Again Jesus left the district of Tyre and went by way of Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, into the district of the Decapolis. And people brought to him a deaf man who had a speech impediment and begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him off by himself away from the crowd. He put his finger into the man’s ears and, spitting, touched his tongue; then he looked up to heaven and groaned, and said to him, “Ephphatha!”— that is, “Be opened!” — And immediately the man’s ears were opened, his speech impediment was removed, and he spoke plainly. He ordered them not to tell anyone. But the more he ordered them not to, the more they proclaimed it. They were exceedingly astonished and they said, “He has done all things well. He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” (Mark 7:31-37)
In preparation for his visit to the United States, Pope Francis held a virtual audience for high school students in Chicago, homeless in Los Angeles, and immigrants in a small border town in Texas. During the course of the hour, Pope Francis exuded the joyful mercy which has formed the heart of his preaching. In turns he praised a single mom for her sacrifice in seeking a better life for her child, supported the vocation and ministry of religious nuns, and encouraged immigrants who face daunting challenges. Perhaps the most memorable and moving moment came when 17-year-old Valerie Herrera wept as she recalled the bullying she faced because of her affliction with a rare skin condition. When she described how she sought refuge and comfort in music, the Pope asked her to sing something for him. Shocked by this impromptu request, she hesitated, frozen in bundle of emotion. With a wide smile, Pope Francis gently rallied her, “Be courageous.” As she began to sing the sweet tune, “By you, Mary,” her fears and nerves dissipated into resonate calm. It was a moment of healing. In this encounter, God’s presence came alive and all gathered witnessed the hope of our faith.
In our Gospel this Sunday, Jesus heals a deaf man with a speech impediment. This miracle is not simply a physical cure, but a healing which transforms the man’s relationship with God and others. Cut off from the community by illness, Jesus’ word Ephphatha, “Be opened,” restores the whole of the man’s senses and enables him to interact with the world afresh. For this reason, our tradition interprets this encounter in baptismal terms. In the baptismal ritual, the clergy imitates Christ’s gestures of touching ears, eyes and mouth, invoking God’s healing presence to restore and vivify His creation through grace. Through our baptism, we are called to be open and to witness to the joyful presence of God in our midst.
Last weekend, the eight novices who lived here at St. Dominic’s last year, made simple vows at St. Albert’s Priory in Oakland. Their vows to live the Dominican life witness to all of us both God’s generous blessing and the need for the healing preaching of the Gospel. Join me in keeping these young Dominicans in your prayers as they continue in their formation. From my own experience, the prayers of this community supported me in my own formation for which I am grateful. Inspired by Jesus’ Gospel example, encouraged by Pope Francis and edified by our novices, this week we renew our own commitment and resolve to bring Christ’s healing presence alive through our joyful witness to God’s love in our lives.
~Fr. Michael Hurley, O.P.