Pentecost - Eleventh Sunday After (19th Sunday in Ordinary Time)
"Curing the Deaf and Dumb"
By Rev. Tomas J. Gerrard
The perfection of our Lord's knowledge implied that everything was open to his gaze. He saw not only the crowds around Him, He knew not only the wants of individuals who told them to Him with their own lips, but He also knew every want of every individual in the history of the world; He saw the whole of time spread out before Him as if it were one present moment, and He saw the relationship between every little timely circumstance and the timeless life of eternity.
Possessed of this vast knowledge, Jesus the Lord of all things was able to perform His wondrous acts according to the highest wisdom. If He wrought miracles it was not merely to show His power over nature. It was all that, but that was not all. He wrought miracles to show His Divine power in order that men might believe His revelation of the good news of a life beyond the grave, and in order that they might live according to that revelation and so save their souls in life eternal.
Our Lord's miracles, moreover, were each apt to symbolize some aspect of His revelation. They were full of meaning with regard to the supernatural life which He came to bring into the world. So is it with the miracle of to-day's Gospel. First, it is an act of Divine pity helping a poor man. Secondly, it is a manifestation of Divine power. But, thirdly, it is a symbol of the nature of supernatural faith and of the life which the Christian has to lead in accord with supernatural faith. Hence, those people uttered a far deeper truth than they imagined when they said: "He hath done all things well; He hath made both the deaf to hear and the dumb to speak."
Consider, first, the entirely supernatural character of the act.
As Jesus comes to the shore of the sea of Galilee, He is met by a multitude. They have already heard of His power, and, drawn rather by the wonder-worker than by the revealer of a new life, they take to Him one deaf and dumb, and ask Him to lay His hand upon him. Jesus could have cured him by merely willing it. But no! He goes through a certain external ritual. He is revealing an unseen world, but the revelation is to be through the medium of the visible world. Jesus takes the afflicted man apart from the crowd, puts His fingers into his ears, and spitting, touches his tongue. To these external bodily actions He adds a prayer to the heavenly Father. Then, turning to the deaf and dumb man, He says to him: "Ephpheta." Immediately the ears and the tongue of the afflicted one answer to the command of God: "Be thou opened."
This miracle, designed to lead us to believe in the truthfulness of God's word, is also a most fitting symbol of the whole process of the assent of faith. The revealed word of God is something infinitely above merely natural knowledge. The truth, for instance, of three Persons in one God, or the truth of two Natures in one Person, is something quite beyond man's natural understanding. Yet, belief in these and similar truths is part of the process of salvation. Our dim knowledge of the Blessed Trinity keeps before our minds the God who made us and for whom we were made. One insight into the mystery of the Incarnation tells us how God became Man to die for us and save us from our sins.
Since then these truths are so much above the natural understanding, the act of faith by which we assent to them must be supernatural. It must be due to a special influence of God on the faculties of the soul. It is supernatural in the sense that it is the very beginning and foundation of man's salvation. It is also supernatural in the sense that it has the power to overcome the natural difficulty of accepting God's word and of abiding by the consequences. First, one grace comes and raises our nature to a supernatural order. Then another grace comes and, acting like a balm, makes up for nature's weaknesses.
Hence, it is that we must always speak of faith as a supernatural virtue whereby we believe with the help of God's grace. The great mistake which so many inquirers after truth make is to suppose that they can arrive at the truth merely by reading and discussion. They do not recognize that faith is a moral venture which can only be accomplished with special Divine help. Consequently they do not pray for this Divine help. Without this Divine help man is as deaf to the word of God as the man was by the Sea of Galilee. The Second Council of Orange has formulated this important truth most aptly in the following cannon: "No man can assent to the Gospel teaching, in the manner requisite for salvation, without the light and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Who gives every man sweetness in assenting to and believing in the truth."
We all realize what a terrible affliction deafness is. It cuts a man off from untold activities of life. It renders the activities in which he does participate very difficult. People who wish to speak to him have to shout at him, repeat what they have said again and again, and even then perhaps the deaf man goes away with a mistaken notion of what has been said.
So, too, is it with him who is deaf to the word of God. He may go to hear a distinguished preacher and even derive much interest and pleasure from the sermon. He may read his Bible and be fascinated with the problems which he finds there. But all the time he may be spiritually deaf to the Word of God and spiritually dumb in responding to the Word.
But how different is the effect when the Divine Ephpheta has been spoken! What a transformation of the whole of a man's life takes place when Jesus has opened his ears and touched his tongue! The act of faith, accompanied by Divine grace, makes him see the revealed truths in an entirely different light. Now he perceives them as God's word spoken to himself, the kindly word spoken by the heavenly Father to the son of His adoption. It is now a case of the most intimate relationship, whereas previously it was more or less a case of external interest. Hitherto there was something of a sense of faith, a pious inclination to believe, even a will to believe. But now, the accession of supernatural strength opens the ears and loosens the tongue. Life is transformed. The man, perceiving so much more of the excellence of his supernatural destiny, strives with supernatural effort to attain it. He really feels that he is a son of God and is anxious to live accordingly.
