Weekly HomilyArchives

Friday, August 28, 2009

“People were astounded beyond measure, saying, ‘He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.’” (Mark 7:37)

“SOUL-SURFING” – September 6, 2009
Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mark 7:31-37
Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC

“Many years ago two rowdy teenagers were in an empty church in Paris. They were splashing the holy water on each other, kicking over chairs, shouting and roaring and generally being a pain in the neck. Suddenly the door of the sacristy opened and an old priest shuffled out into the church. He didn't pay any attention to the two boys but went into a confessional box. One boy asked, ‘Who is he? What's he doing?’ The other boy replied, ‘He's just an old priest going to hear confessions.’ The first one said, ‘Let's go in and have a laugh.’ The other boy agreed and they went into the confessional box, one on either side of the priest.

“After a few minutes the first emerged and then later the other came out. The first boy asked, ‘What did he say to you?’ The second responded, ‘I think he must be nuts. He told me to stand in front of that big crucifix on the altar and say three times: You did this for me and I couldn't care less.’ The other replied, ‘That's exactly what he told me to do. Shall we do it?’ Replied the other, ‘Sure, why not? It’ll be good for a laugh.’ So the two boys stood in front of the large crucifix and said, ‘You did this for me and I couldn't care less.’ There was a pause, and by the second recitation the two vandals had fallen to their knees, stuttering and snuffling as they said, ‘You did this for me and I couldn't care less.’ By the third recitation two young men were lying face down on the stone floor of the church sobbing their hearts out.

“This story was first told many years ago by the great Archbishop of Paris, Cardinal Jean Verdier (1864-1940). The Cardinal finished the tale by confessing, ‘I know this story to be true because I was one of those boys.’" (Original source unknown)

What a powerful story of conversion! Reminds me of those old Bing Crosby films, Going My Way and The Bells of St. Mary’s, where confession always led to a dramatic conversion of soul. If only real life were more like Hollywood. Or more like the true story of Cardinal Verdier. Rarely, though, is this the case. In our own day, when Saturday afternoon confessional lines are at best thin, most of us confess the same pestering sins we’ve been struggling with our whole lives. Indeed, we are wearied in the telling and, no doubt, the priest is weary in the listening. So why, then, do we do it? We do it because confession is good for the soul. It gives us the opportunity to haul up and dispose of the muck.

Yes, confession is good both for the speaker as well as the listener. And I must attest that from my unique perspective as a priest who hears confessions, I suspect I may be the more blessed for sitting in the presence of a penitent who, though weary of confessing the same old sins, has not given up on the power of God to effect a dramatic conversion. Every confession I’ve ever heard has been an experience of holiness, a trusting person reaching up to take the extended hand of God. The most humbling moments of my life as a priest have been in the confessional.

In the gospel passage we hear today, Jesus cures a man of both deafness and a speech impediment. Reacting to the miracle they’ve witnessed, “People were astounded beyond measure, saying, ‘He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.’” (Mark 7:37) And this very same miracle is repeated again in our own day whenever mouths are freed to speak holy words that reach ears made holy in the hearing. Like in the confessional: holy is the mouth that speaks; holy are the ears that hear.

Dashing down a hospital corridor one recent morning, I paid little attention to the newly-minted Asian doctor coming towards me. Just as we were about to pass each other, though, he stepped right in front of me. “Are you a Catholic priest?” he asked respectfully. Assuring him that I was, he asked if I had a moment to speak with him. Suggesting we escape to a nearby deserted corridor, I asked how I could be of help. Holy words tumbled out as he began. “Will you pray for me that I can be a better doctor? There’s so much I have to remember when I’m with a patient that I’m forgetting that this is a real person in front of me. I don’t want to make any medical mistakes, but too often I’m more interested in the disease than in the person.” As the young doctor paused for a moment, I took hold of both of his trembling hands as I responded, “You know, I suspect you’re already a very good doctor for just realizing what’s happening between you and your patient.” He sighed with some relief.

“There’s something else, Father,” he went on. “I want to have a bigger heart for my patients but I’m afraid. I know I’m holding back from them.” His downcast eyes testified to the weight of his burden. I tightened my grip on his joined hands as we stood silently in the deserted hospital corridor: holy words spoken; holy words heard.

Jesus cures a man of deafness and muteness in the gospel passage we hear today and, “People were astounded beyond measure, saying, ‘He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.’” (Mark 7:37) On that busy morning when Jesus brought a fledgling doctor and me together, the miracle happened again. In humbling, tumbling words a young man reached up to take the extended hand of God. I tightened my grasp of the doctor’s trembling hands, assurance that God had heard him. Then I dared speak for God: “I suspect you’re already a good doctor, a very good doctor.”

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