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FIRST IMPRESSIONS

23rd SUNDAY (B) September 6, 2015

Isaiah 35:4-7a; Psalm 146; James 2: 1-5; Mark 7: 31-37

By: Jude Siciliano, OP

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Dear Preachers:

The gospel writers were gifted and they were also very deliberate in what they wrote. We might want to skip over some details to get to the "meat" of the story. But the writers did not put fillers in the narrative. In the seeming-unimportant details of the story are hints of the whole gospel message. So, for example, today Mark starts his story with, what sounds like, a little "scene setter," or geographical tidbit.

"Jesus left the district of Tyre and went by way of Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, into the district of the Decapolis." That doesn’t sound like there is much "meat" in that, does there? Well, we know the gospel writer wasn’t writing a tour book – noting sites not to miss if you were in the district of the Decapolis, or going to the Sea of Galilee. No, the gospel is not about seeing sites; it’s about seeing God.

A person knowledgeable of the geography of the New Testament would note that if Jesus were traveling to Galilee, going by way of Sidon would take him 26 miles out of his way. And remember – he is traveling on foot. Jesus has a purpose to this trip and Mark has also made it very clear that Jesus is in Gentile country. What’s more, Mark says Jesus is "again" among the Gentiles, so he has gone there before. His own people have rejected his message and he goes to the Gentiles, whom his people call "dogs." He is reaching out to the despised and ignored who, as it turns out, are eager to hear him. God’s plan is universal and is not limited to human restrictions, to one nation or just one religion.

There, in Gentile territory, a deaf man with a speech impediment, a Gentile, is brought to Jesus. Of course is not just about one sick and needy person. Deafness in the Bible is symbolic for not hearing God’s word. (Remember what St. Paul says about faith coming through hearing – Rom 10: 17) We need to hear God in our lives. Because we don’t hear, like the deaf man, we don’t speak clearly.

Jesus takes the man off in private. How sensitive, not to make a public show of this man’s needs. Imagine how confused he would have been when he was cured, how disorienting all the noise and excitement would be. We get distracted by the noise and voices around us. Alone with Jesus the first voice the man would hear was Jesus speaking to him. The miracle begins with opening the man’s ears: "Ephphatha!… Be opened!" Note the sequence: first the man hears and then he can speak. His life has changed completely and, as a sign of that, the first thing he does is to speak plainly.

Listening has spiritual implications in the Bible. It summarizes the Jewish covenant God established with Israel. In Deuteronomy (6:4) the people are called to listen. "Listen O Israel." What they hear is the command to love God with all their heart, soul and strength and to take to heart the word of God, which is life-giving.

Through the ages God has used a variety of ways to gain our attention: the burning bush so fascinated Moses he couldn’t help but listen. For the desert wanderers it was a pillar of fire, a mobile cloud and some claps of thunder to draw the children to Mount Sinai to listen to God. God’s prophets were creative in their attempts to get people to listen; they danced, sang, told stories, and performed symbolic actions.

Ultimately God’s greatest attempt to be heard and heeded became flesh in the person of Jesus, the Word of God. St. John was in awe of what God did in Jesus saying, "What we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes and what we have looked upon and touched with our hands concerns the word of life" (1John 1:1). St. John was amazed that the disciples could hear and touch "the word of life." God took flesh and could also hear us and touch us and in that, communicated love to all. Which is what Jesus did today for the deaf man. He touched the man’s ears and opened him to his word. Today’s gospel begins with a touch.

Jesus touched a Gentile, the outsider. In the eyes of his contemporaries the man’s affliction would be seen as a result of his sin. Jesus touches one considered a sinner – led him away from the crowd, put his finger into the man’s ear, touched his tongue, looked up to heaven and said "Ephphatha." Jesus traveled a long way, physically, religiously and socially, to get to this man, to open his ears and loosen his tongue.

At times our listening is not keen enough, or humble enough, to cause the transformation in us. We stand today with the deaf man and beg Jesus to open our ears to hear his word in our daily lives. Our ears are opened and we hear again about our sins, our selfishness and our greed, our apathy and our laziness. But we also hear what God, in Jesus, has to tell us: that we are loved and cherished by God, who desires communion with us. Now our tongues are loosened as we praise what God has done for us in this Eucharist.

