Ordinary of the Mass
Mass Text - Latin
Mass Text - English
“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
what seems to them to be 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
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.”
All too often we don't realize how
much damage we can do with our speech—how seriously we can sin, and offend
Some 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—just as bad as those things which we
would be too embarrassed to admit that we do.
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
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
really require us to describe our aches and pains, or all of our personal
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”—“I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”
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
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.