The Rite of Baptism for infants includes the Ephphatha prayer, which the celebrant says after the baptism: “The Lord has 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. Amen.”
The prayer is partly based on the encounter Jesus has with the deaf man who has a speech impediment. That event is recalled in the Gospel passage for today’s liturgy.
Jesus cures the man and the crowd is “exceedingly astonished,” saying “he has done all things well. He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”
A girl who was born profoundly deaf grew up feeling isolated and increasingly alone. All this changed, however, when she received a hearing implant. The operation took place close to Christmas, and the first sound she actually heard was “Jingle Bells” playing on the radio.
Her mother recalled that while her daughter’s hearing was completely restored, the girl had to learn what the sounds were and how to listen to them. Sometimes the girl would ask, “Was that a door closing?” She realized that the fluorescent light in the kitchen made a buzzing sound. She even had to learn what her name sounded like. Fortunately, it was a learning process filled with excitement and joy. Walls and barriers came crumbling down, and a new world opened before her.
Sometimes, if we have good hearing ability, we can take for granted the great gift of being able to hear. The beauty of a good conversation, a compliment or the sounds of nature or good music are only some of the everyday treasures that this ability brings us. God gives us the gift of hearing, and it allows us so many opportunities to experience his goodness and beauty.
In the first reading for today’s liturgy, the prophet Isaiah speaks of the power of God to restore and liberate using the image of the senses: “Say to hearts that are frightened: Be strong, fear not! Here is your God, he comes with vindication, with divine recompense he comes to save you. Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the mute will sing.” Jesus brings to life this teaching in a powerful and miraculous way.
Jesus also invites us, whether we can hear with our ears or only with our hearts, to listen to his word. Whether we hear it proclaimed or meditate on it in our hearts, we have the opportunity to listen to him speak to us and invite us to grow deeper in our relationship with him and his Father.
Prayer is the language we use to describe this encounter. By going deeper into our prayer life, we might feel like the young girl who had her hearing restored. We can hear God’s word, but it often takes time to learn how to listen to his voice speaking through that word.M
Practice is very important in this regard. Hearing the word and pondering it can allow the Spirit who dwells in each one of us to echo his voice and draw us deeper into an encounter. Sometimes the word consoles, sometimes it encourages, sometimes it challenges, sometimes it extols, and sometimes it corrects. It is a living word that invites us to life. A great gift that is always available.
The need to listen closely for God’s voice is illustrated in a story about a man who lost his job. After trying for several months to find new employment, the man went to see his pastor for some advice. As he recalled his story, he became angry and said, “I’ve begged and begged God to say something to me, to help me get through this but I hear nothing coming. Why doesn’t God answer me?!”
Sitting on the other side of the room, the pastor made a reply that was so soft the man had to get closer to hear him. As he sat in the chair next to the pastor, he asked, “What did you say?”
The pastor again spoke softly and quietly. The man leaned over and said, “I’m sorry, I still cannot hear you.”
The old pastor spoke once more: “God sometimes whispers, so we have to move closer to hear him.”
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.
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