Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)
Readings(Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)
Gospel Mark 7:31-37 (Revised Standard Version – Catholic Edition)
Then Jesus returned from the region of Tyre, and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, through the region of the Decapolis. And they brought to him a man who was deaf and had an impediment in his speech; and they besought him to lay his hand upon him. And taking him aside from the multitude privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue; and looking up to heaven, he sighed, and said to him, "Ephphatha," that is, "Be opened." And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. And he charged them to tell no one; but the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, "He has done all things well; he even makes the deaf hear and the dumb speak."
Sunday Mass at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic church in Kibera, Nairobi, Kenya.
Profound deafness is the most isolating of all physical disabilities. A child born deaf cannot learn the language of his parents unless they and he study Sign Language. In my involvement with the Deaf in the Philippines since 1991 the only 'native signers' I have met are the hearing children of deaf parents. The same would apply to deaf children of deaf parents.
In today's gospel Jesus brings the deaf man from his isolation into full participation in the community. We find Jesus doing the same in other miracle stories, eg, the woman with the bleeding for twelve years, the lepers he healed. these too were excluded from society by ritual laws of purification. Even today we isolate patients with certain contagious diseases to protect them and others.
I often celebrate Mass in Sign Language, though my knowledge of it is limited. And, like speaking languages, there are many sign languages. What I use is basically a mixture of Signed English and American Sign Language. On some occasions after such a Mass hearing people have told me how moved they were. But I've also heard of people complaining that the priest's Sign Language or that of an interpreter were 'distracting'. And I've known of the practice of having an interpreter at certain Masses being dropped because of such complaints.
We seldom reflect on the fact that all of us use a form of sign language with the gestures we make, the way we call people with our hands, gestures of friendship and gestures that insult. A form of sign language is used in stock exchanges throughout the world. And in every sport the referee or umpire has a set of signs that both players and spectators understand. Each sign has a very specific meaning.
Many of us tend to see Deaf people as in need of 'help'. (Those who are profoundly deaf describe themselves as a group as 'The Deaf', with an upper-case 'D'. They don't use the term 'hard of hearing', which more accurately describes the many whose hearing deteriorates as they grow older.)
The Deaf need to be enabled to play their full part in the community, including that of the Church. It is a fact that here in the Philippines fundamentalist groups make a very specific target of young deaf people. They are an easy target as the Catholic Church to a large degree ignores them, though not wilfully.
And a signing person can sometimes help a hearing person to listen more profoundly to what he himself is saying, as this story shows. Dr Frank Brennan is a palliative physician in Sydney, Australia. On 25 September 2006 he was interviewed on national radio by Norman Swan. The programme was repeated on 17 February 2007. [You will find a link to the podcast there.] Here Dr Brennan tells the moving story of how he spoke to the family of a dying man who had a daughter who was profoundly deaf and who was married to a deaf man. Their hearing daughter interpreted Dr Brennan's words for them - and he found himself listening to what he was saying in a way he had never done before. I have highlighted some parts.
One of the first prayers that we learned as children was the Hail Mary, where we ask our Blessed Mother to pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Here is the prayer signed by three young deaf persons in Mexico.
After posting Sunday Reflections I came across this video of two toddlers, both adopted, signing. The boy on the left is deaf while the other is a little hard of hearing. After six months they have learned American Sign Language naturally as their first language.