!’. I am sure this is the main message and command from God to all of us. ‘Be opened’, that is, turn off the TV, leave your computer, leave social media, close your favourite book, leave your favourite toy, hobby or sport, football, rugby, cricket, and instead listen to what other people have to say to you, listen to their needs, problems and worries, even if you think that you are wasting your precious time. You never waste your time if you give it to others! ‘Be opened’, that is, listen to your wife, husband, children, friends and just give them yourself. ‘Be opened’, this very valuable message that Jesus wants to give us today, so that, with his help and with his grace, we we would be able to open not only ourselves but also other people to God and to His infinite Love and Mercy.

Fr Gregory

Image Credit: Ephphatha National Cathedral Washington DC by Lawrence OP (Flickr image)