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Posted by on Sep 5, 2021

Ears and Mouths Opened – What Do We Hear, Say and Do?

Ears and Mouths Opened – What Do We Hear, Say and Do?

Our readings for the Twenty-third Sunday of Ordinary Time begin with an oracle. It was very common in the ancient world for prophets, priests, or priestesses to speak the words of the gods as oracles. Both the person through whom the message is delivered and the message itself were known as oracles. Oracles as messages were often difficult to understand or required some time and effort to unravel.

The book of Isaiah is believed to include the prophecies of three persons over an extended period in the history of Israel. This reading is from the first section, as the Assyrians are invading Israel from the north and have neared Jerusalem (Is 35:4-7a). The assault on Jerusalem failed, fulfilling the prophecy that God would step in and protect the people in the end. How or when the miraculous healings might be seen is not addressed.

This oracle is pronounced while it is still uncertain that anything will stop the enemy’s advance and the total conquest of the nation. Yet the prophet speaks the words of the Lord boldly. “Here is your God … he comes to save you.” Still, the signs of the coming of the Lord are not what might have been expected. The blind see, the deaf hear, the lame leap like a stag, the mute speak. These promises can be seen as purely metaphorical. Or they can be applied to the actions of Jesus over 700 years later. The writers of the Gospels and the people who witnessed these things happening in real life took them as confirmation of the authority of Jesus to speak in the name of the Lord.

St. Mark tells us today that Jesus traveled to the north, outside the area where Jews typically lived, to an area in Gentile lands where there were ten cities, the Decapolis. (Mk 7:31-37) People there had heard of Jesus and brought a man who was both deaf and mute (unable to speak), requesting that Jesus lay his hands on the man and heal him. Jesus often touched people as part of healing them. However, it was forbidden for good Jew to touch a Gentile (non-Jew). Doing so resulted in ritual impurity that required offering special sacrifices and purification rituals before one could again worship with others or be in community with them.

Jesus took the man aside and, disregarding the prohibition, he touched him. He put his fingers into the man’s ears, then spit on his own fingers and touched the man’s tongue. We would react with “Eww” at the thought of doing this, but saliva was commonly used in healing in that time and place. Jesus used saliva in other healings as well. After touching the ears and tongue of the man, Jesus looked up to heaven, groaned, and ordered, “Be opened.” The man’s ears were opened and he could hear. He also became able to speak clearly.

Jesus, as he usually did, ordered those who witnessed his actions not to tell anyone. But as usual, they proclaimed it to any who would listen. Familiar with the oracle of Isaiah, they noted that Jesus “makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” These things were known to be signs of God’s coming to rescue God’s people.

Jesus accepted people of all types who came to him for help or to learn from him. The same behavior is expected of those who are his disciples. St. James chides the people to whom he was writing for favoring those who appeared to be rich over those who obviously were poor. (Jas 2:1-5) This kind of response to those who joined the assembly for worship and community sharing was absolutely unacceptable for the followers of Jesus. He reminds them that God chose the poor to be the ones rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, the opposite of the values of their society and most others. He knew that those who depend totally on divine providence and the goodwill of others often have a deeper experience of God’s care than do those who might think their good fortune is the result of their own actions and worth.

This reading is especially noteworthy this year, since it falls on September 5, the Feast of St. Teresa of Calcutta. Mother Teresa was known for her dedication to caring for the poorest of the poor. When a man remarked that he would not do the work she was doing for all the money in the world, she informed him that she would not do it for that reason either. She did it because that was where and how she met and served Christ.

I won’t go into the story of Mother Teresa and her life here, but it’s worth considering in the light of today’s readings. If you’d like to know more about our family’s story of Mother Teresa’s work, take a look at Suffice it to say that Mother trusted deeply that when others knew of the needs of the people she served, they would find a way to help. She would simply inform them of the need, then sit quietly, with her hands in her lap, and wait for them to figure out how to meet it.

Our challenge today is similar to those faced in the time of Jesus and the early church, as well as those Mother Teresa faced. How do we respond to the needs of others? Do we see the faith of those left behind in our economy, our communities, and our world? Do we see Christ among them? Do we reach out in love? If we ourselves don’t have a lot resources to spare, we’re not off the hook. Who do we know and how can we work together to help?

We pray with the man Jesus healed today: Open our ears, Lord, so we can hear your voice. Then open our mouths too, so we can speak of the needs of our sisters and brothers here and around the world. Help us to respond to your love by sharing it in concrete ways with those we meet each day – rich or poor, native born or immigrant, man or woman.

