I preached this homily in 2009. It touches upon some of the great themes of Catholicism, such as sacramentality, the communal emphasis, and openness to experiencing Christ through others. I thought it might reveal what inspires me personally.
The Homily: Many of us here have probably heard of Helen Keller. Helen contracted a high fever when she was 19 months old and was left blind and deaf as a result. Of course she had not learned to speak. One can barely imagine being more isolated than to not be able to see or hear or speak. Much like the deaf mute man in today’s Gospel.
If you’ve seen the old movie "The Miracle Worker," then you know the rest of the story about Helen Keller is pure inspiration. Helen had been born in a time when little was understood about disabilities. But her mother was determined that something or someone could help Helen, now a young child. She hired a teacher, Anne Sullivan, who had learned a new method for working with the deaf and blind. Anne had been trained to teach by touch, using her fingers on Helen’s hands to spell out words. At first, Helen, was almost uncontrollable, not understanding Anne’s attempts. But one day the magical moment came when finally her teacher spelled out the word "water" on Helen’s hand and pouring water from a pump on Helen’s other hand.
And Helen finally got it. She suddenly understood. The moment in the movie shows what it must have been like for Helen, to suddenly have her world opened up–she was able to learn and to communicate, she was freed from a long loneliness and isolation.
It’s interesting to think of Helen’s story in relation to the Gospel story we heard today. That man who was deaf and mute was blessed like Helen to have people who did not give up the hope of helping another, a loved one, be healed or assisted. Because the Scripture says "Some people brought a deaf and mute man to Jesus."
At first I missed that detail. It’s very similar to another story of healing where some friends of a paralytic man made a hole through the roof of the house Jesus was in, and lowered their friend down to Jesus. How many times are we brought to Jesus by others? Almost everyone of us here was brought to Church, to be introduced to Jesus, by our parents when we were young.
We can bring people to Jesus in prayer. If called and trained, we can bring Jesus in the Sacrament of Holy Communion to the sick. God’s people, in fact, are supposed to look for every way to help others in need and bring the heart of Jesus into every situation of life.
There’s something else about this story: Jesus uses clay and spit, and his own touch, to minister healing. He also speaks his word to the man "Ephphatha: Be Opened". This reminds me of how Jesus uses both Word and Sacrament in communicating his life to us. Protestants are much more verbal or Word oriented. Their services are almost all speaking. But Catholics from the first century, by the example of Christ, have spoken the Word of Christ in the Scriptures, but also used the material creation to communicate God’s love as well:
We call it sacrament. It’s like when Anne Sullivan was teaching Helen Keller through touch and the feel of water. God uses water to baptize us, immerse us into the life of Christ. God uses bread and wine in the Eucharist to give us the Risen Christ. The Church lays hands upon the sick, like Jesus did, and anoints with oil.
And Jesus especially brings his compassion to others through his Body, his members, the Church. He uses our hands and our words and our care to communicate God’s love, if we let him.
When we realize that and begin to cooperate with Jesus in bringing healing and help and hope and care to others, then indeed a new world will open up to us: the world of God’s love and compassion celebrated here. "Ephphatha: Be Opened."