09 December 2022

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


St John the Baptist in Prison
Juan Fernández de Navarrete [Web Gallery of Art]

Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Matthew 11:2-3; Gospel).

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

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Gospel Matthew 11:2-11 (English Standard Version Anglicised: India)

Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings' houses. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written,

“‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
    who will prepare your way before you.’

Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

Léachtaí i nGaeilge 

Fr Joseph Coyle 
(28 February 1937 - 18 December 1991)

I have used this material before but it fits in with one of the themes in today's readings: Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped (Isaiah 35:5; First Reading), It is the Lord . . . who raises up those who are bowed down (Responsorial Psalm), Go and tell John . . . the deaf hear (Matthew 11:5; Gospel)

Fr Joseph Coyle was a Columban priest from Derry city, Northern Ireland. He died in the Philippines on 18 December 1991, aged 54, and is buried in a Catholic cemetery in Bacolod City. 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. These were persons who were 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 in the city. Special Education has spread now to many towns and that particular need is no longer urgent. But Welcome Home Foundation, Inc. continues with 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. Her daughter Mrs Agnes T. Jalandoni, President and CEO, along with her board and staff have enabled the work begun by Father Joe to grow and adapt to current needs.

May I ask your prayers for the soul of Mrs Teresing V. Lizares who died recently. She was a founding trustee of Welcome Home Foundation and a sister of Mrs Salving V. Tinsay.

Fr Mike Depcik preaching in American Sign Language on today's readings (also spoken)

Fr Mike Depcik OSFS is an Oblate of St Francis de Sales and one of very few profoundly deaf priests in the world. He has his own vlog, Fr. MD's KitchenTable, 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 shall we look for another? Jesus replies, Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, 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 who were deaf in varying degrees from birth and through knowing Father Joe that I became aware of the isolation of the deaf within the Church and 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. 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, Jesus, truly is the one who is to come.

Mary walked through a wood of thorn
Traditional German Advent carol
Arranged by Stefan Claas and sung by Voces 8

Mary walked through a wood of thorn
Kyrie eleison.
Mary walked through a wood of thorn,
Which seven long years no leaf had borne;
Jesus and Mary.

What bore Mary beneath her heart?
Kyrie eleison.
A little child without any smart
Mary bore beneath her heart,
Jesus and Mary.

Then roses sprang from out the thorn;
Kyrie eleison.
As the Christ child through the wood was born,
Roses sprang from out the thorn;
Jesus and Mary.

These are the first three stanzas of seven but have acquired a life of their own. Their context is the Visitation. Wikipedia notesThe dead thorn wood, a symbol of infertility and death, begins to bloom when Mary walks through it with the divine child.

Traditional Latin Mass

Third Sunday of Advent

The Complete Mass in Latin and English is here. (Adjust the date at the top of that page to 12-11-2022 if necessary).

Epistle: Philippians 4:4-7. Gospel: John 1:19-28.

A Pair of Shoes
Vincent van Gogh [Web Gallery of Art]

John answered them, “I baptize with water; but among you stands one whom you do not know, even he who comes after me, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie” {John 1:26-27; Gospel).


Mariette VandenMunckhof-Vedder said...

Dearest Father Seán,
As for the story about Fr Joseph Coyle or Father Joe as you called him, it is sad that they did teach sign language.
Both of us have lots of respect for the Dutch as they taught their deaf in front of a mirror with the teacher beside a deaf child. Mimicking the mouth and learning the alphabet. Also by placing two fingers on the throat of the teacher and then on their own throat for feeling the vibration.
Teaching them how to read lips and how to speak normally does not single them out from society. Otherwise they ONLY can communicate with the few that manage sign language. In daily life that is very rare!
Hugs and wishing you a meaningful 3rd Advent!

MPSa-onoy said...

Thank you Fr. Sean. I know all the people you mentioned, especially Salving and Teresing Valderrama and of course Fr. Coyle. We shall include them in our prayers, the least we can do for people with great and happy hearts.
Mode and Vensn

Fr Seán Coyle said...

Dear Mariette
Thank you for your weekly comments, which are much appreciated. And thank you for the link this week to the posts on your blog about your involvement with young deaf people in Indonesia. The story of Anita is very inspiring and you highlighted in those posts how you and Pieter were Papa and Mama figures to many of those young people, especially Anita.

Deaf children now in the Philippines are taught how to speak and to lip-read. At Welcome Home the kindergarten school is open to both deaf and hearing children. The hearing children, along with the deaf, learn Filipino Sign Language. I used to attend the graduation ceremonies there and the deaf children would introduce themselves both speaking and signing. The approach used is called, I think, ‘Total Communication’.

And Sign Language classes are offered to the parents of deaf children.

Sign Language belongs to the deaf in the way that our various spoken languages belong to most of us in a very deep way, our mother-tongue. Various conquerors have tried to suppress the native languages of those they have conquered. The British used the first-level school system they introduced in Ireland in the mid 1800s – a system that was excellent in many ways and is still used here – to suppress the Irish language (Irish Gaelic), a language much older than English, and largely succeeded. The Danish authorities forbade the use of the Faroese language in Lutheran churches in the Faroes until the 1930s. Happily, that language is thriving in that small country of around 50,000 people.

When there are international meetings of deaf people, though they have different sign languages, they use the American signing alphabet, I am told, to help communication. But they overcome barriers much more easily than hearing people do in similar situations.

And all of us understand quite a bit of a form of sign language. That is what referees and umpires use in sport, not to mention the stock markets, for example!

By all means teach profoundly deaf children to speak and to lip-read – in addition to Sign Language, which they use to communicate among themselves, their mother-tongue, as it were. It pains me to see some immigrants refusing to pass on their own language to their children, who will pick up the local language anyway without any difficulty. And in Manila one time while visiting an orphanage run by the Missionaries of Charity where a profoundly deaf girl was to move to Bacolod City where she has now been living for many years, I noticed that her speaking playmates were using sign language with her. They had picked it up naturally from her.

Here in Ireland there are still Irish people who look upon our ancestral language with disdain and where there are now fewer than 100,000 native speakers. Some years ago the Irish parliament recognised Irish Sign Language as an official language of the State. And when I see Sign Language being used on TV in a number of countries I notice that they speak while signing, though their voices aren’t heard.

Thank you again, dear Mariette, for all that you and Pieter have done and are still doing. God bless. Father Seán.

Mariette VandenMunckhof-Vedder said...