Sept 9, 2012, 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
A wise old priest told me as a seminarian once that the opposite of love is not hatred, but fear. It is through fear of the Jewish people, for example, that Pharaoh, or for that matter Hitler, tried to destroy them. Fear drives much of contemporary behavior as well. When I was a child they taught me to fear the Bomb—the Hydrogen Bomb, that is, and the Soviets who had plenty of them. Nuclear bombs themselves were developed out of fear. Today, among the many fears on everyone’s minds, “climate change” and terrorism. We fear each other—anyone on this bus might pull a gun on the rest of us; anyone on this plane might be a terrorist. Many people complained that over-the-top security at the Olympics and at political conventions cast a pall of restrictive apprehension over the normally enthusiastic crowds. How has fear so tightened its grip on contemporary society? I think it must be that as Christianity wanes in the West, a culture of fear and self-defensiveness replaces it. If there is no God, then there is no Father, and our trust in providence collapses. It’s every man for himself, since no one is looking after us all.
John Paul II began his pontificate with a clarion call to put aside fear. He stepped out onto the balcony of St. Peter’s in October 1978 to speak these words to the world: “Do not be afraid to open the doors—even to fling them wide—to Christ!” Open them, not to just anyone, but to God. You can trust God, and in trusting God, you can begin to trust each other. John Paul truly echoed the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel: “be opened.” Jesus speaks this command in his native Aramaic--Ephphatha! How beautiful to hear the very word that Jesus’ divine lips uttered, in the language his mother taught him. Ephaphatha. And so he thus fulfils the prophecy of Isaiah, from our first reading: “Say to the those whose hearts are frightened: … fear not! Here is your God… He comes to save you… the tongue of the mute will sing.” The Messiah brings perfect love, which casts out fear, and opens minds and hearts.
Who was this man whom Jesus healed? He came from the Decapolis, a pagan region bordering Israel. He was probably not Jewish, and so his deafness is not only physical but spiritual as well. None of the people of that region had ever heard the loving words of God in Scripture.
And that describes many people today. They have never heard Jesus speak. Secularism—I mean our public educational system, our political system, our entertainment and news industries—do not let us hear the Word of God. Our young people have been taught from Kindergarten that God is a myth and religion is infantile superstition.
Come apart from the crowd: Silence
How does Jesus break through the man’s deafness? First, he takes him off by himself, away from the noise of the crowd, where he can speak to him alone. Only then are his ears opened, in the silence. The devil uses noise to keep us deaf to God’s word. He shouts God down. We must not let him do that. We must cultivate silence in our lives. Make space for silence in your life, or you will never hear God’s voice. “In the silence of the heart God speaks,” Mother Teresa was fond of saying. How much time do we let the TV, the computer, the cellphone, blare out at us, shouting down God’s voice? If you have children, guide them in the ways of silence. Silence the TV, the computer, the cellphone, so that they can begin to hear the voice of God. Hearing God’s reassuring voice, you will lose your fears. Only the Word of God can heal the many fears of mankind.
We turn to the Woman wrapped in Silence, Our Lady. We can and must learn from her how to be silent. When Joseph found out she was with child, she did not say a word. She let the Angel tell him what happened. She watched her Son grow in silence, and when he spoke, she kept his words in her heart. Our Lady of Silence, pray for us!