Sunday, September 06, 2009

Deaf—by Choice

(Twenty-third Sunday of the Year (B): This homily was given on September 6, 2009 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Mark 7: 31-37.)
[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Twenty-third Sunday 2009]

John said to his neighbor, “I just bought a brand new hearing aid. It cost $4,000, but it was worth every penny. It’s perfect.” The neighbor said, “What kind is it?” John said, “Twelve-thirty.”

Three old men were out walking one day. The first one said, “Windy, isn’t it?” The second one said, “No, it’s Thursday!” The third one said, “So am I. Let’s go have a beer.”

Bill was having hearing problems for a number of years. He finally went to a doctor who fit him for a set of hearing aids. A month later Bill went back to the doctor, who tested him and said, “Bill, your hearing is perfect. Your family must be so happy that you can hear again with these new hearing aids.”

Bill replied, “Well, Doctor, to be perfectly honest, I haven’t told my family about them yet. I’ve just been sitting around listening to them talk—mostly about me. I’ve already changed my will three times!”

Some people are physically incapable of hearing—like most of the people in those 3 little stories I just told, and like the man in today’s gospel whom Jesus healed near the Sea of Galilee.

But others are deaf by an act of the will. That is to say, others are deaf by personal choice.

This is something you encounter often as a priest—unfortunately.

It happens when you meet a person who has heard you preach or teach on a certain topic, and has obviously tuned you out.

For example, I’ve had some men and women who sit in these pews every Sunday tell me in no uncertain terms that they hate other people.

On those occasions I think to myself, “I’ve talked about forgiveness dozens and dozens of times over the years. I know they’ve heard me say those things; I know they’ve heard the gospel passage where Jesus says, ‘If you forgive the faults of others, your heavenly Father will forgive you yours. If you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive you.’ So how can they possibly think this way?”

Fr. Ray, it’s called “self-imposed deafness” or “selective spiritual hearing.” Take your choice.

And speaking of “choice,” I have the same experience when I’m told about parishioners of this parish who proudly refer to themselves as “pro-choice”—or who actively support politicians who are of that persuasion.

Self-imposed deafness.

Ask yourself this morning: Is there anything that causes me to be deaf by choice?

Is there any authoritative teaching in the Bible or in the Catechism that causes me to choose to be deaf?

It could be something as simple as showing improper favoritism to others—the kind of thing that St. James speaks about in our second reading today. If a person is showing this kind of favoritism to someone else in order to manipulate them or to gain something financially, they will probably not want to hear about it from St. James or anyone else, and the temptation will be to turn a deaf ear to the one telling them the truth.

We can choose to be deaf on an issue like favoritism; but more often than not people today choose deafness with respect to one or more of the “hot button issues” of our time: abortion, artificial contraception, in vitro fertilization, sterilization, euthanasia, homosexual activity, etc.

In fact, if the statistics are true about the number of Catholics who don’t accept the Church’s teaching on these and other key moral matters, then I’m sure there’s a lot of self-imposed deafness out there. And I think most good priests would agree with me, based on what they hear—or perhaps I should say what they DON’T hear!—in the confessional.

That’s because the number of Catholics committing certain sins according to the polls don’t match up with the number of Catholics actually confessing those sins in the confessional.

Some of the difference is probably rooted in ignorance: many Catholics, unfortunately, have been poorly catechized, and so they don’t know that certain actions are sinful.

But that’s definitely not the whole story! Other Catholics have been taught properly—they have been properly catechized—however, they choose to disregard what they’ve heard.

They’re deaf—by choice.

This, incidentally, is one reason why so many Catholic young people have gone astray. If our young people are going to be properly formed in the truth, we adults have to teach it—but first and foremost we have to believe it.

If we’re not fully convinced of it ourselves—that is to say, if we have chosen to be deaf to certain aspects of the gospel—that will affect our ability to teach it to the next generation.

Notice the connection in this gospel story between the man’s hearing and his ability to speak. The Bible says that when he first met Jesus this deaf man also had a speech impediment.

In all likelihood, he had that impediment precisely because he was deaf!

Usually those who can’t hear also have difficulty speaking properly—simply because they can’t hear themselves (or anyone else) talk.

Well, believe it or not, the very same truth applies in the spiritual realm: Those who are spiritually deaf by choice, will also have difficulty speaking the gospel. They will have a hard time teaching the truth to others in a convincing manner.

At the end of today’s gospel story the people who witnessed this incredible miracle said, “[Jesus] has done all things well. He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

If we want him to, Jesus will cure us of whatever spiritual deafness we may currently be experiencing, as he cured this man of his physical deafness.

He has the power to do so.

But we have to freely choose, by grace, to allow him to exercise that power for us and in us.

Just as we are deaf by personal choice, so also we are healed of our deafness by personal choice.