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HOMILY FOR TWENTY-THIRD SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME (B)

Dear friends. Before I entered seminary I worked for a number of years as a chemist in Dublin. I was mostly happy and thought I would be in this profession for life. But then I began to hear a call in another direction, towards priesthood. It was a call that both excited and terrified me. This call to priesthood was strongest when I prayed, when I entered a silent Church and began to listen in my heart to what I believed the Lord was saying and what he wanted me to do.

In the Gospel today, Jesus meets a man who is both deaf and has a speech impediment. He can’t hear and because he can’t hear he can’t speak because he can’t repeat sounds he has never heard. Here is another example of Jesus work as a great healer but the incident has a deeper spiritual meaning for us all. At the time of Jesus’ healing, the faith of people came through hearing. They were hearers of the Word of God: ‘Hear O Israel, the Lord your God is one God and you shall love him with all your heart and soul’ (Deut. 6:4). For the Jewish faith and for Christians as St Paul reminds us, faith comes through hearing (Rom. 10:17). God speaks and we listen. Therefore, for the deaf man in the Gospel, the restoration of his hearing is symbolic of being able to hear God’s word, his call and being able to respond to it. That is why Jesus’ prayer for the man as he touched him as ‘Ephphatha…Be opened’. Be opened to the bigger plans that God has for us that are much bigger and greater than those we make for ourselves. Notice too how Jesus does all this after taking him away from the noise of the crowd and into the silence. God’s voice can only be heard in the silence of prayer where our first task is to listen.

Today there is a huge emphasis on the self. What matters most, we are told, is my decisions, my freedom, my choices, my rights. Sure, all these things are important. But if we remain stuck in our own little worlds and make our own desires the measure of everything then we become deaf to the Word of God that invites and calls us to something greater, more wonderful, more fulfilling and often more scary. It is interesting how St Augustine once defined sin as ‘incurvatus ad se…to be caved in oneself’ – to be locked in myself and my own narrow world. Look at the examples from Scripture – the call of Abraham, the call of Mary, the call of Joseph, the call of Paul. They all responded to God’s Word of invitation that they too heard in silence where they encountered Him and heard his call.

Friends, never think that God’s call is for others but not for you. Never think that God called you once but no longer does so or has forgotten about you. Be opened by the Spirit of Jesus to the plans that God still has for your life. Be open to getting in God’s plans for our lives instead of asking God to fit into the plans that we have already made. And if you are not sure what God is asking or where he is leading, come away from the crowds. Pray and listen to the silence where God is present and where he speaks.

I am so glad that God gave me the grace to say yes to his call to follow him as a priest, despite the fear I felt at first. It has opened me to possibilities and people and places I never thought were possible. I thank him and praise him for this every day. So do not be afraid of God’s Word that calls you today. Hear it in the silence of prayer and be opened to what he wants of you. Trust him. He will not disappoint.