23rd Sunday: FEAR NOT: HERE IS YOUR GOD
The word “fear” is very common today for various reasons. Fear has so much to do with how we function, and how we respond to dangerous situations in our lives. The people of Israel go through the experience of fear several times in their history. In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah highlights one of those moments but offers them hope. Isaiah tells the people what the signs will be when the Redeemer comes, to be not afraid as he says: the eyes of the blind will be opened, the ears of the deaf will be cleared, and the mute will sing.
In the gospel, Jesus goes to the region of Decapolis by way of Sidon and the Sea of Galilee. The Lord walked to a foreign land specifically looking for this man who was deaf and mute. Jesus then takes the man off by himself and says “Ephphatha!”, be opened. This is important. The deaf man is healed, and the scriptures record that the people were exceedingly astonished.
So, what does this mean for us today? At baptism, the priest blesses the ears and lips of the catechumen with a prayer called the Ephphatha. Ephphatha is a Greek form of the Aramaic word meaning “Be opened,” This prayer blesses our ears that we may hear the word of God and our mouth that we may proclaim the word of God. So, originally, all of us were born spiritually deaf and mute. Significantly, on the day of our baptism, our ears and mouth open to proclaim the glory of God. We are called to live in faith, not fear.
It is interesting to note that the most commonly repeated phrase in the Bible is, “Fear not!” or “Do not be afraid!” or “Have no fear!” Scripture scholars remark that the phrase, “Fear not!” appeared over 100 times in the Old Testament and about 44 times in the New Testament. The contexts for the use of this phrase varied according to conditions and circumstances causing the fear. In the gospel, for example, Joseph became worried that his wife Mary had become pregnant. The angel of the Lord spoke to him, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:20). Zechariah was also terrified and let fear overwhelm him, and the angel declared to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John.” (Luke 1:12-13).
Fear is real in every individual’s life but can function differently. Fear is a poison that can rob us of the truth. Fear keeps us imprisoned in a false state of mind and even false expressions of life. Something we must remember in today’s world is that there is conflicting information all around us. We live in an age where truth can be made to become lies and lies are presented as truth. We must be careful where we get our information from lest we inject fear and stress into our lives. We must take the time to have a well-formed and well-informed faith and conscience. Then you will know the truth and live without fear. Just take some time to study the lives of saints. Despite the challenges they faced, we see the calm, at times even jovial manner, of the martyrs. Throughout the ages, the courage and calm of the saints in sometimes terrifying situations converted hearts. Read the lives of saints like Lawrence the Martyr, Edith Stein, Maximillian Kolbe, Oscar Romero, Johnpaul 11, etc. Truth and love for God don’t allow room for fear, even fear of death.
Like the man with speech and hearing impediments in the gospel of today, we often lose our capacity to function effectively. We become closed. We are unable to speak well when we are caught up in fear. We cannot hear well when we are in fear. We cannot communicate properly when we are afraid. We are prevented from seeing meaning in our lives. We lose the flavor of enjoying the things we once enjoyed due to fear. We only worry. At that point, we need God’s touch and compassion to open us up. We need the Holy Spirit to breathe afresh in us. Christ brings hope to the hopeless and healing to the sick. He groans that we are held in the prison of our fears. Hearing his words in the scriptures, feeling his touch in the sacraments restores freedom, courage, grace, and healing to our troubled lives.
Jesus personally goes out after every soul to bring them home, to feed, love, and heal them. Just as Jesus took the man off by himself to heal him, so, we as priests perform the ritual of opening the mouths and ears of catechumens at baptism. Think about this action also as symbolized in the confessional. Jesus takes the man away from the people, touches him, and unbinds him. In the sacrament of penance, we take the penitent into the privacy of the confessional, away from the congregation to unbind the chains of sins. Fear over sin is replaced with the compassion of mercy and grace. We offer God’s healing, and the penitent emerges new and joyful to hear and to proclaim God’s mercy and love.
Pope Francis was quoted as saying:
“The thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds. ... And you have to start from the ground up.”
And something to clarify this week, when we hear that depression is spiritual, that does not mean that a depressed person does not know God or that the individual has a bad relationship with God. We must remember that we are made of body, mind, and spirit. The three are intricately linked. What affects one, affects the other two. Being psychologically depressed affects our physical bodies and our spiritual life as well. We know that Christ is the Divine Physician and wants our body, mind, and spirit to be in good health. Overcoming depression needs therapy and medication. For us particularly, given our faith-based background, sound therapy would involve a solid prayer life, a healthy diet, or an exercise program for proper mental health treatment. We call it integrated or holistic approach, not either/or but both/and. The good news is that our lives are impacted spiritually because we have an eternal soul. Christ “desires that everyone be saved and come to full knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4).
The prophet Isaiah is reminding each of us today about God’s presence. Are you afraid of anything? Are you worried that life has gotten the better part of you? Are you anxious about being sick or dying? Are you overwhelmed by addiction? Are you stressed about bills? Is your husband or wife becoming a source of concern to you? Is the government’s approach to social, political, and economic policies driving you crazy? Are you upset about the church’s manner of handling spiritual and moral issues in our time? Are you experiencing the passing of your loved one and grief is all you can think of? Somehow, we are all worried about one thing or another. The prophet’s words are for you, “Here is your God, he comes with vindication, with divine recompense he comes to save you.” Here is Christ in the Blessed Eucharist. God wants us to overcome our fears. If we walk with God, we never walk alone. So, Fear not. Here is your God.
Readings: 1st- Is 35:4-7; 2nd- Jas 2:1-5; Gospel- Mk. 7:31-37