When I was fourth grade I suffered a long series of ear infections and operations that temporarily left my hearing very reduced, some days, virtually deaf. I missed a lot of school that year and when I did return to class there were two things that still stand out in my memory: (a) I had to sit in the front of the class directly in front of the teacher so that I could maximize the chance of hearing her, and (b) I had to stay behind during recess for extra lessons or studying for all that I had missed.
I had a hard time hearing anyone – teachers, friends, family. At first friends tried to talk with me, but it was tiring for everyone. They would get exasperated when I could not catch the words, or enough of the words to understand the meaning. They tried writing notes for a while, but that got old. Eventually they stopped trying and I got used to life incommunicato. And so, even when I could go outside for recess, I think I tended to take a book and read.
Of course, I could still talk – but volume control was apparently a problem. In class, I remember the teacher giving hand signals to increase or lower the volume. Friends would generally give instinctive facial responses with the “Why are you yelling at me” face or the “what?” face. It was kinda’ embarrassing and so eventually I stopped talking unless it was really necessary.
I read once that blindness cuts you off from things, but deafness is far worse, it cuts you off from people. And none of us are immune. We all have our periods of deafness. We all have times when the Lord should come to us and say “ephphatha” – be opened. Of course, that begs the question, how did we get that way, how did we become deaf.
When did we stop listening?
When did it become unimportant to listen?
When did it become too hard to listen?
When did it become too much, too far away, too laborious, too much time, too much everything?
When did we become too tired, too hurt?
When did we give up? Stop caring? Stop trying?
When did we become deaf to family, loved ones, friends, and even God?
Is now the moment when we need Jesus to again touch us and whisper ephphatha? Again? Yes, again. Did you know that every baptism includes something called the Ephphatha Rite, when the priest signs the ears and mouth of the child and says:
“The Lord made the deaf to hear and the mute to speak. May he touch your ears to receive his Word and your mouth to proclaim this faith to the praise and glory of God.”
By our very baptism, we are gifted and graced – sent on mission – to be people who hear, who are in relationship – all for the greater glory of God. Maybe each time we dip our fingers into the holy water font, we should ask the Lord to come touch us, to whisper ephphatha into our souls that we might hear the other. And in hearing to find holiness, healing, and hope. In hearing, to be made whole so that we can restore those relationships long laid fallow or are newly rendered a problem.
We can ask the Lord to whisper ephphatha into our souls when we speak of politics, election, scandal in the Church, and each and every conversation in which deafness infects us all.
Like 4th grade me, what is it in your life that needs healing, that your deeper hearing may be restored, and you may be made whole, and restore the fuller relationships with family, friends and God?
By the end of the school year, I was healed. The infections stopped, and the operations were over, and I was talking – a lot. I would talk to everyone – non-stop – and you know what? I was still partially deaf. I wasn’t listening to anyone. As my dad used to say, “A still tongue makes a wise heart.”
The need for healing, for ephphatha never really stops. Pope Benedict said, “…we all know that closure of man, his isolation, does not solely depend on the sense organs. There is an inner closing, which covers the deepest core of the person, what the Bible calls the “heart”. That is what Jesus came to “open” to liberate, to enable us to fully live our relationship with God and with others. [This is why this one] word, “Ephphatha – Be opened,” sums up Christ’s entire mission.
May this Eucharist bless us and touch us. May our ears and heart be opened, and our tongues be stilled that we may have a heart blessed with the wisdom of God.