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Archbishop Follo: To Listen in Order to Answer

With the invitation to ask Christ that he heal our ears and our tongue so that we can hear him and to say ‘yes’ humbly and joyfully.

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XXIII Sunday of Ordinary Time – Year B – September 9, 2018
Roman Rite
Is 35.4-7a; Ps146; Jas 2,1-5; Mk 7: 31-37
Ambrosian Rite
Is 63,7-17; Ps 80; Heb 3: 1-6; Jn 5: 37-47
Second Sunday after the Martyrdom of St. John, the Precursor
1) “Ephphatha!”= open.
In this Sunday’s Gospel, Saint Mark tells us of a miracle that Jesus did while carrying out his work of evangelization in the pagan region of Tire. The path described by the Evangelist is very significant. Making a long detour, Jesus walks along a road that connects cities and territories alien to the religious tradition of Israel. The Messiah goes along the borders of Galilee in search of that part, common to every man, which comes before every frontier and every political, cultural, religious and racial division.
To do the miracle in that land signifies the universal openness of the Gospel: every man and every woman, wherever they live and whatever culture they belong to, can be reached by the Word of God and touched by His mercy.
In truth, we are familiar with today’s miracle of the healing of a deaf-mute, because on the day of our baptism the priest did on us exactly what Jesus did on the deaf-mute.
At the center of today’s Gospel passage, there is a small word that sums up the whole message and all the work of Christ. Saint Mark writes it in the same language in which Jesus pronounced it: «Ephphatha «, which means: «Open up». There is an inner closure which concerns every person’s deep core and that the Bible calls the «heart». This is what Jesus came to «open “in order to enable us to live fully the relationship with God and with the others. This is why this little word, « Ephphatha” summarizes in itself the whole mission of Christ. He became man so that we, made interiorly deaf and dumb by sin, become able to hear the voice of God, the voice of Love that speaks to our heart, and thus learn to speak the language of love and to communicate with God and with the others. For this reason, the word and the gesture of the « Ephphatha » have been included in the Rite of Baptism, as one of the signs that explain its meaning.
Touching our lips and our ears during the baptism ritual, the priest told us: «May the Lord grant you to hear his Word and to profess your faith». During this rite, the priest prayed on us children so that we could soon listen to the Word of God and profess the faith.
From the beginning of our life – when it was not yet possible to understand the words – we have been told that listening to the Word is our salvation. It is not important that we understand it all at once. Newborns do not understand the intellectual meaning of words but feel the love from which they come so much so that they respond with a smile to their mother and father who turn to them with great and amazed affection.
Growing up, we understood with intelligence those words that the heart had always perceived and received. The first lesson to be drawn from this is that the worst deafness is that of the heart. If we are deaf, we cannot speak: if we are deaf to the love that the Son of God has shown us, we cannot communicate correctly with God or with our brothers and sisters in humanity. «What kind of life is your life if you do not have life in common? There is no life in common except in praise to God» (“Choruses from the Rock” by T.S. Eliot)
Therefore, with constant and frequent prayer, let’s ask the Lord to say even today to each one of us » Ephphatha » so that our minds and hearts may be open to his Word of Truth and Life to walk rightly on the Way.
2) Become what you love (St. Augustine).
The spiritual meaning of today’s Gospel is that Jesus heals the muteness of the heart that is caused by ears deaf to the Truth and to the infinite love of God.
St. Augustine wrote: «Everyone is what he loves. Do you love earth? You will be earth. Do you love God? What should I say? that you will be God? I do not dare say it on my own. Rather, let us listen to the Scriptures:” I have said: ‘you are gods and sons of the Most High’. If, therefore, you want to be gods and sons of the Most High, do not love the world, nor the things that are in the world «. Therefore, let’s open our hearts to God, whose love breaks the wall of the self-centeredness that prevents us from listening to Him. Let’s ask Christ, whose finger has written on the sand the many sins of the sinner for the wind to took them away, to touch us with his mercy that cancels deception and iniquities from our ears and our mouth.
The love of his pierced heart pierces the armor of pride that makes us deaf to his love. His saliva, which bears the words of his own mouth, melts our tongue so to sing his «excessive» love for us.
The journey towards Christ is tiring and slow. As the deaf-mute of today’s Gospel, let us be led by Him. Let us identify ourselves in this miraculously-healed person and ask Jesus to open the ears of our heart and mind to his words of truth and love.