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Posted by on Apr 9, 2012

What is Holiness? Is it Wholeness?

People often think that being whole or holy involves being perfect in some way.  “Perfect” of course is defined in a million ways, but we can construct a picture and list of qualities that might encompass what we assume is the saintly person.  So, we would expect to see on this list:  seldom angry, patient, kind, generous, courageous, truthful, trusting, reverent, hopeful, zealous, loving, etc.  In her final year of life, as she was suffering from tuberculosis, Saint Therese of Lisieux wrote in her diary: ” Never leave a knife near a terminally ill person.”   She was a realistic and honest person.  She was not perfect in many ways, but she was a whole and holy person.  Saint Padre Pio yelled at people frequently and then was very gentle and kind with others.  Saint Ignatius of Loyola had a temper, but normally used it after a process of discernment.  Teresa of Avila talked back to Christ and questioned him often.

Behaving in perfect ways and trying to feel only nice feelings is a complete distraction from the real task of life.  Holiness, or even wholeness in the most secular terms, is very simple.  It is the ability to listen in a productive way.  There are a welter of voices within and around us.  The culture, our egos, our pasts, other people, God and evil, however you understand it, are all part of the mix of voices in our lives.  Within ourselves we have many levels that all have a voice.  We have the imprint of our parents within our memories: ” Stand up straight.”  “Eat everything on your plate.”  “Susan is bright.”  “You’ll never grow up.”  We have a frightened voice: “You can’t do that,” or a confident voice: “That’s easy.”  There are the lists inside: “First, go to the Doctor’s; then go to the Drugstore; then get gas; then get the kids; etc.”  And, there is the emotional and spiritual report: “I’m uncomfortable.” ” I’m aware that I am procrastinating.”  “I really want to quit repeating this pattern.”  A friend many years ago told me that we had to get married by the time we were 25 years old because after that we would be “all washed up.”  I believed her and sped around trying to meet more men!  It caused me to join a lot of organizations and waste a number of Sunday afternoons listening to types of Jazz I did not like, hiking in places I did enjoy, not to mention the unusual experiences I had attending psychological “encounter” groups.

These days it is very un-PC to say this, but I believe in personal evil and prefer to use the Ignatian term for this entity: “The enemy of our human nature.”  When someone is not in a state of negative thinking and has every reason either not to feel bad or to feel happy and a random and destructive thought or feeling enters his or her consciousness and destroys his or her peace, the classic response from the Christian tradition is to interpret this as coming from the Enemy. We may be hearing, remembering or seeing something psychological, but the intrusion is not just random.  We are not always just talking to ourselves.  God is constantly communicating and so are the enemy and the other voices as well.  It’s subtle and not superstition.  Why is this complex communication happening?  What are we supposed to do with this?  What has this got to do with holiness and wholeness?

This life on the Planet is a exercise in growth.  In the process of life we make choices and determine what we value.  We  are determined by certain factors but we also determine some of the conditions of our lives.  The process of becoming holy, the process by which the world gets a St. Francis or a Mother Teresa, is a process in which those people work over and over at hearing the better voices inside.  When a voice said: “Compassion feels better than money,” these people felt drawn to that voice.  When an inner voice said: ” Status is nauseating, phony,” these people felt its authenticity and took a chance on goodness.  When a voice says: “eat right, drink less, watch less television” or “read this book,” holy people obey the voice if it carries a feeling of peace or rightness with it.  Sorting out the voices, listening to the voice of God or one’s true self and then obeying these best voices is what makes people holy and truly whole.  Listening and obeying are not easy.  It takes a commitment to my best interests.  It is in my best interest not to play games.  I can spend the rest of my life procrastinating regarding the things I need to do to be happy.  I can also stay in a perpetual program to be defensive or angry, to punish people that have hurt me, or to prove that I am fine just the way I am.

At some point I may progress beyond that and also see how awesome God is.  The reality we call God is immense in His/Her intellect and in love.  Many modern people cannot stand entertaining the concept of God.  It is so uncool to admit the possibility of such a reality in many circles today.  But, if God exists and I know God does, this reality can get me to an authentic life.  I could end up happy and fully realize who I am.  Taking time and quiet to listen and note the voices within is a decision.  Admitting that I prefer a sleazy voice is okay.  I want any excuse not to be a grown up.  If a voice says that I should not eat something, say something, or go somewhere or that I should go to bed at a certain time, By God, I want to ask that voice: “who do you think you are…..?”

