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September 2, 2009
Breaking Open the Word
By James Cavanagh
Sept. 6: 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Overview: The vibrant, poetic imagery in our first reading describes what life is like when Christ makes his presence known. The passage from Isaiah was written when the people of God were still in Jerusalem, but impending doom from foreign armies was beginning to cast a dark shadow over the nation. Yet, despite the gathering gloom Isaiah speaks a word of hope: “the ears of the deaf will be cleared; and the tongue of the mute will sing.” The coming of the Messiah would be accompanied by miraculous healings, thus the first reading serves as a fitting prologue to this week’s Gospel. Our second reading speaks about a healing of a different sort: the healing of injustice. In the Church, no distinction is to be made between rich and poor. Because everyone is equal in the eyes of God we are to “show no partiality.” A proper respect for the poor as persons has always been a central teaching of Catholic social ethics. The healing of the deaf-mute is unique to Mark. While the miracle itself engenders wonder, its placement within the larger narrative is of particular interest. Everything Jesus said and did was intended to make the disciples understand who he was—hence, the significance of “hearing.” The healings, the exorcisms, the miracle of the loaves and fishes all reach their climax in the next chapter when Peter declares: “You are the Christ!”
Key verse: “The ears of the deaf will be cleared” (Is 35:5).
“Catechism of the Catholic Church”: “Contemplative prayer is hearing the Word of God. Far from being passive, such attentiveness is the obedience of faith, the unconditional acceptance of a servant, and the loving commitment of a child. Christians must make every effort to proclaim the good news to the poor. There is a famine on earth, ‘not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD’” (No. 2716; 2835).
Pope Benedict XVI: “Without God, man neither knows which way to go, nor even understands who he is. In the face of the enormous problems surrounding the development of peoples, which almost make us yield to discouragement, we find solace in the sayings of our Lord Jesus Christ, who teaches us: “Apart from me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5) and then encourages us: “I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Mt 28:20)” (“Caritas in Veritate,” 78).
Application: If we cannot hear the truth about God and man, our society is doomed. Human beings cannot treat each other like “things” without seriously negative consequences. As Catholics, we have a special responsibility to listen to God’s word and the teachings of the Church on the dignity of every human being, and then to respond with charity.