ASL Sermon: Ephpheta

By | September 4, 2019


“Ephpheta.” That is, “be thou opened.” In the name of the Father, and of the
Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen. Dear Faithful in Christ, Most people probably have a story about what I
would call “other duties as assigned.” You know on a job description, the major duties are listed in detail. But then at the end, you will often
find that phrase “other duties as assigned.” Which means that, besides what is listed in the job description, the employee might be expected to do just about
anything else that the boss wants him to. No matter how good of preparation a couple receives before marriage, every husband and wife probably at some point
says, “I never signed up for this.” Perhaps no one knows this better than a soldier who goes
through weeks, maybe months of training and drills only to find himself thrust into situations he could never imagine. Seminary was no different. Fourteen years ago, amidst the daily holy routine of rosaries,
solemn ceremonies, volumes of St. Thomas Aquinas, I never imagined that someday, I would have to become a financial whiz, a master of steam boilers, and grow some pretty thick skin against criticism. Nor did I ever imagine that one day I
would be teaching the Catholic Faith, counseling and preaching using American Sign Language. But God has a few surprises, pleasant and otherwise. And He’s had those for me during my seven years of priesthood. Working with deaf people has been one of
the pleasant, in fact, extremely fulfilling surprises. Until recently, my only real exposure to a deaf person was a man
who used to come to my elementary school and he was deaf and he would put on a very entertaining magic show, accompanying his visual tricks with only a few odd but funny noises that he made with his throat. But just over two years ago, God used a deaf person who had
questions about the Traditional Latin Mass and the Catholic Faith to call me to serve a neglected and often forgotten portion
of His Church: Catholics who cannot hear. The last two years have been incredible in some ways. Amidst the exploding boilers, the past due bills, and the pastoral
needs of 99.6% of the parish who can hear, I have been learning American Sign Language, and learning
about a sub culture that exists, unknown to most, virtually everywhere – that is the Deaf Culture. There, I have found a highly connected community of people with
language (a language for the eyes, not for the ears), but a true language that meets the criteria of any
recognized language according to the experts. And this community includes highly successful and intelligent people
with strong families and social connections. They are proud of their culture. And they generally do not
feel that they are handicapped as they are often called. In fact, they often feel that their culture and language gives them more
than they would have had if they could hear. This culture is made up of individuals who, because of
the hardships and discrimination they have often endured, are often more patient, humble, and charitable than the general population. But because over 90% of deaf people are born in
hearing families with no other deaf members, and because a majority of those families don’t learn
to communicate with their deaf child, the majority of those deaf children – even when they are born into Catholic families – grow up knowing little to nothing about the Faith and consequently leave it. Think about the average Catholic today who knows a
miserable amount about his Catholic Faith. Then imagine if you cannot hear on top of that. Even the little bit that the average Catholic picks up from a
mediocre catechism class and maybe even occasional attendance at Mass, even that little bit would be missed by most deaf
people because they couldn’t hear it. So I discovered that right here at home, we have mission territory. Today’s Gospel is about Our Lord healing a person
who is deaf and who cannot speak. Now in my opportunities in the last couple
years of talking to many deaf people, I’ve found that most people who are deaf are aware that
Our Lord heals deaf people in the Bible. But I’ve also found that many deaf people have grown up either being
told or having the misunderstanding because of their lack of hearing that the Church teaches that a deaf person is
born that way because of sin! And therefore Heaven is not possible. That’s what many think. Is that what the Church thinks? Let’s look at today’s Gospel. Our Lord is
brought a man who has two issues. First, he cannot hear. Second, he cannot speak. These two are not always connected. But the Church Fathers say it is not the man’s
physical deafness and muteness that is important here. His deafness is a symbol for being closed to hearing God’s Word. His muteness is a symbol for being unable to ask forgiveness
of his sins (in other words, lack of repentance). It is the spiritual and not the physical deafness that is the tragedy here. First Jesus takes him aside. And notice, He adapts His
actions to a person who cannot hear. Jesus in a sense, wants to become acquainted with this man, wants
him to become acquainted with Him before He works a miracle. We adapt our confessionals and provide interpreters to make
God’s Sacraments available to all here. And this is nothing more than what Our Lord Himself did. Now how does he heal the deafness? He
puts His finger in the man’s ears. Odd – maybe on a natural level. But on a spiritual level, the Holy Ghost is called
in Sacred Scripture “The Finger of God.” And the Finger of God represents the gifts of the Holy Ghost. So Our Lord is opening the “ears” of the man’s
soul to receive the Holy Ghost. As he does this, he says “ephpheta” which means, “be thou opened.” Next, Our Lord takes his own saliva and touches the man’s tongue. Again maybe this seems weird and a little gross until we
realize that to the Church Fathers, saliva symbolizes wisdom since it goes from the head down to the
mouth. It symbolizes Holy Wisdom. And so Our Lord is opening the man’s mouth to speak Holy Wisdom. And
the first thing to be spoken is contrition for his sins. If you have ever been to a traditional baptism, you know this is exactly
what the priest does to the baby before pouring the water. He takes a bit of his own spittle, and puts it
on his finger into the baby’s ears and says “ephpheta. “May the ears of your soul be opened to receive the Holy Ghost and may
your tongue be loosed from the bonds of Satan to speak the Truth.” So you see, the deafness of this man has very little to do
with his inability to hear spoken words with his ears. Rather it is his deafness to the Word of God, to the Truths
of the Faith, that Our Lord desires to heal. This man is in need of healing, not because
he cannot vocalize with his voice box, but because of the hardness of his heart and his unwillingness
to acknowledge his sins and repent of them. So now it becomes embarrassingly obvious that the deaf and mute man in
the Gospel is not the person communicating with Sign Language, but in fact that “deaf and dumb” person is ME! With my hardness of heart, with my stiff neck, my pride
which puffs up the ear canals of my heart and ties up the tongue of my repentance – keeping me from
blaming myself for my sins, and instead blaming others. The deafness that would have me ignore or even disdain the admonitions
I hear from the pulpit, in classes, and in the confessional. “Oh brother that priest is crazy don’t listen to that! The Church
is too hard on that issue. Follow your conscience.” The string of my tongue which makes me too lazy to
take a few simple steps that I hear about over and over to root up my sins, and thus ensuring that
I will never be able to repent of them. That string keeps me enslaved to them. The muteness which makes me act like a saint here, all the while
hiding the fact that I am a pious fraud. And that is the deafness and the muteness that needs
to be healed by the compassionate merciful Jesus who, as you recall, takes the deaf man aside, gives
him special personalized treatment and heals his sickness. Most of us have had our ears opened by
the finger of God at our baptism. But like the deaf man in the Gospel, those ears
have been closed to the Truth through sin. If we approach the One who does all things well,
He will say to us “ephpheta” (“be thou opened”) and will restore the sweet strains of his voice
to our ears once again. In the name of the Father, and of the
Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

3 thoughts on “ASL Sermon: Ephpheta

  1. Marcellus Mullins Post author

    i am deaf man and im interested to attend traditional latin Mass.

    Reply
  2. Marcellus Mullins Post author

    I'm from NYC and I try to find good Latin mass with sign language

    Reply

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