Homily, 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Labor Day Weekend

Twenty-Third Sunday of the Year. -- - Msgr. Joseph K. Ntuwa, Sept. 5, 2021

Isaiah 35:4-7; James 2:1-5; Mark 7:31-37

“Thus says the Lord: Say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not!” 

Dear friends, on this Labor Day weekend, the readings offer us a message of hope. Our first reading and the Gospel present us with profound physical healings.  In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah is speaking to a weary people who have returned to their homeland after a period of exile. The prophet proclaims a confident message from the Lord, “Here is your God…he comes to save you…Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared.” Likewise, the Gospel passage recounts the healing of a deaf man with a speech impediment. People brought him to Jesus and begged for his healing. Jesus took the man off by himself, touched his ears and his tongue, then proclaimed, Ephphapha - “Be opened!” Immediately the man was healed. 
 
Throughout the gospel, Jesus calls us to be open to the possibilities for transformation through selfless love and for restoration that can be brought about by perseverance and courage especially in troubled times.  In times of grief, fear and despair, we can be ‘deaf’ to the presence of God, isolating ourselves from God’s compassion and hope in the midst of such pain and doubt. As I might have shared this with you before, the genesis of my vocation to the priesthood started shortly after my first holy communion when I started to be an altar server. I joined the Junior Seminary at the age of 12 and began the long journey to priesthood. The last step before ordination to the priesthood is the transitional diaconate. When I was ordained Deacon, you would expect someone to be so excited after many years of training, but it was a very different experience for me! Yes! I was excited and happy, but I was full of fear and trepidation of the unknown future for the rest of my life. Probably some of you got that feeling of restlessness when you got married or started a new job. Nevertheless, I thought to myself that we cannot depend solely on our strength but on the grace of God. And almost as if by divine inspiration, the theme of my priestly life was born on that day: “Fear not, I am with you. ... For I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.” (Is 41:40)

Our hearts are sometimes frightened, and today Isaiah speaks to us along with Israel: Be strong; fear not! Strength here is counterintuitively found in dependence, for it is God’s action, not our own that resolves our fear.

Ephphapha- ” Be opened.” We recall this moment in the sacrament of baptism when a clergyman traces a cross on the mouths and ears of those newly baptized. So perhaps, this weekend we can revisit our own baptisms.  Many of us, baptized as infants, don’t remember the gift of this day. Perhaps arguably the most important days of our lives, a defining moment of identity and mission is lost to our weak human memories.  Our Christian journey begins with baptism and the sacrament leaves an indelible mark on our souls. That is why Baptism can only be done once and never repeated. We are once and for all made into children of God. God claims us irrevocably. But living our baptisms is an ongoing process. In much the same way that weddings are celebrated on one day but begin a lifelong marriage, so too is baptism celebrated once while also ushering in an entire new way of life. We have the chance to choose again and again to live up to our baptisms, much like married people choose again and again to live up to their marriage vows. In both instances, some days are easier than others. On the easy days, our good habits kick in, the choice is easy, and the duties are joyful. On the hard days, our vices may get better of us. Nevertheless, in both marriage and baptism, we are called to lean on the grace of the sacrament, renew our vows and continue to strive for that holiness.

Our life of discipleship is centered in Jesus’ spirit of “Ephphatha;" to be open to the presence of God in times of joy and sorrow, to allow ourselves to be the means of God’s healing and life for those unable to sense it. Jesus ‘opens’ not only the man’s ears but also his entire person to life in the community.   Ephphapth is the prayer of every disciple: that we may be opened from our fears, our self-centeredness that makes us “deaf” to God speaking in our midst, and “mute” in responding to the cries of our brothers and sisters in our midst.  As we approach the Eucharistic table, may we open our hearts to God, realizing God’s presence even in times and places that make us squirm.  Our God is the God of healing, forever worthy of our thanks and praise.

 

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