Accepting the word of Christ: » Ephphatha – open up» we will acquire the ability to ear and to listen to the truth, the true word, the one that sets us on the path to eternity, making the Word resonate in our words.
Only by listening to the Word, we can become capable of speech and of answering.
This implies going beyond the «Shema’» (listen) of Israel and being the new Israel that begins with listening to the Virgin Mary, who answers yes (= fiat) to her Creator. Thanks to this «yes» the Word became flesh and put on our lips the Christian prayer par excellence: Our Father.
At No. 85 of the encyclical “Laudato si”, Pope Francis, quoting the words of John Paul II, writes: «the contemplation of creation allows us to listen to … a paradoxical and silent voice. We can say that alongside revelation properly so-called, contained in the Sacred Scriptures, there is a manifestation… Paying attention to this manifestation, we learn to see ourselves in relation to all other creatures. I wonder (it is always Pope Francis who writes): If Jesus did all things well (Mk 7:37), and Jesus is the Lord, the God who created and made everything good and beautiful, when man listens to his Lord and answers him, could he make creation return as beautiful as God had thought it from the beginning? «.
I have reported this quotation to underline that the prayer of response to God that speaks to us implies not only what God says through the words of the bible. He «wrote» also the book of nature and this book should be read and respected.
 3) The consecrated virgins: women of listening and mothers of the Word.
In everyday life, there is often the habit of saying many words and of replacing the Word with chatter. The attitude and the «virtue» of listening are hardly practiced. In a special way, imitating Our Lady, Virgin of Listening and Mother of the Word, the consecrated virgins lead a life that makes them women of listening and mothers of the Word. On the typicity of their prayer, Ecclesia Sponsae Imago instruction nos. 29 and 30 teach: «Prayer is for the consecrated persons a need of love “to admire the beauty of the One who loves them «, and of communion with the Beloved and with the world in which they are rooted.
This is why they love contemplative silence, which creates favorable conditions for listening to the Word of God and conversing with the Spouse’s heart to heart. Desiring to deepen the knowledge of him and the dialogue of prayer, they become familiar with the biblical revelation, above all through the Lectio Divina and in-depth study of the Scriptures.
They recognize in the liturgy the birthplace of the theological life, of communion and of the ecclesial mission, and let their spirituality take shape starting from the celebration of the Sacraments and of the Liturgy of the Hours in obedience to the rhythm proper to the liturgical year, so also the other practices of prayer, the path of asceticism and their whole existence find unity and orientation «.
Patristic reading
Golden Chain
On Mk 7: 31-37
Theophylact: The Lord did not wish to stay in the parts of the Gentiles, lest He should give the Jews occasion to say, that they esteemed Him a transgressor of the law because He held communion with the Gentiles, and therefore He immediately returns.
Wherefore it is said, «And again departing from the coasts of Tyre, He came through Sidon, to the sea of Galilee, through the midst of the borders of Decapolis.»
Bede, in Marc., 2, 31: Decapolis is a region of ten cities, across the Jordan, to the east, over against Galilee (ed. note: It appears, however, from Reland, Pales. v.1, p198, that a portion of Decapolis, including its metropolis, Scythopolis, was on this side Jordan, and therefore this text of St. Mark may be taken literally.) When therefore it is said that the Lord came to the sea of Galilee, through the midst of the borders of Decapolis, it does not mean that He entered the confines of Decapolis themselves; for He is not said to have crossed the sea, but rather to have come to the borders of the sea, and to have reached quite up to the place, which was opposite to the midst of the coasts of Decapolis, which were situated at a distance across the sea.
It goes on, «And they bring Him one that was deaf and dumb, and they besought Him to lay hands upon him.»
Theophylact: Which is rightly placed after the deliverance of one possessed with a (p. 143) devil, for such an instance of suffering came from the devil.
There follows, «And He took him aside from the multitude, and put His fingers into his ears.»
Pseudo-Chrys., Vict. Ant. e Cat. in Marc.: He takes the deaf and dumb man who was brought to Him apart from the crowd, that He might not do His divine miracles openly; teaching us to cast away vainglory and swelling of heart, for no one can work miracles as he can, who loves humility and is lowly in his conduct. But He puts His fingers into his ears when He might have cured him with a word, to shew that His body, being united to Deity, was consecrated by Divine virtue, with all that He did. For since on account of the transgression of Adam, human nature had incurred much suffering and hurt in its members and senses, Christ coming into the world shewed the perfection of human nature in Himself, and on this account opened ears, with His fingers, and gave the power of speech by His spittle.
