If you read today’s Gospel carefully, Mark is making a subtle point that a casual reader might miss. Jesus heals the deaf man. He “opens his ears”. He put his finger in the man’s ears, spit on his fingers and put them on the man’s tongue and said “Ephatha”, which means “be opened.”
But notice that He took the man away from the crowd to do this. He did it in private. Ask yourself, “How many times in my life has Jesus opened my ears in private?” How often have we received revelations in our private prayer? Alone in our homes, or in our cars, or here in church, Jesus often speaks to us. He opens our ears when we’re alone with Him. Everyone in this church today is going to hear the same words. But YOUR experience of this mass will be different from everyone else’s because God is speaking to YOU; each of you in a different way.
Every year I go on retreat to the Trappist Abbey in Kentucky. I’ll be going again in two weeks. It’s a silent retreat and I know Jesus will speak to me, opening my ears, when it’s just Him and me. It happens every time. And it’s never what I expect. Sometimes I go with a very specific goal, sometimes not. I’m always surprised by what He has to say. But, you don’t have to retreat to the hills of Kentucky to hear His voice. He can open our ears, and our hearts and our minds at any time, we just have to listen.
Sometimes when we listen we hear something that we may not like. When that happens it’s only human nature to reject what we hear. The deaf man is a good example. Jesus could have just said “you’re healed”. We’ve seen Him do that many times. But He takes a different approach this time. He spits on his fingers and touches the man’s tongue. Eww! I don’t care if He is the Son of God, you have to admit that’s a little gross. Having someone touch your tongue is a little unsettling. No, it’s a lot unsettling. This guy doesn’t know where Jesus’ hands have been. Then He spits on his fingers before he touches his tongue. If he had known what was coming, he might not have gone along with it. But he did, and we know what happened. He received a great gift, the gift of hearing and speech. Then, in spite of what Jesus told him, he used this gift to tell everyone he knew about what Jesus had done.
I was asked to write a one-page history of our church to be given out at the homecoming. To do that, I reread our red book, the history of Saint John Nepomuk Church. If you’ve not read the book, I strongly recommend you get a copy and read it. It’s a fairly quick read. Or if you have read it but it’s been a while, read it again. Look at some of the things that God has asked our people to do.
In 1870 the parishioners of Saint John’s were asked to build a new church to replace the original log church. These were not wealthy people. It had been just 15 years since the original church was built, the first Czech Catholic church in the new world. But the people responded, raising the princely sum of $50,000. That was a lot of money in 1870. When they were finished they had a beautiful house of God where they could worship, just like they had in the Old Country. Imagine how proud they must have been! Nobody outside the parish thought they could do it and there was a huge celebration when it was completed.
Then, on the night of May 27, 1896, everything they had worked so hard for was gone in the blink of an eye. Their beautiful church was destroyed by a tornado. Not only that, but many of their homes were also destroyed or badly damaged.
The pastor, Monsignor Joseph Hessoun, gathered the people together and encouraged them to rebuild. He told them that God controls everything in this world and he pointed out that even though the church had been destroyed, the main altar including the statues of Jesus and His Blessed Mother, and the side altar with its statue of Saint Joseph had been untouched. This was a sign that God wanted them to build a new church, bigger and better than before and that’s what they did. Even though many of them had their own rebuilding to do.
Those people are all gone now so we can’t speak to them. But if we could I’m fairly sure that they would tell you that the LAST thing they wanted to do before the storm was to rebuild the church that they had worked so hard to build just 26 years earlier. But they DID rebuild it and we’re gathered together today to worship in this beautiful house of God.
This church is a beautiful example of how God can turn disaster into a thing of beautiful thing. The members of our church all those years ago could have easily said, “forget it! We’ll just go to mass somewhere else.” But they didn’t. Encouraged by their spiritual leader, Monsignor Hessoun, they did what most people would have said was impossible. But even though the Monsignor inspired them, each of those people had an intimate, personal conversation with God. Everyone had to pitch in and they all had to make an individual choice to do His will.
We pray that none of us will ever be faced with such a huge challenge. But we face smaller, individual challenges every single day. We all decided to [get up and] come to mass today. Why did we do that? Because He speaks to us. We all decide each week how much we will contribute to the church. We all decide whether to eat healthy food or to eat junk. We decide if, and how, we’re going to help those less fortunate than we are.
Sooner or later we’re all faced with big challenges. We get sick. A loved on passes away. Life is full of these things. Sometimes we feel like God has abandoned us. Even Jesus, as He hung on the cross, asked His Father, “Why have you abandoned me?” God never abandons us. If we let Him, He’ll help us get through anything.
A short personal story: A friend of mine who’s an atheist, lost his wife. When I saw him a few weeks later I offered my condolences and said the usual “she’s in a better place” because it’s what we all do in those situations. My friend said “No, she’s just dead.” How sad is that? How can anyone live their life with no hope of a better life to come and without the comfort that comes from turning everything over to God?
The deaf man was led by the hand to a place where Jesus could heal him. Obviously he couldn’t listen to Jesus before he was healed. But he was moved by Jesus’ presence to follow Him. He could have pulled away but he didn’t. Well, Jesus is present for us, too. He leads us gently to where He wants us to go. But we can’t follow Him if we don’t listen. And that means prayer. Not just on Sunday; not just in the morning or in the evening; but all day every day.
Saying the occasional “Our Father” or “Hail, Mary” throughout the day is a wonderful thing. After all, when the Apostles asked Jesus how to pray, He gave them the “Lord’s Prayer.” But how much more beneficial is it for us to speak to God on a more personal level. Remember when all the kids wore the WWJD bracelets? What would Jesus do? That was a good reminder even though looking at the world today, I’m not sure anyone really did do what Jesus would do.
Prayer can be something as simple as holding the door for someone who’s struggling with a heavy load. It may be as simple as letting a car out into traffic ahead of us. It may mean making a financial sacrifice to help someone in need. It may mean saying the meal prayer at EVERY meal; not just in the privacy of our homes but even when we’re having lunch at McDonald’s with friends who may or may not be Catholic. Every minute of every day Jesus is speaking to us, telling us to do the right thing. Jesus is our Brother and He’s our Friend. He’s always with us. If your brother were standing next to you all day, would you ignore him or would you talk to him and ask for his advice? I think we all know the answer to that. Shouldn’t we treat Jesus the same way?