The story begins with the man’s ears being opened, and so he can listen to what Jesus says. Isn’t that the best gift someone can give to another? Listening, really listening, means not formulating responses in our heads as the other is talking, but hearing them out; not feeling obliged to give good advice, or to come up with a solution for them. Just practice listening. What a gift!

The best listener was Jesus. People who came to him felt heard. Today’s story started with people who brought the deaf and mute man to Jesus and begged him to help. He heard the request. Remember, he was in Gentile country among those whom his own people would have ignored, or sent away. But Jesus found a willing heart in this outsider. On the margins of society Jesus found an openness to his message.

During this frenetic election cycle we would do well to be good listeners. In imitation of today’s gospel we need to listen to the outsiders, those whose voices are drowned out by self interests and quests for power. At this Eucharist we ask Jesus to speak his word again for us, "Ephphatha...Be opened!" We also ask that we can hear those who often are outside our usual range of hearing, those we, our church and our country, can be deaf to. They include the elderly, single parents, sick poor, unborn, gays, students burdened by loans, low income workers, injured military personnel and their families, those working in dangerous jobs etc.

God hasn’t gone mute, God keeps speaking to us. Judging from the gospel God can be heard in those our world often turns a deaf ear to. This gospel story is our own personal story. We too have received the gift of hearing. As the presider at our baptism prayed, touching our ears and lips:

"The Lord Jesus has made the deaf to hear and the mute to speak. May he soon touch your ears to receive his words and your mouth to proclaim his faith to the praise and glory of God the Father."

So then, may what we have heard from the Lord be manifested in our words and deeds.

Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/090615.cfm

QUOTABLE

"...the crucial realization [is] that the natural world enjoys its own intrinsic value before God. It is not created simply for human use, nor is it only an instrument to serve our needs. We can no longer reduce divine care to one newly arriving species, homo sapiens. Far from being a mere backdrop for our human lives or a stage for our drama, the natural world is a beloved creation valued by God for its own sake."

----Elizabeth A. Johnson, Abounding in Kindness: Writings for the People of God. (Maryknoll: Orbis Bookds, 2015) page 94

JUSTICE BULLETIN BOARD

My brothers and sisters, show no partiality as you adhere to the faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ.
—James 2: 1

The Letter of James goes on to name a human tendency played out across time and cultures to give preference and honor to the rich and easily dismiss the poor. This letter continues to challenge us even to the point of discomfort. It reminds me of a quote by Finley Peter Dunne, Chicago Evening Post journalist and humanist of the late 1800’s, that has sometimes been adopted by religious leaders. To paraphrase, Dunne said that one job of the newspaper is "to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable." The Letter of James is doing the same in the realm of faith.

Catholic social teaching instructs us to work against our tendency to exalt wealth and power and to give, instead, a "preferential option to the poor." Imagine a world where marginalized voices are truly heard; a world where the vulnerable have safety nets to protect them from their precarious position provided out of love for their human dignity; a world where lifestyles, policies, and social constructs are developed by how they impact the poor. We are called to bring about this world, this kingdom of God.

As a people of faith, we cannot live with our proverbial "head in the sand." The Vatican II document, "Decree on the Apostolate of Lay People," calls the laity to "develop the habit of working in the parish in close cooperation with their priests, of bringing before the ecclesial community their own problems, world problems, and questions regarding humanity’s salvation, to examine them together and solve them by general discussion…Indeed they [the laity] will not confine their cooperation within the limits of the parish or diocese, but will endeavor…to extend it to interparochial, interdiocesan, national and international spheres" (III, 10).

Deepen your consciousness, open yourself to the treatment of the poor/disadvantaged in our community, nation, and world, pray for the courage to step out of your box, then ACT and SPEAK in LOVE. As Pope Francis instructs, "Continue to overcome apathy, offering a Christian response to the social and political anxieties, which are arising in various parts of the world. I ask you to be builders of the world, to work for a better world. . .please, don’t be observers of life, but get involved. Jesus did not remain an observer, but he immersed himself. Don’t be observers, but immerse yourself in the reality of life, as Jesus did" (7/27/13). http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/speeches/2013/july/documents/papa-francesco_20130727_gmg-veglia-giovani.html

Barbara Molinari Quinby, MPS

Coordinator of Social Justice Ministries Sacred Heart Cathedral--Raleigh, N.C.