The path to holiness, exceptional living, being special in the best sense is a surrender to the wisest voice inside.  It has taken me many years to accept this fully.  This is far harder than parading around trying to be perfect.  The authentic voice within might ask you to be better than you think you are; the author may believe in you more than you do.

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Posted by on Sep 5, 2011

Laboring in Love – Blessed Mother Teresa of  Calcutta

Laboring in Love – Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Blessed Mother Teresa, photo by Túrelio

Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta (feast day September 5)  worked for decades in India, first as a teacher in schools run by the Sisters of Loreto and later caring for the homeless and dying on the streets of Calcutta. Though controversies exist regarding her work and her legacy, men and women around the world now share in her mission of care for the poor as Missionaries of Charity, not just the dying but also assisting those living in poverty.

Today, as we celebrate Labor Day in the United States, it is worthwhile to remember Mother Teresa’s perspective on the work we do.

“To show great love for God and our neighbor we need not do great things. It is how much love we put in the doing that makes our offering something beautiful for God.”

May we remember her words as we go about our daily lives; that we may touch those around us with love and God’s presence.


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Posted by on Mar 8, 2010

Laboring in Love – Blessed Mother Teresa of  Calcutta

Quote of the Day – Mother Teresa of Kolkata

“Let us be like a genuine and fruitful branch of the vine, which is Christ, accepting him in our lives the way he gives himself to us: as truth, which must be spoken; as life, which must be lived; as light, which must shine out; as love, which must be loved; as a way, which must be trodden; as joy, which must be communicated; as peace, which must be radiated; as sacrifice, which must be offered in our families, to our closest neighbors, and to those who live far away.”    Mother Teresa

As quoted in Heart of Joy: The Transforming Power of Self-Giving, by Jose Luis Gonzalez-Balado (Servant Publications, July 1987)

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Posted by on Sep 5, 2008

Laboring in Love – Blessed Mother Teresa of  Calcutta

Blessed Teresa of Kolcata – September 5

Mother Teresa was born in Albania in 1910. She went to India in 1929 to become a Sister of Loreto, an order of teaching nuns. She took her first vows in 1931 and began working as a teacher, work she deeply enjoyed. She chose the name Teresa in honor of St. Therese of Lisieux, patroness of the missions.

As the years passed, Mother Teresa became increasingly aware of the poverty and despair that were the lot of so many people in India, including around the school in Kolkata. On September 10, 1946, she received a “call” from the Lord to leave the work she was doing and go out to live among and serve the poorest of the poor. Her response to this call and the positive results of her service and witness are well documented.

From the streets of Kolkata, men and women who joined her in service as the Missionaries of Charity have moved throughout India and into the broader world. Today, as sisters, priests and brothers, they have schools, clinics and shelters in 120 countries, including the United States. My home parish, St. Patrick’s, in Spokane, WA is even blessed to have a group of sisters working in the community. They are quietly witnessing and bringing the Good News to the larger neighborhood and diocesan community through their service and I am grateful for their presence there.

Many words have been written about Mother Teresa, including a post in this blog last year. Some praise her. Some criticize her. Some mock her. Some don’t know what to think about her. None of this would come as a surprise to her. It was like that from the beginning of her work. In the decades of her “dark night of the soul,” many of these things may have been thoughts she had herself. 

But she was faithful to the calling she received and Pope John Paul II declared her Blessed. We’d do well to keep that in mind as we try to be faithful to the calls each of us have received. There are no guarantees of success or popularity. Most of us will never be praised by Kings, Queens and Presidents. Few will receive Nobel prizes. But we all can aspire to be faithful to the work set before us by our Lord.

If you’d like to send an e-card with words, prayers, and/or blessings from Mother Teresa, check out this link.

Blessed Teresa, pray for us.

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Posted by on Dec 23, 2007

Laboring in Love – Blessed Mother Teresa of  Calcutta

Quote of the Day – Blessed Teresa of Calcutta


I came across this quotation today from Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. As we prepare to celebrate God’s love for us, in becoming one of us, this is a reminder of how we are to accept that love and pass it on.

“Love cannot remain by itself – it has no meaning. Love has to be put into action and that action is service. How do we put the love for God into action? By being faithful to our family, to the duties that God has entrusted to us.”

As we enter into the final couple of days before Christmas, let’s try to remember to cherish each other, to take the time to smile and laugh together, to give a hug to someone we love and to take the time to be together. Those are the things that will make Christmas truly memorable. They are the gifts that really matter when all is said and done. And in giving these gifts of love and time, we give the only things that will remain with our families and our children forever.

