Could there be a more hope-filled and encouraging reading in the Hebrew Scriptures than today’s selection from Isaiah? In the eighth century BCE the people of Israel were in fear and trembling: the northern kingdom had been conquered by the Assyrians and the people taken into exile. Those in Judah, the southern kingdom, were enslaved. Then, the Babylonians conquered the Assyrians and things went from bad to worse.
It is to these decimated people that the prophet Isaiah speaks, encouraging them to stand firm and continue to believe and trust God. "Then will the eyes of the blind be opened… The ears of the deaf be cleared." The blind will look and see signs of God coming to help them. God will lead the exiles from Babylon in a second exodus. As the debilitated exiles travel, the desert will be transformed to ease their journey home. In the previous verse people are promised that the desert will bloom with trees and flowers (v. 1-2). God will lead the exiles from Babylon on a second exodus.
Now, the second movement in the reading – the present. In many ways we have been made exiles, desert travelers, by the long months of the pandemic. We are not the same people we used to be, nor is the world around us the same. Isaiah encourages us not to be fainthearted, or doubt what God can do to make our deserts bloom. "Here is your God… Who comes to save you." As promised, we are given new sight and hearing. In our new, pandemic redesigned-reality, what hints of God do we see and hear around us? While it has been a testing time, have we experienced any healings during this time of exile?...Become more patient and understanding with those around us? Have we been blind and now see the needs of others we missed? One of the gifts the prophet promised the restored people, as they return from exile, was the blooming and beauty of nature. "Streams will burst forth in the desert and rivers in the steppe." Maybe during the pandemic our ears have been opened to the prophetic voices who speak out to protect and restore the natural world. How can we respond to that gift of hearing we have received? (Cf "Justice Bulletin Board" below)
We might spend time and sit with this living Word of God from the prophet. Let it do for us what it promises: give us strength for present hardships; sight for what we have refused to see; open us to the voices and pleas of others; loosen our tongues to speak on behalf of the voiceless; mobilize us to visit those we have been ignoring. Sit and listen to the promise Isaiah places before us, "Streams will burst forth in the desert…." The desert is a harsh and dangerous place, unless we have a guide and provisions there. Our God will not desert us, but promises restoration and the refreshments we need each day of our journey.
Did you notice something unique in today’s gospel? A deaf man is healed. What’s so different about that, Jesus heals many people in the Gospels? It is not that he healed the man, but how the healing happened. The man is healed because people cared for him and brought him to Jesus. They "begged him to lay his hand on him." Of course the man’s speech impediment prevented him from asking for the cure himself. But still, it is the faith of the people that moved Jesus to heal him.
Some physical ailments were looked upon as a punishment for sin, and limited the person’s access to the Temple and synagogues. Thus, the man’s healing allowed him to be a full member of the community in its religious and social life.
When we pray at Mass, or with others, for the needs of community members and people beyond, we are doing what the people in the gospel did – bringing people to Jesus and speaking on their behalf. We trust Jesus to hear us and help in some way. Certainly Jesus does not need to be informed about people’s and the world’s needs. But when we intercede for others, among other things, we speak our priorities and in doing that we remind and reinforce those priorities in ourselves. Our prayers express who and what have claim on us and remind us we are not merely onlookers, but stand with those in need.
The gospel is not just about one man’s ears being opened, is it? It is our story too, because Ephphatha was a prayer said in our baptism. After the baptism takes place this "opening prayer" is said. The presiding priest, or deacon, touches the ears and then the mouth of the one baptized and prays:
"The Lord has made the deaf hear and the dumb speak. May He soon touch your ears to receive the word and your mouth to proclaim His faith to the praises and glory of God the Father. Amen"
We can pray at today’s liturgy for the full effects of the Ephphatha prayer: that we have open ears to God’s voice and speak that Word plainly when we are asked about our faith; when someone needs to hear a good word from us; and when we need to speak up on another person, or people’s, behalf.
We want to be people who hear the Word of God. We disciples also need to help others hear that word and help people speak to one another in ways that bring about reconciliation between conflicting parties and among those who have refused to listen to one another.
Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:
The Lord loves the just
Have you ever stopped to think about how you act toward someone you love? Don’t you try to do everything possible to make them feel loved? So, in today’s psalm, when the psalmist says that God loves the just, wouldn’t you, as an act of love, act justly toward others? Wouldn’t that begin to inform how you live your life in relationship to everyone in every situation?
Have you ever stopped to think about how we, in the affluent U.S., have come to accept hunger and homelessness as a given? How we continue to allow some large companies treat the earth unjustly and, thereby, further afflict the poor? If God loves the just and we say that we love God, then we must act justly and lift our voices to advocate for justice.
In Pope Francis’ exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), he addresses what he is witnessing in our world: To sustain a lifestyle which excludes others, or to sustain enthusiasm for that selfish ideal, a globalization of indifference has developed. Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own. The culture of prosperity deadens us. . .In the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us" (54). A globalization of indifference is the opposite of a global love for justice.
Pope Francis also applies this to our economic systems: "Each meaningful economic decision made in one part of the world has repercussions everywhere else; consequently, no government can act without regard for shared responsibility" (206) and to our earth, "With due respect for the autonomy and culture of every nation, we must never forget that the planet belongs to all mankind and is meant for all mankind. . ." (190). Then, he does not mince words, "The dignity of the human person and the common good rank higher than the comfort of those who refuse to renounce their privileges. When these values are threatened, a prophetic voice must be raised" (218).
We need a globalization for the common good. We need a universal love for justice since, for no other reason, we have been told that God loves the just.
---Barbara Molinari Quinby, MPS, Director,
Office of Human Life, Dignity, and Justice Ministries
Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral, Raleigh, NC
Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for persons on the run. "Faith Book" is also brief enough to be posted in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.
From today’s Isaiah reading:
Streams will burst forth in the desert,
and rivers in the steppe.
The burning sands will become pools,
and the thirsty ground, springs of water.
Isaiah describes nature celebrating the arrival of God’s redemption. The desert will gush with pools of water. If our ears are open to God’s Word, then we need to speak plainly on behalf of nature, which has no voice of its own, but is also included in God’s loving embrace and concern.
So, we ask ourselves:
"Love all my friends and all the friendships that I have made. They are like the sky. It is all part of life, like a big full plate of food for the soul. I hope I left everyone a plate of food full of happy memories, happiness and no sadness."
—Last words of Quintin Jones before he was executed on May 19, 2001 at Huntsville Prison, Texas. Media witnesses were not admitted to his execution.
This is a particularly vulnerable time for state and federal prisoners. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of the inmates listed below to let them know we have not forgotten them. If the inmate responds you might consider becoming pen pals.
Please write to:
----Central Prison, 4285 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-4285
For more information on the Catholic position on the death penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing Network:http://catholicsmobilizing.org/resources/cacp/
On this page you can sign "The National Catholic Pledge to End the Death Penalty." Also, check the interfaith page for People of Faith Against the Death Penalty: http://www.pfadp.org/
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