FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 23rd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, September 5, 2021:
We hear today one of the most truly amazing healing stories in all the Gospels. “People brought to [Jesus] a deaf man. He took him off by himself, put his finger into the man’s ears and said to him, ‘Ephphatha!’ — that is, ‘Be opened!’ — And immediately the man’s ears were opened.”
Whenever I hear this miracle story, I can’t help but think about an incredible miraculous moment in my own life. From about the age of 10, I had a problem of recurrent fluid build up in my inner ear that left me nearly completely deaf in my left ear. Two surgeries couldn’t solve the problem and it was one of those things that over time you just learn to live with and so I would simply make sure people were on my right side – my good ear – and would ask them to repeat things a lot. I never thought that the situation would change, and I had simply grown comfortable with my lack of hearing.
But, then, about 13 years ago, at the parish I was then stationed at, we were honored to welcome one of the so-called visionaries from Medjugorje, Vicka, to our parish. If you’re not familiar with Medjugorje, it is located in Bosnia-Herzegovina and since the early 1980s many believe that the Blessed Mother appeared there to a number of people including Vicka. Now, please know that the Church has not ruled on the validity of these apparitions and I’m not claiming to do so today, but this is a place that I have visited a few times, and a place where I find the presence of God and His Blessed Mother to be very powerful.
So, Vicka, in addition to receiving the apparitions is also known to have a gift of healing. When she came to our parish, she also offered to pray over anyone who was sick. We assembled different people that we knew could use prayer – a young person who was very ill, the wife of our deacon who was suffering from cancer, and others, for example. When Vicka came, we thought that she would pray only over the sick, but we were all gathered in a circle and she just moved person to person, praying over everyone present. As she approached me, she placed her hand on my head and prayed silently. She didn’t say a word, but just prayed for a bit in her simple, humble, and quiet way.
Now, I had never even thought about praying for my hearing, and so I was praying silently that God would strengthen me in my priestly vocation. And, I prayed, as I always did, that my Dad would one day desire to be baptized. As she prayed over me, her hand gripped my head tightly, and I felt a pop in my ear, much like the pop you feel when coming down from a high altitude, but I didn’t think much of it. I was simply caught up in what was a beautiful, prayerful evening, and before you knew it, everyone went home, and I went off to bed.
But, the next morning I nearly jumped out of my bed when my alarm went off. And it wasn’t because I was running late. I was laying on my good ear, which meant I normally would only hear the alarm as from a distance, but instead it was full volume! Shaken, I got up and took my shower, and I’ll never forget the sensation of hearing the water as it fell from my head over my “bad” ear. It was suddenly dawning on me that something was different. I kept covering my good ear to test and could not really believe that I could hear. Once I was dressed, I ran to the kitchen where the other priest was, covered my good ear, and said, “Talk.” Of course, I could hear every word he said clearly. It had been healed, and it was among the most joyful moments I can recall in my life.
“[Jesus] said to him, ‘Ephphatha!’ – that is, ‘Be opened!’ – and immediately the man’s ears were opened.” I imagine that the deaf man in our Gospel experienced something similar to my experience that morning. Like me, maybe he thought that this was something he just had to live with. Like me, medicine didn’t give him his hearing. And, for me, it wasn’t even Vicka that gave me back my hearing as she would be the first to tell you that it isn’t her power that does these things. For both of us, in fact for anyone who experiences healing, it is Jesus who does the work. It is an encounter with the living God that brings miracles into our midst. Because Jesus touched the deaf man, shared his humanity with him, the man’s ears were opened.
We heard in Isaiah today, “Be strong! Fear not! Here is your God. He comes to save you. Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared.”
Here is your God. Here is our salvation, told in the story of two deaf men – one in our Gospel and one standing before you. The Gospel story was so amazing that the people who witnessed it couldn’t keep to themselves. That deaf man’s name has been lost to history – even though countless people know his story. But whether we realize it or not, his story is our story; my story is our story.
To all of us who feel isolated, cut off, or living in silence – Christ reaches out. To all of us who feel lonely or different, damaged or confused, to all of us who struggle to understand – Christ bends down and touches us. To all of us who have closed ourselves off from love, from change, from the possibility of miracles – Christ calls out: Ephphatha! Be opened. He wants to touch us with His healing power so that we can be healed and renew our witness to the Gospel for the world.
This miracle teaches us that an encounter with Jesus brings something we all need, something that I discovered a new on that morning after Vicka’s visit – clarity. It brings understanding. What was muffled becomes clear. Things come into focus make sense. And after letting Christ into our lives, we are finally able to express something that could never quite put into words – that we are made new.
On that morning for me Christ answered two prayers – one I didn’t know I needed like the healing of my hearing; and one that I prayed for – my father did become a Catholic just a few years after that. So, with miracles on our minds, in our hearts, let us again invite Jesus to heal any deafness that hangs over us – anything physical or spiritual that keeps us from hearing His word in our hearts, and speaking His word to our world. The world needs the clarity that comes from living and knowing and proclaiming the Gospel. Especially in these difficult times, the world needs to hear the loving, compassionate, and healing words of Jesus that only we can proclaim. Sometimes we learn to live with deafness and don’t even seek out its healing because change is hard. But Christ renews His call to each of us today, “Ephphatha! Be opened!” And let Jesus come in. Be opened to God’s presence deep in your hearts. Be opened to what God wants to do in and through and for you. Because if we do – when we do – the result will be nothing short of miracle.
May the Lord give you peace.
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