"He said to him, `Ephpheta,' which is `be thou opened,' and his tongue was loosed, and he spoke correctly."
There is a strong temptation, every year when this Gospel is read, for the priest to preach on the fact that just as our Lord performed this miracle by using physical matter and form, so too He instituted the Sacraments. This is an important issue, for Catholics are often criticized by their non-Catholic neighbors for having an almost magical attitude toward the working of the Sacraments -- as though it were superstitious to pour water on someone's head in Baptism, or to anoint them with oil, or whatever.
We see that this is not superstition, but simply the way our Lord did things. He used words and material things to bring about spiritual things. And, of course, He did this because we are material creatures, who cannot directly perceive the underlying spiritual realities.
But there is another perspective from which we can look at this Gospel -- one that many spiritual writers recommend. The fact that the man cured in this episode "began to speak rightly," or "correctly," suggests that we might spend a few minutes in talking about the right use of the tongue -- the correct use of human speech and communication.
St. James tells us in his Epistle that "the tongue is a little member [of the body], but it boasts mightily." How small a flame, yet, how great a forest it kindles" (James iii). All too often we don't realize how much damage we can do with our speech -- how seriously we can sin, and offend God.
Maybe ten years ago, I had a lady answer our ad in the newspaper -- came to visit me in person -- and she talked about how much she missed the traditions of the Catholic Faith. When I said something very offhanded about Confession, she informed me that she didn't need to go to Confession, because at her age people didn't sin any more. She didn't swear, nor steal, nor hurt anyone -- too old to fool around -- so she felt she had no need for Confession.
But during the next half hour, she began to tell me what really bothered her about the modern world: "The Jews did this...." and, "the Blacks did that...." "the Cubans were all together intolerable... and those damned Irishmen down the street...."
She couldn't understand why such talk was, in itself, "material for Confession" -- and I never did see her again.
The point is, that loose speech can be just as bad as any of those things we think of as being so much more terrible.
First of all, we should be scrupulously careful never to "bear false witness" against our neighbor -- to lie about someone and damage their reputation. But, it goes even deeper than that, we should never even tell the truth about someone if it is going to hurt them unfairly. A person has the right to their good reputation, unless they do something that is going to hurt someone else.
It is not my responsibility to tell everyone about the bad habits a person used to have, or even about the bad habits they still have -- unless someone will be hurt by them. It isn't even my business to think about it myself.
Only if it is necessary to protect a person from his own evil actions, or to protect a third party, that it becomes proper to speak about them. And, then, with as much discretion as possible.
Talebearing, and backbiting, and gossip are easy sins to fall into. Often we begin with the idea that we are just showing concern for the person we are talking about. Sometimes we start talking because we like the person we are talking about, and consider their odd behavior to be "cute" or loveable.
The right use of the tongue also binds us to honesty. We have already seen how we can injure someone's reputation by lying about them. We can also injure them materially, if they have the right to expect true information from us and we falsify that information. Think of a broker who lies to his investors, or a scout who lies to the army commander about the location of the enemy, or an employee who lies about performing maintenance on the machinery he is hired to care for. When we lie in this way, we can, quite literally, be guilty of theft, or even murder.
There are other times when we are not so obligated to tell the truth. The door to door salesman really has no right to know if the man or woman of the house is home, or when they will be back, or whatever. And one doesn't have to volunteer the truth to those who don't ask for it. "How are you?" is one of those questions which don't' require us to describe our aches and pains, or all of our personal problems.
Yet, even when complete honesty may not be required, there is a certain nobility in telling the truth for its own sake. After all, truth is the conformity of one's statements with what is in the mind of God Himself. Our Lord, Jesus Christ, equated Himself with "Truth" on several occasions. He told us that we shouldn't get in the habit of taking frivolous oaths -- swearing by God or the heavens -- that our "yes" should mean yes, and our "no" should mean no. Honesty is respected in us by our fellow citizens, as well as by God Himself.
Our Lord was able to make the man in today's Gospel speak correctly -- to speak rightly. That may have been a miracle on the material level, but it also should move us to work the same "miracle" on the moral level.
We must learn to "speak correctly"; neither bearing false witness against our neighbor, nor even telling the truth to hurt him. Certainly, we must not rob him, nor hurt him bodily by falsifying information to which he has a right.
And finally, we ought to seek a measure of Christian humility and perfection in telling the truth -- for in telling the truth, we share in God's perfection, and unite ourselves to His Son, whom we know to be Truth Himself.