FAITH BOOK

Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for persons on the run. "Faith Book" is also brief enough to be posted in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.

From today’s Gospel reading:

Immediately the man’s ears were opened,

his speech impediment was removed and he spoke plainly.

Reflection:

We stand today with the deaf man and beg Jesus to open our ears to hear his word in our daily lives. Our ears are opened and we hear again about our sins, our selfishness and our greed, our apathy and our laziness. But we also hear what God, in Jesus, has to tell us: that we are loved and cherished by God, who desires communion with us. Now our tongues are loosened as we praise what God has done for us in this Eucharist.

So we ask ourselves:

  • How would I rate myself as a listener?
  • Do I give a listening ear to others, or am I too eager to speak and give advice?

POSTCARDS TO DEATH ROW INMATES

It is impossible to imagine that states today cannot make use of another means than capital punishment to defend peoples' lives from an unjust aggressor,"
—Pope Francis, Oct. 23, in a meeting with representatives of the International Association of Penal Law.

Inmates on death row are the most forgotten people in the prison system. Each week I post in this space several inmates’ names and addresses. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of them to let them know we have not forgotten them. If you like, tell them you heard about them through North Carolina’s, "People of Faith Against the Death Penalty." If the inmate responds you might consider becoming pen pals.

Please write to:

  • John Williams #0599379 (On death row since 3/5/98)
  • Danny Frogg #0137368 (3/27/98)
  • Allen Holman #0587681 (4/7/98)

----Central Prison 4285 Mail Service Center, Raleigh 27699-4285

For more information on the Catholic position on the death penalty go to the webpage of the Catholic Mobilizing Network: http://www.catholicsmobilizing.org/

DONATIONS

"First Impressions" is a service to preachers and those wishing to prepare for Sunday worship. It is sponsored by the Dominican Friars. If you would like "First Impressions" sent weekly to a friend, send a note to fr. John Boll, OP at jboll@opsouth.org.

If you would like to support this ministry, please send tax deductible contributions to fr. Jude Siciliano, O.P.

St. Albert Priory 3150 Vince Hagan Drive Irving, Texas 75062-4736

Make checks payable to: Dominican Friars. Or, go to our webpage to make an online donation: http://preacherexchange.com/donations.htm

ANNOUNCEMENTS

1. We have compiled Four CDS for sale:

  • Individual CDs for each Liturgical Year, A, B or C
  • One combined CD for "Liturgical Years A, B and C."

If you are a preacher, lead a Lectionary-based scripture group, or are a member of a liturgical team, these CDs will be helpful in your preparation process. Individual worshipers report they also use these reflections as they prepare for Sunday liturgy.

You can order the CDs by going to our webpage: www.preacherexchange.com and clicking on the "First Impressions" CD link on the left.

(These CDs have been updated twice in the last five years.)

2. "Homilías Dominicales" —These Spanish reflections on the Sunday and daily scriptures are written by Dominican sisters and friars. If you or a friend would like to receive these reflections drop a note to fr. John Boll, O.P. at Jboll@opsouth.org Or jboll@preacherexchange.org.

3. Our webpage: http://www.preacherexchange.com

Where you will find "Preachers’ Exchange," which includes "First Impressions" and "Homilías Dominicales," as well as articles, book reviews, daily homilies and other material pertinent to preaching.

4. "First Impressions" is a service to preachers and those wishing to prepare for Sunday worship. It is sponsored by the Dominican Friars. If you would like "First Impressions" sent weekly to a friend, send a note to fr. John Boll, OP at the above email address.


Thank you and blessings on your preaching,

fr. Jude Siciliano, O.P.

St. Albert Priory

3150 Vince Hagan Drive

Irving, Texas 75062-4736

frjude@judeop.org

972-438-1626

 


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