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Posted by on Sep 5, 2007

Laboring in Love – Blessed Mother Teresa of  Calcutta

Mother Teresa – “Love is Left Alone”

Mother Teresa 1979

Jesus has a very special love for you. As for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great that I look and do not see, listen and do not hear.
— Mother Teresa to the Rev. Michael Van Der Peet, September 1979

The Time cover story was not really news to me. I had read about Mother Teresa’s time of spiritual dryness in My Life With the Saints, by Fr. James Martin, S.J. Like most people, I never suspected that Mother Teresa’s spiritual silence and emptiness had lasted so long.

In the secular science of the soul – psychology – the current ideal of human development is one of balance. There is supposed to be an apportioning of time and energy for your internal, personal, and professional life. We are supposed to pay attention to our own personal space, our spouses, families, colleagues, communities, and the environment.

Like most ideals, it is unattainable. If we could achieve a balance in all of these relationships, we would implode under the disappearance of our own uniquely unbalanced personalities. If personal fulfillment and psychological health is not balance, it would seem that some portion of our efforts should be focused on many of these areas. What happens if your life is comprised only of ministry?

Mother Teresa of Kolkata (Calcutta) led a life beyond balance. She had no secular career, no family, no apparent hobbies. She had an all consuming ministry to those completely abandoned by society. Founding and leading a religious order and expanding the work of the Missionaries of Charity, left little time for sleep, let alone rest and relaxation.

Mother Teresa’s hyper-focus and zeal appears to go against most of the consensus about the development of the spiritual life. Spiritual directors and teachers prescribe adequate sleep, relaxation, and attention to personal and community relationships. The Rule of St. Benedict of Nursia (c. 530) comes to mind, since it has been the de facto standard in monastic living. There is a large body of Christian literature, from the earliest times, advising prudence and temperance in the spiritual life.

St. Ignatius Loyola referred to dark periods, when there is little feeling of the presence of God, as periods of desolation or aridity. Early hermits in the Egyptian desert referred to this state as the “noonday devil.

My first thought was that Mother Teresa’s lack of prudence and temperance had gotten the better of her. Yet, how could I make such an observation without knowing Mother Teresa? So, I decided to talk with someone whose home in Madras Mother Teresa had visited several times. Paul D’Souza is an old friend of ours who met her when he was 3 years old. What struck Paul was that, although the house was full, she always first sought him out and the other small children, before paying attention to any one else. Paul has had his own thoughts on harmony and balance for some time. As a management consultant and healer, Paul has his own theory of Beyond Balance.

When I asked him what he thought might have been the cause of Mother Teresa’s very long dark night of the soul, the reply was unusually sharp for someone with a master’s degree in social work. Paul remembered that Mother Teresa continually reminded her Missionaries that the face of Christ was to be found in every child, in every human person. The arduous work of caring for disabled orphans is a direct service to Christ. “What about balance?” I asked. In tones of not so patient exasperation, Paul said that in his study of leaders, “No one whoever accomplished anything was balanced.” When I pressed him on Mother Teresa as a person, he told me to talk with his mother who had met Mother Teresa several times.

I had a pleasant talk with Christine D’Souza, who is also an old friend. (Our children call her Grandma Christine.) She and her late husband, John, met Mother Teresa in 1968 in Madras, now known as Chenai. As many have recounted elsewhere, Mother Teresa was not demanding or seemingly driven. According to Mrs. D’Souza, she normally sat quietly and spoke in a soft voice while looking at her hands. Mother Teresa “put her cards on the table,” according to Mrs. D’Souza, and allowed her listeners “to pick up what ones they would,” without asking them to make any choice. Mrs. D’Souza recalls, “She had such humility, but with a strength and dignity. She reminded me of the beatitude, ‘Blessed are the meek.'” The only time Mrs. D’Souza recalls her making a request was when they first met and Mother Teresa asked her directly if she and the lay co-workers could meet at the D’Souza’s home.

When I asked Mrs. D’Souza what she thought about Mother Teresa’s decades of spiritual dryness, she responded with the wisdom of age and grace. Mrs. D’Souza said that she couldn’t speak for anyone else. She recounted that in her youth she experienced a closeness to Christ but that this emotional awareness and feeling waned over time. This absence did not keep her from raising a family, being a music educator, and engaging in many other activities in a spirit of faith.

Mrs. D’Souza recalled a few lines of a poem in a pamphlet her husband had given her:

God gives us love.

Something to love He lends to us.

Love reaches ripeness,

and of that on which it throve,

Love is left alone.

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