10 Sep 2012
Homily for the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time – September 9, 2012
September 9, 2012
By Father J. Daniel Atkins, Holy Family Catholic Church, New Albany, Indiana
“I was wild and unruly, giggling and chuckling to express pleasure; kicking, scratching, uttering the choke screams of a deaf-mute to indicate the opposite.”
Helen’s family arranged life around her. She was allowed to snatch food from any plate on the table at family meals. She was not disciplined, partially because her parents did not think she could understand and partially because they believed life had been cruel enough to her already. The Keller’s emotional life came to rise and fall on the swell of Helen’s tantrums. And all the while there was something of an angry resentment and frustration building in Helen.
Finally, in desperation John Keller took his daughter to Dr. Alexander Graham Bell. Bell advised Keller to write to the Perkins Institute for the Blind in Boston. If you have seen the play or film, The Miracle Worker you know that the letter John Keller wrote brought a woman named Annie Sullivan to the Keller home. The meeting of Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan would change not only Helen’s life but her family and all those who would meet Helen in later years.
Annie Sullivan quickly realized that there was a mind like quicksilver trapped behind the walls of Helen’s physical blindness and deafness. Annie also realized that almost seven years of the Keller family’s “making allowances” for Helen had helped her to become a virtual tyrant over the family and a prisoner of her willfulness. It was not until Annie convinced Mr. and Mrs. Keller to let the child live alone with her in a summer house for several months that the teacher made any significant progress. “Helen doesn’t need your pity, she needs your love. If I am to teach her anything she must depend on me for everything.” Annie explained.
Those months of Helen’s isolation were emotional pain for the Kellers and physical torture for Annie. Helen bit and scratched and pounded on her teacher, refusing at first to even come near her. But ever so gradually there was a bond being forged in the test between two strong wills. A bond that would become mutual respect, then friendship and finally the gateway for Helen into the world of self-communication.
In the gospel today Jesus takes a man who is deaf and dumb away from his friends and the crowds. In a very intimate way Jesus touches the man. Probes his ears, anoints the man with his own saliva. It sounds distasteful, if not downright uncomfortable. But this is how Jesus means to open the man up. He must first be opened up if he is to be restored to full life.
I wonder if the man had come to Jesus willingly. Scripture does not say. It only tells us that people brought him to Jesus and asked our Lord to lay his hands on him. Was the man frightened? Was he resentful? Did he fight Jesus as Helen fought Annie? He had so much to gain…but in those moments when he was separated from his family and friends and alone with Jesus might he not have experienced fear and pain along with the miracle?
Ephphetha. Be opened. The same word that Jesus spoke to the deaf-mute Jesus speaks to us at our baptism. The priest touched our ears and our mouth. “Be opened.” Does any opening to life ever come without some pain and upheaval? Does any interior growth ever come without some loving friend who probes a sensitive place in our hearts with an honest question? Do we ever come to discover our inner resources until we are out alone on the unchartered waters of a new job, a new community, a new school? Can we really understand what our faith means to us until were struggling with homesickness? Being opened to greater life can hurt. We are all like Helen. I leave you with her words:
“Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.”