Wherefore it goes on, «And spit, and touched his tongue.»
Theophylact: That He might shew that all the members of His sacred body are divine and holy, even the spittle which loosed the string of the tongue. For the spittle is only the superfluous moisture of the body, but in the Lord, all things are divine.
It goes on, «And looking up to heaven, He groaned, and saith unto him, Ephphatha, that is, Be opened.»
Bede: He looked up to heaven, that He might teach us that thence is to be procured speech for the dumb, hearing for the deaf, health for all who are sick. And He sighed, not that it was necessary for Him to be anything from His Father with groaning, for He, together with the Father, gives all things to them who ask, but that He might give us an example of sighing, when for our own errors and those of our neighbors, we invoke the guardianship of the Divine mercy.
Pseudo-Chrys., Vict. Ant. e Cat. in Marc.: He at the same time also groaned, as taking our cause upon Himself and pitying human nature, seeing the misery into which it had fallen.
Bede: But that which He says, «Ephphatha, that is, Be opened,» belong properly to the ears, for the ears are to be opened for hearing, but the tongue to be loosed from the bonds of its impediment, that is may be able to speak.
Wherefore it goes on, «And straightway his ears were opened, and the string of his tongue was loosed, and he spake plain.»
Where each nature of one and the same Christ (p. 144) is manifestly distinct, looking up indeed into Heaven as man, praying unto God, He groaned, but presently with one word, as being strong in the Divine Majesty, He healed.
It goes on, «And He charged them that they should tell no man.»
Pseudo-Chrys., Vict. Ant. e Cat. in Marc.: By which He has taught us not to boast in our powers but in the cross and humiliation. He also bade them conceal the miracle, lest He should excite the Jews by envy to kill Him before the time.
Pseudo-Jerome: A city, however, placed on a hill cannot be hid, and lowliness always comes before glory.
Wherefore it goes on, «but the more He charged them, so much the more a great deal they published it.»
Theophylact: By this, we are taught, when we confer benefits on any, by no means to seek for applause and praise; but when we have received benefits, to proclaim and praise our benefactors, even though they be unwilling.
Augustine: If however He, as one Who knew the present and the future wills of men, knew that they would proclaim Him the more in proportion as He forbade them, why did He give them this command? If it were not that He wished to prove to men who are idle, how much more joyfully, with how much greater obedience, they whom He commands to proclaim Him should preach when they who were forbidden could not hold their peace.
Gloss.: From the preaching however of those who were healed by Christ, the wonder of the multitude, and their praise of the benefits of Christ, increased.
Wherefore it goes on, «And they were beyond measure astonished, saying, He hath done all things well; he maketh the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak.»
Pseudo-Jerome: Mystically, Tyre is interpreted, narrowness, and signifies Judaea, to which the Lord said, «For the bed is grown too narrow,» (Is 28,20) and from which He turns Himself to the Gentiles. Sidon means, hunting, for our race is like an untamed beast, and «sea», which means a wavering inconstancy. Again, the Saviour comes to save the Gentiles in the midst of the coasts of Decapolis, which may be interpreted, as the commands of the Decalogue.
Further, the human race throughout its many members is reckoned as one man, eaten up by varying pestilence, in the first created man; it is blinded, that is, its eye is evil; it becomes deaf, when it listens to, and dumb when it speaks, evil. And they prayed Him to lay His hand upon him, because many just men, and (p. 145) patriarchs, wished and longed for the time when the Lord should come in the flesh.
Bede: Or he is deaf and dumb, who neither has ears to hear the words of God, nor opens his mouth to speak them, and such must be presented to the Lord for healing, by men who have already learned to hear and speak the divine oracles.
Pseudo-Jerome: Further, he who obtains healing is always drawn aside from turbulent thoughts, disorderly actions, and incoherent speeches. And the fingers which are put into the ears are the words and the gifts of the Holy Ghost, of whom it is said, «This is the finger of God.» (Ex 8,19 Lc 11,20)
The spittle is heavenly wisdom, which loosens the sealed lips of the human race so that it can say, I believe in God, the Father Almighty, and the rest of the Creed. «And looking up to heaven, he groaned,» that is, He taught us to groan and to raise up the treasures of our hearts to the heavens; because by the groaning of hearty compunction, the silly joy of the flesh is purged away. But the ears are opened to hymns, and songs, and psalms; and He looses the tongue, that it may pour forth the good word, which neither threats nor stripes can restrain.

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Archbishop Francesco Follo

Monsignor Francesco Follo è osservatore permanente della Santa Sede presso l'UNESCO a Parigi.

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