Mark 7:31-37 in Filipino Sign Language
Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)
Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)
Then Jesus returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”
Old Man in Sorrow, Van Gogh, April-May 1890
Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller, Otterlo, Netherlands [Web Gallery of Art]
In the Second Reading today St James asks in his blunt way, I
More than 30 years ago I spent three months working in a hospital in a city in the the US Midwest. I noticed that a particular nurse always wore a pro-life badge, for which I admired her. But in the three months I was there as chaplain to patients and staff on the floor we both worked on she never spoke to me except at a weekly staff meeting. I was curious rather than hurt by this and before I finished I asked her if we could meet. I told her what I had noticed and expressed my admiration for her quiet pro-life stand. She was quite taken aback, as she had never been conscious of ignoring me. It turned out that she had once had a bad experience with a priest and had 'tuned out' on all priests. We had a very good conversation and ended up hugging each other.
The nurse had been making distinctions but was far from being a judge with evil thoughts. We can be such, by deliberately shutting out another person or group of persons from our life. But very often we are unaware of others or of their needs.
Fr Joseph Coyle
(28 February 1937 - 18 December 1991)
One group of persons that is largely ignored in the Church, especially here in the Philippines, is the Deaf. Those who are profoundly deaf refer to themselves as a group as 'The Deaf', with an upper-case 'D'. One of my late Columban colleagues, Fr Joseph Coyle from the city of Derry in Northern Ireland, worked for many years in what is now the Diocese of Kabankalan, in the southern part of the province of Negros Occidental. Early in his time in remote parishes he became aware of the needs of persons who had lost limbs. He helped many to get artificial limbs.
But later he noticed that there were persons who were more or less totally isolated, even from their own families - persons who were profoundly deaf from birth or from early childhood. They did not even have a common language with their parents or siblings. Their deafness was experienced as an affliction by themselves and their families. They all felt a sense of powerlessness.
In English the word 'dumb' has come to mean 'stupid' because of the perception in the past that those who used to be described as 'deaf and dumb' were stupid.
Fr Joe Coyle then focused his ministry on the Deaf. Nearly 30 years ago he set up a residence in Bacolod City, Welcome Home, for out-of-town students so that they could attend schools with special education programmes for the Deaf. That particular need is now being met more and more in public schools in other cities and towns.
One of the services of Welcome Home Foundation, Inc. today is to send catechists to local public schools where there are profoundly deaf students. Some of these catechists are themselves profoundly deaf. Welcome Home also strongly encourages parents of profoundly deaf children to learn Sign Language and holds classes for them.
On the first Sunday of the month, during the academic year, the Deaf in Bacolod City are especially welcome at Sunday Mass in the public chapel of the University of Negros Occidental - Recoletos (UNO-R). On the second Sunday they have Mass in the public chapel attached to the Diocesan seminary. On the last Sunday they participate in one of the Masses at the Cathedral. On other Sundays they have Mass at Welcome Home. Quite often I celebrate that Mass, using my limited Sign Language and with the help of interpreters, some of them profoundly deaf.
But I know that there have been times when parishioners and priests in various places have complained that signing interpreters were a 'distraction'. In some instances the Deaf have been made clearly unwelcome at Mass. Maybe some of those who made them feel such are already in 'St James territory'.
I do not know the source of the sorrow of the old man in Van Gogh's painting, which expresses very painful isolation. But isolation is what many profoundly deaf persons feel, especially if they are seen as 'dumb' in the modern sense. And what must deaf persons feel if some don't even want to welcome them at the celebration of Holy Mass, our most important act of worship as Catholic Christians to our loving Father?
they begged him to lay his hand on him.
Many churches in the western world have what is called a 'loop system' whereby those who are hard of hearing and use hearing aids can participate fully in Mass and other services. Being hard of hearing is something that very often comes with growing old, and I am experiencing that myself now. but it is a very different reality from profound deafness, especially if that deafness has been since birth or early childhood.
Like the deer that yearns for running streams, so my soul is yearning for you, my God; my soul is thirsting for God, the living God (Cf. Psalm 41 :2-3). These are the words of the Communion Antiphon from the Old Testament in today's Mass. The soul of a profoundly deaf person yearns for the living God just as much as the soul of a hearing person. But do we, the majority who are hearing, really allow the Deaf to slake that thirst by enabling them to participate fully in the Holy Mass?
Sicut cervus by Palestrina
Sicut cervus desiderat ad fontes aquarum,
Like the deer that yearns for running streams,
ita desiderat anima mea ad te, Deus.
so my soul is yearning for you, my God.