Holy Scripture teaches us that this opening of the ears, like all else in the Christian dispensation, has both an external factor and an internal factor. It is adapted to the nature of man, constituted as he is of body and soul. Thus, St. Paul writes to the Romans: "For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How, then, shall they call on Him, in whom they have not believed? Or, how shall they believe Him, of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? . . . Faith, then, cometh by hearing; and hearing by the word of Christ." External hearing is necessary, but it is not enough. There must also be an internal hearing and an internal teacher. When Simon Peter had heard from our Lord Himself and had professed his faith, saying: "Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God," Jesus answered and said to him: "Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona, because flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but My Father who is in heaven." And St. John writes: "No man can come to me, except the Father who has sent me, draw him. . . . It is written in the Prophets: And they shall all be taught of God."
Here, then, are two great dangers which have to be guarded against in these modern times. First, there is the rationalistic tendency which pays no regard to the inward movement of the Holy Spirit, no regard to the subjective inclinations of the soul. It is a tendency which thinks that all truth can be attained merely by argument upon external evidence. Secondly, there is the modernist tendency which undervalues external evidence and external revelation, and which exaggerates the value of inward moods and subjective modifications. Both tendencies are species of spiritual deafness.
These tendencies are also present not only in the matter of believing the word of God, but even in the matter of applying it to conduct This is the question of conscience. Many people are led away from right conduct under the delusion of following the dictates of conscience.
Now it is quite true that the voice of conscience is supreme. But then every man has a conscientious duty of seeing that his conscience is properly formed. Conscience is a practical judgment of the reason by which we decide what is to be done here and now. But before the reason can form this judgment, it must weigh the available evidence. Its ears must be opened to the commands of God and of the Church before its tongue can be loosened to say what line of conduct is to be taken. Conscience is not a vague impulse inclining one to do this thing or that. It is a judging faculty which forms its judgments on the evidence which it has heard.
Before we can talk about the supremacy of conscience we must first ask ourselves whether we are not laboring under an uninformed or misinformed conscience. thus shall we be led to see the value of that most useful spiritual exercise, the daily examination of conscience. This is a comparison of our conduct during the day with the rule of God's Commandments. The external word to which we have to listen is important. When we have listened to that, then we may also listen to the internal word which is never at variance with the external, but always fulfils and amplifies it.
Yet here again there is need of the medicinal grace which enables us to regard the commands of God and the commands of the Church as meant for each one of us individually. This grace is given in answer to prayer. Consequently the daily examination of conscience, and more particularly the examination of conscience in preparation for Confession, should not consist wholly or even chiefly in a minute scrutiny of the actions of the day or week. Prayer for light, prayer for true contrition, sincere acts of contrition, these are the important elements in the general exercise of examination of conscience. These, just as much as, if not more than the minute scrutiny of our daily actions, help towards the opening of the ears to the voice of God and the loosening of the tongue in response to the voice of God. For those who go to Confession once a week or even once a month, a quarter of an hour should be set aside for preparation. Of this time five minutes are sufficient for the actual scrutiny of sins. The five minute preceding should be devoted to prayer for divine assistance to make a good confession, whilst the five minutes succeeding should be devoted to prayer for contrition and acts of contrition.
The fruit of careful listening both to the outward and to the inward voice of God will be seen in an aptitude to speak on his behalf when occasion shall require it. Oftentimes in these days we are called upon to give an account of our faith. We are asked, for instance, what is an indulgence, what is the Mass, how can a priest forgive sins, and so on. But only he who has his ears opened to the teaching of the Church will be able to speak. He who has been negligent of instruction and study will be tongue-tied. Let us take every opportunity, therefore, of becoming more and more proficient in the knowledge of Catholic doctrine.
Lastly, let us remember that we speak by our actions as well as by our words. And it is the well-informed and delicate conscience which gives the value to this kind of speech. If the conscience has been rightly trained according to the standard of God's word, then it acts spontaneously. And it is the spontaneous conduct, the outcome of a well-trained conscience, which makes such a profound impression on all who witness it. Everybody must admire the man who instantly and without wavering does the right thing in preference to the wrong. But only he can do this who habitually listens to the voice of God. To him who does not positively put obstacles in the way, Christ gives the power of hearing. He super-naturalizes that which is natural. He heals nature when it is wounded. He does all things well, making both the deaf to hear and the dumb to speak.