Is 35:4-7a; Psalm 146; Jas 2:1-5; Mk 7:31-37

Good morning, everyone. I’m so glad to be with you today and to have the chance to preach via zoom. And I am particularly thrilled to do it from Istanbul, the amazing “bridge town” between the West and the East of the world, where many different cultures and faith traditions come together. Actually, people of different faiths and cultures, not willing to be open to others in any way, often fought against each other here, giving a very real image of the good and the bad of human beings throughout history. Unfortunately, I can say that happens even today here. Well, to meet with others instead of fighting others has always been and it still is a great challenge. I think in order to succeed we need first of all to be open to the love of God, starting by hearing his Word. I think that’s pretty much what the Gospel tells us today.

In fact, in today’s Gospel passage we have just heard the account of the healing of the deaf and dumb man. You might have noticed that this account is very graphic and dramatic. I mean, Jesus often heals through a simple word of command. However, in the healing of the deaf and dumb man, Jesus puts his fingers into his ears and puts his spittle onto his tongue, before commanding him to be healed. Wow, this healing makes very real for us the fact of the bodily Incarnation of the Son of God. Jesus Christ is God made present for the people as a human being like you and me. Jesus is God, but also a man very much of flesh and blood, and he interacted with others in very physical ways. You know, the details of the healing of this man emphasize and make very evident that the incarnate Son of God is a real physical human being. And this episode was so important that the evangelist Mark choose to write down the very words Jesus spoke, in particular the Aramaic word “Ephphatha”, which means “be opened”. You know, when I read this passage of the Gospel, I always think that the miracle AND command were not only for the physical situation of that poor and blessed man, who was then transformed and able to hear and speak. But there is a message for us as well—and the message is this: We are only able to speak properly if first we hear… let’s remember that as a general rule for interacting with others. But it is also a miracle and a command for us to be open to the Word of God and so be able to proclaim the Love that is within it—and within us, only if we hear it and do it. Also, it is an invitation to be open to everyone who wants to share their lives, their stories, their desires. Oh my God! This passage of the Gospel is like the perfect vision for our church: a welcoming community, who do not fear the “different one,” but embrace every single person that God’s angels bring to our home. That’s our mission statement, isn't it: “We invite All to experience and share God’s unconditional love.” I say Amen to that!

Now, do you know that Jesus’ actions in the healing of the deaf and dumb man, are a part of the rite of Baptism that we have even today (although they are not always used, unfortunately)? Just after the Baptism with water, the rite says that the bishop, or the priest or the deacon may do the following: 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.” So, these words help us understand that it is through Baptism (and the other Sacraments) that we ourselves enter into that place of saving grace that the healing of the deaf man represents. The sacraments are themselves very physical things; they use physical elements like water, bread and wine, oil, as well as words and gestures, and so they enable us to have a bodily, physical encounter with Jesus, just as that man came into very physical contact with Jesus. The sacraments are the way in which the new age of deliverance and restoration that Christ brings about can become a reality for us right now. The sacraments give us the deliverance and the new life that Christ offers to all God’s people. And I am glad that we are going to partner with Bishop Robert who will soon offer a five evening-course over several weeks in our chapel with open questions about all the Sacraments and what they mean for our lives. But most of all, I am super happy and grateful that we have a wonderful church home to celebrate the Sacraments, making the spiritual and physical relationship with Jesus Christ available for us and for everyone, as to be touched by his grace and so respond to his command: Ephphatha, be opened! Open in your soul, open in your heart, open in your mind—spiritually open-minded. And so, to become people of faith able to meet with, not to fight against, others, as every Catholic should be.

Because this – I think – my brothers and sisters, from Istanbul to Holy Angels Chapel, is the Gospel of the Lord.

Fr. Gianni Passarella