The editorial of the month

Rev. Peter John Cameron, O.P

by Rev. Peter John Cameron, O.P

This month in the Sunday liturgy, Jesus will lead a deaf man away from the crowd, look up to heaven, groan, and cry out, Ephphatha! Be opened! The event is reenacted as a rite in the Sacrament of Baptism. The celebrant touches the ears and mouth of the child with his thumb, saying: “The Lord Jesus made the deaf hear and the dumb speak. May he soon touch your ears to receive his Word, and your mouth to proclaim his faith, to the praise and glory of God the Father.” Which means that the predicament of the deaf man is the problem of every human being from the moment they are born—a problem that requires an encounter with Jesus Christ to change.

Ephphatha

The sight of the deaf man clearly struck Christ to the heart. Perhaps his plight caused Jesus to recall the numerous times God’s people in the voice of the Psalmist cry out, Incline your ear, O Lord, answer me. Incline your ear to my cry for help (see, for example, Ps 86:1; 88:3). In a practically accusatory tone, Psalm 94 asks, Shall he who shaped the ear not hear? (verse 9). God hears by granting healing and salvation.

In the Bible, the ear symbolizes hearing, understanding, and obeying. The ear is even identified with the heart (see Prv 23:12). Conversely, lack of hearing constitutes decisive spiritual failure and rebellion against God (see, for example, Is 48:8 and Heb 3:7-8). Who is the child of God? The one who hears the words of God (Jn 8:47). What is the glory of the faithful sheep? They hear the voice of the shepherd (Jn 10:3, 16, 27) and they follow.

Jesus bore in his heart the hope held by the Prophet Isaiah: Morning after morning/ [the Lord God] opens my ear that I may hear (cf. 50:4). And he longed for this to be so for the deaf man. In the seclusion of a private place, the Lord turns and says to the man, Ephphatha! The word means more than to “be opened.” It means to be open in order to make a connection.

The Jesuit theologian Father Walter Ong observed: “Sight may provide a great deal of the material to think about, but the terms in which all people do their thinking corresponds to words. A child has a potential of his own for thinking, but he needs oral-aural contact with others to actuate it.” Jesus gives this contact to the deaf man. And once it happens, the man has a mission. As the Book of Proverbs states: the ear of the wise seeks knowledge (18:15).

The gift of knowledge

The Holy Spirit’s gift of knowledge is a perfection of the human mind that disposes us to follow the impulses of the Spirit in judging created things so that we can assess them in their relation to God. The gift of knowledge acts as a kind of supernatural instinct for discerning the authentic and the inauthentic in all that pertains to God and our salvation. Dominican Father Robert Edward Brennan, in his classic text The Seven Horns of the Lamb, notes that the task of the gift of knowledge is to give us certain knowledge about the things we should hope for, and to keep our powers of judgment solid when it comes to dealing with created things “so that we are not sidetracked from the road we must travel.”

Even more, the Spirit’s gift of knowledge intends to sustain us in our struggles, so that we will not be beaten down by temptation and adversity. “Our hope would decline, then wither and die, did not the Holy Spirit’s gift of knowledge support our lagging spiritual efforts. The gift of knowledge confirms our hope by giving us confidence in God as our last end and the source of all our strength.”

Be opened!

Bolstered with Spirit-filled hope, we take up our Savior’s own cry, confidently imploring in prayer: Let me be opened— to my nothingness; to acknowledging my sins with sorrow and repentance; to my need to change and improve the way I think and live; to taking up my cross which leads to perfect happiness; to the hurt and pain and suffering of others; to rejection, humiliation, and persecution for the sake of the Gospel; to receiving God’s love, especially when I deserve it the least; to God’s holy will and anything it may require.

In J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, the Fellowship is forced to take the road that leads to the mines of Moria in order to cross to the Dimrill Dale. It means first locating— and opening—the ancient, massive, hidden stone dwarfgates built into the base of the mountain. They find them. The gates bear this inscription: “The Doors of Durin, Lord of Moria. Speak, friend, and enter.” Gimli the Dwarf suggests, “If you are a friend, speak the password, and the doors will open.” But it doesn’t work when the wizard Gandalf attempts it. He gets frustrated by the doors’ stubbornness… but then something occurs to the wizard, and he tries it. The doors open! Gandalf explains: “The translation should have been: Say ‘Friend’ and enter. I had only to speak the Elvish word for ‘friend’ and the doors opened.”

Through the friendship of Jesus, we are opened.