14 December 2013

'Go and tell John what you hear and see . . . the deaf hear . . .' Sunday Reflections, 3rd Sunday of Advent Year A

St John the Baptist in Prison, Juan Fernandéz de Navarrete, 1565-70 [Web Gallery of Art]

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)                                  

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)

Gospel Matthew 11:2-11 (New Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition: Canada)

When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”

As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written,

‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
    who will prepare your way before you.’

Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

Responsorial Psalm (NAB Lectionary)

Father Joseph Coyle was a Columban priest from Derry, Northern Ireland. He died in the Philippines on 18 December 1991, aged 54, and is buried in a Catholic cemetery here in Bacolod City where I live. Father Joe and I weren't related - my Coyle ancestors moved centuries ago from the north-west of Ireland, where the surname originated, to Rush, a fishing village north of Dublin city - but we felt a sense of kinship. He was ordained on 21 December 1961 during my first year in the Columban seminary in Ireland.

Father Joe spent most of his life as a priest in the island of Negros. He gradually became aware of persons with disabilities and of how their needs weren't being met. He was able to obtain artificial limbs for some. But he noticed that there was one group in every community that was almost totally isolated, because they didn't share a common language with those around them, not even with their own families. This group was people who are profoundly deaf.

More and more Father Joe became involved with deaf people, celebrating Mass in Sign Language in a number of places. In the late 1980s he established Welcome Home in Bacolod City as a residence for out-of-town deaf students so that they could attend special schools here in the city. Special Education has spread now to many towns and that particular need is no longer urgent. But Welcome Home continues, with a small number of residents, a school for young children, deaf and hearing, catechetical programmes in public schools with both deaf and hearing catechists, and other activities.

Father Joe's death was devastating initially to the young deaf people with whom he had worked. But his vision was continued and developed by others, most noticeably by Mrs Salvacion V. Tinsay who died in 2008.

Fr Mike Depcik OSFS is an Oblate of St Francis de Sales, one of very few profoundly deaf priests in the world. He has his own vlog, Fr. MD's Kitchen Table, where, among other things, he posts videos of homilies for Sunday Masses in American Sign Language, such as that above for this Sunday's Mass.

John the Baptist sends his followers to ask Jesus,  Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another? Jesus replies, Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. 

For Catholics who are profoundly deaf priests such as Fr Mike Depcik, deaf from birth, and Fr Joe Coyle, who became aware of the isolation of the profoundly deaf, especially within their own families, are included in the response of Jesus to his cousin St John the Baptist: the deaf hear. The deaf aren't isolated to the same degree as before, though I have known of priests and people who consider a signing interpreter at Mass as a 'distraction'. 

And the ministry of priests such as Fr Depcik and Fr Coyle isn't limited to the deaf. Indeed, part of their ministry, and of those who work with them, whether deaf or hearing, is to bring about the change of heart that is central to Advent, not only a turning away from sin but a recognition of the needs of others that we weren't aware of before. It was through having friends deaf in varying degrees from birth and through knowing Father Joe that I became aware of the isolation of the deaf within the Church an in society at large. The same can be said to some extent of persons with other disabilities. But profound deafness is the only physical disability that of its nature can totally isolate a person from the community.

There will always be some, for whatever reason, on the margins. Pope Francis has on a number of occasions very strikingly shown his respect and love - the respect and love of Jesus himself - for such persons. The gradual inclusion of those who are profoundly deaf in all activities of the Church and of wider society, shown, for example, in the use of signing interpreters at public functions and on television, is one of the signs that Jesus spoke about to assure St John the Baptist that he truly was the one who is to come.

Advent wreath, with three violet and one rose candles [Wikipedia]

Today is known as 'Gaudete Sunday' from the the opening word of the Entrance Antiphon, 'Gaudete', Latin for 'Rejoice'. Below are a carol and a hymn that use the Latin word, the first in its plural form 'Gaudete', the second in its singular form 'Gaude'. The priest may wear rose-coloured vestments and the candle in the Advent wreath for today is of that colour.

The Christmas carol Gaudete goes back at least to the 16th century, maybe earlier. Here it is sung by The King's Singers. Last year I posted the version of Libera.

The complete text of Gaudete, including the refrain:
Gaudete, gaudete! Christus est natus
Ex Maria virgine, gaudete!
Rejoice, rejoice! Christ is born
(Out) Of the Virgin Mary — rejoice!
Tempus adest gratiæ
Hoc quod optabamus,
Carmina lætitiæ
Devote reddamus.
The time of grace has come—
what we have wished for,
songs of joy
Let us give back faithfully.
Deus homo factus est
Natura mirante,
Mundus renovatus est
A Christo regnante.
God has become man,
To the wonderment of Nature,
The world has been renewed
By the reigning Christ.
Ezechielis porta
Clausa pertransitur,
Unde lux est orta
Salus invenitur.
The closed gate of Ezekiel
Is passed through,
Whence the light is born,
Salvation is found.
Ergo nostra contio
Psallat iam in lustro;
Benedicat Domino:
Salus Regi nostro.
Therefore let our gathering
Now sing in brightness
Let it give praise to the Lord:
Greeting to our King.
Veni, Veni, Emmanuel, O come, o come, Emmanuel, is an Advent hymn. The music may well go back to the 12th century. The lyrics are based on what are known as the 'O Antiphons' sung in the Church's Vespers (Evening Prayer) before and after the Magnificat (Canticle of Mary) from 17 to 24 December. The refrain contains the word 'Gaude': 

Gaude! Gaude! Emmanuel, 
Nascetur pro te Israel! 

Rejoice! Rejoice! O Israel,
To thee shall come Emmanuel!

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