Sunday, September 10, 2006

What Does It Take To Open Your Eyes And Clear Your Ears?

Blessed Mother Teresa

(Twenty-third Sunday of the Year (B): This homily was given on September 10, 2006, at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Isaiah 35: 4-7; Mark 7: 31-37.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Twenty-third Sunday 2006]

What does it take to open your eyes and clear your ears?

A couple of weeks ago, on a Wednesday morning at about 10 a.m., I came into church and found a young woman sitting by herself in one of the pews. That, of course, is not unusual: people make visits to our church throughout the day, especially on Tuesdays when we have adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. But the woman’s appearance was definitely unusual in that she was upset—extremely upset. One look at her and you could tell that she had been crying for quite some time.

So I asked her what was wrong. She explained that her dad had just died a few days earlier, and that she was having a very difficult time coping with his death.

She also admitted that she hadn’t been inside a Catholic church in decades, even though she had been baptized and brought up as a member of the Church.

And she said that she felt tremendous guilt sitting there, because she had neglected God for so many years and was now coming to him only because she had a big problem in her life that she couldn’t deal with on her own.

I looked around and I said, “Well, some people who’ve been away tell me that the roof would cave in on them if they ever entered a church again. But I can see that the walls haven’t cracked and the roof hasn’t caved in since you’ve been here, so I think you’ll be okay.”

She smiled.

Not long afterward, I’m happy to say, she made a very good Confession and had her sins forgiven, renewing her commitment to Christ and his Church in the process.

And when she left, she had a peaceful look in her eyes and at least a hint of a smile on her face—in the midst of the sadness she still felt at the death of her dad.

What does it take to open your eyes and clear your ears?

For this young woman, it took the death of someone close to her to get her to “open her eyes” to the importance of God—and the Church—and the sacraments. It took a personal tragedy to “open her ears” to the truth about her own sin—and to the truth about God’s mercy and forgiveness.

And that’s okay! We simply thank God that she allowed it to happen. As we all know, it could have been otherwise. She could have chosen to keep her eyes and ears closed, in spite of the invitation and counsel I gave her that morning.

Our first reading today was from Isaiah, chapter 35. There the prophet talks about God opening the eyes of his people and healing their deafness. But the text indicates that this will happen only after they’ve experienced a period of trial and distress. For the people of God in the Old Testament, that’s often what it took: they had to suffer greatly before they finally opened their eyes to reality such that they could receive the Lord’s blessings. Isaiah wrote, “Thus says the Lord: Say to those whose hearts are frightened [keep in mind that they were frightened because of the persecution they had been experiencing]: Be strong, fear not! Here is your God, he comes with vindication; with divine recompense he comes to save you. Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared . . . “

Today’s Gospel story from Mark 7—the healing of the deaf man—provides us with a similar lesson. Here we have a person who came to Jesus one day and had his ears “opened”—but only after an extended period of suffering. Now you might ask, “How do we know that it was an extended period of suffering? How do we know that this man had been deaf for a long time?” The answer is: From the simple fact that he also had a speech impediment! People who’ve been deaf for many years—or deaf from birth—often have difficulty speaking properly, because they can’t hear the words they’re saying. And if they’ve been deaf from birth, they have no idea what proper pronunciation sounds like, because they’ve never heard anyone say anything! In all likelihood, that’s the way it had been for this man in Mark 7. But in the midst of this personal suffering he went to Jesus in faith; and because he did that his ears were cleared and his impediment cured.

What does it take to open your eyes and clear your ears?

That’s a question for all of us to ponder this morning, because even if we come here to Mass each and every week, we may have our eyes and ears closed right now to some aspect of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That’s a very real possibility. In other words, in some way we might be a “Cafeteria Catholic”—accepting Church teaching, for example, when it comes to issues of social justice (like helping the poor), but closing our eyes and ears to the truth the Church proclaims to us on matters of personal morality (such as abortion, artificial contraception, and sex outside of marriage).

Or we could have the reverse problem: happily accepting the personal morality of the Church, but neglecting her call to work for economic and social justice.

What will it take to open your eyes and clear your ears with respect to those parts of the Gospel that you find difficult to accept?

And what will it take to keep your eyes open and your ears clear?

On this particular weekend—when we pause once again to remember the terrible events of September 11, 2001—that last question is also very important!

I think we’d all agree that it was both wonderful and inspiring to see thousands of people flocking into churches around this nation on 9/11 and in the days and weeks that immediately followed.

But I ask you this morning: Where have most of those people gone?

As planes were being flown into the Pentagon and into the World Trade Center by evil men, “eyes” and “ears” all over the United States—and throughout the world—were suddenly “opened” and “cleared”. Priorities were put in order (people realized, for example, that their families were more important than making an extra buck at work; they realized that human beings were more important than things). Men and women understood their need for God and the strength that only he can provide.

And I’m sure for some, the change has lasted. Praise God! They had conversions in the midst of this national tragedy, and they’ve remained on the right road ever since.

But apparently for others the horror of these events was NOT enough to do the job! Yes, they allowed their eyes and their ears to open for a time. But eventually they closed them again.

And for proof of that, all you need to do is take attendance in churches this weekend, and compare that to attendance in those same churches in late September of 2001.

I’ve focused in this homily on how tragedies and difficult circumstances can open our spiritual eyes and ears to the truth of the Gospel message—because that’s the way it often happens.

But the good news is it doesn’t have to come to that!

In fact, for many of the great saints of the Church, it didn’t take anything close to a disaster to make them open! All it took (believe it or not) was a request!

If, for example, you had said to Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta during her earthly life, “Mother, what does it take to open your eyes and clear your ears, so that you take the Gospel seriously?” she would have replied, “All it takes is a requesta request from Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior. In the Scriptures—and through his Church—Jesus asks me to open my ears and listen. He asks me to take his Gospel seriously. He asks me to open my eyes to the fullness of his truth: to believe, to love, to forgive, to obey, to reach out to the poorest of the poor. He asks me to be pure in body and soul and to strive for holiness every day of my lifeand so I do! It’s as simple as that. I don’t need any other reason. I don’t need to have a suffering come my way. I don’t need any further motivation.”

Someday, by the grace of God, may all of us be able to say the same thing about ourselves—and mean it.