9/5/2012 10:51:00 AM The Deaf teach us how to listen
Mary Jo Tully Chancellor, Archdiocese of Portland
Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time Isaiah 35:4-7a James 2:1-5 Mark 7:31-37
The training of catechists was the most important task for the Office of Religious Education in Chicago. So I should not have been surprised when the Catholic Office for the Deaf asked for me to help them put the sessions I had written into language that could be signed. Then Deaf master catechists could train Deaf catechists. Whenever I read today’s Gospel, I remember that graced time in my life. To teach them, I had to know them.
The Deaf quickly taught me that their community is a culture. Long before they told me that they did not consider themselves handicapped, I stopped thinking of them as disabled. I saw them “hear” with their entire bodies. They scanned gestures and looked at facial expressions.
The Deaf I met seemed to seek to move beyond the words they could not hear. Sometimes they caught the intensity in a message that was missed by those who were mesmerized by only the words that were spoken. While I learned that deafness sometimes affects a person’s capacity to speak and to be understood, it does not diminish the person. The attentiveness they pay to “listening” to others forms a very strong community. In this case, it was a faith community.
We see the results of a sensitive relationship around the man in today’s Gospel. He was brought to Jesus by others and Jesus responded with the same sensitivity he saw in that community. The man could not hear so the Lord could not tell him what he was about to do. Jesus uses signs to speak to him. He puts his finger in the man’s ear to let him know that he is going to take care of his hearing and touches his tongue to let him know that he will help him speak and looks to heaven so that the Deaf man will know that God is acting.
From this moment on, the Deaf man would be able to announce the faith that drew him to Jesus in the first place. The wholeness that Christ gave him was the ability to accept his calling to evangelize others. This is a wholeness that all of us need.
The reading from Isaiah proclaims healing for all the earth: “The scorched earth becomes a lake, the parched land springs of water.” New life is given us when we rise above our limitations. As a community, we know the words of the epistle are true: “It was those who are poor according to the world that God chose, to be rich in faith and to be heirs to the kingdom which he promised to those who love him.”
And then Jesus told the crowd not to tell anyone. It made no difference. Even had they kept silent, the story the Deaf man told with his life had an even greater power.
The letter of James calls us to listen, to listen most especially to those who are not among those we would choose to hear. We are to listen to the poor, the less articulate, the ones to whom Jesus paid special attention.
The Hebrew Scripture is filled with stories of prophets who had to be convinced by God himself that they should speak. Today, we gather at Eucharist to tell one another that each of our stories of faith is worth hearing. Today we are challenged to seek out those who “feel handicapped” because of physical disability when it is, perhaps, those who appear most perfectly formed who are lacking. Ephphata—be opened…to every story of faith.