CAN WE HEAR?

Author: Fr. Michael Byron
September 05, 2021

Last weekend, I was enjoying part of my vacation at a nice hotel in Milwaukee, WI. At 5:00pm Saturday, I turned on my laptop in order to watch the livestream Mass from here at Pax.  As some of you know, the video that day was just fine, but there was no sound.  I was very frustrated (you could say angry) because the previous week the problem had been the opposite; we had sound but no video.  I emailed my displeasure to a couple of the staff who me that there had been a lightning strike and the power surge here on our campus had messed up the whole system, and they were working hard to fix it.  Meanwhile, if you have ever checked out our livestream, I could see that there were dozens and dozens of people tuned in literally from all over the world to that Mass, and many of them were typing comments to our great operators of the equipment here saying that they couldn’t hear anything.  I felt helpless, and I’m sure they did, too.

Eventually one viewer commented that he/she wished that they could understand American Sign Language (ASL), because our interpreter for the deaf was clearly visible on screen, as usual, and the members of our deaf community were the only ones who were having no trouble understanding what Father LaCanne was communicating.

That got me to thinking:  Is the real problem here a lack of sound? Or is it my inability to know how to recognize what’s happening in the communication?  For those viewers who knew what to look for, last week’s live stream was not any problem at all.  But I couldn’t figure it out.  I don’t know ASL.  So you might say that today’s homily just sort of fell into my lap! (Which was helpful because I spent most of yesterday at the State Fair).

All of today’s scriptures are about inclusion, especially inclusion of those who may appear to some of us as the most vulnerable – those who we’d perhaps be less quick to think of as our teachers, our examples, our guides into holy living, our wisdom figures.  Isaiah speaks of God’s particular concern for those whose hearts are frightened and the blind and the deaf and the lame and the mute and our poor planet Earth.  Our task is not to exercise dominion over any of those; it is rather to let them be our guides, our revealers as to the things and the people to whom God pays greatest attention.  The great temptation is our pride in presuming to hear and understand things that others do not.  Religious people can be particularly prone to that.  St. James, in our Second Reading today, is very well aware of that.  He is excoriating the self-righteous religious people who ponder to money and image, and who are not even at worship.  Especially at worship!  He says, “Did not God choose those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that he promised to those who love him?”  The so-called poor are not merely to be tolerated by the rest of us; not merely to be welcomed among us.  They will be the ones who lead us to God, if we have the humility to believe and allow that.  They are our gifts!  Our life.

And in the Gospel today, before we get all tangled up in the details of the story of the healing of the deaf man, let us be very aware of where all these things took place.  Not in Israel.  Jesus was moving about in Tyre and Sidon (towns that still exist today in Lebanon), and then he moved on to the Decapolis (which is in the country of Jordan).  These are all pagan places, full of people that many a pious Jew would disregard as unworthy of God’s attention.  Foreigners, heathen.  To be kept at a safe distance. These are the very ones who can’t keep quiet about who the real Jesus is!  The paradox here is that to believe God’s concern is only for Christians is thereby to become something other than Christian.  It’s what Jesus himself showed us.

Imagine that. God loves Arabs, Jews, Latin Americans, Africans, Asians, the sick and sorrowing and poor and immigrant.  Those who are “other” are not merely to be put up with.  “They” will lead us to virtue and eventually, we hope, to heaven.

So again, perhaps what can get in our way of being aware of what God is doing for us all the time is not God’s failure to communicate, but instead is our pre-emptive deciding about where and through whom God communicates.  Certainly we Catholics understand that Eucharist, these scriptures, this table, this assembly, is a privileged place for that to happen.  But to limit God to this and especially to limit God to the wealthy, powerful, charming, convenient people in our world is a colossal, even sinful mistake.  Our Lord is capable and desiring to communicate with us.  We just need to know how to understand.
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Eden Prairie, MN 55347

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