At the heart of today’s Gospel (Mk 7, 31-37) there is a small but, very important word. A word that – in its deepest meaning- sums up the whole message and the whole work of Christ. The Evangelist Mark writes it in the same language that Jesus pronounced it in, so that it is even more alive to us. This word is “Ephphatha,” which means, “be opened.” Let us look at the context in which it is located. Jesus was travelling through the region known as the “Decapolis”, between the coast of Tyre and Sidon, and Galilee, therefore a non-Jewish area. They brought to him a deaf man, so that he could heal him – evidently his fame had spread that far. Jesus took him aside, touched his ears and tongue, and then, looking up to the heavens, with a deep sigh said, “Ephphatha,” which means, “Be opened.” And immediately the man began to hear and speak fluently (cf. Mk 7.35). This then is the historical, literal, meaning of this word: this deaf mute, thanks to Jesus’ intervention, “was opened”, before he had been closed, insulated, it was very difficult for him to communicate, and his recovery was ‘”openness” to others and the world, an openness that, starting from the organs of hearing and speech, involved all his person and his life: Finally he was able to communicate and thus relate in a new way.
But we all know that closure of man, his isolation, does not solely depend on the sense organs. There is an inner closing, which covers the deepest core of the person, what the Bible calls the “heart”. That is what Jesus came to “open” to liberate, to enable us to fully live our relationship with God and with others. That is why I said that this little word, “Ephphatha – Be opened,” sums up Christ’s entire mission. He became man so that man, made inwardly deaf and dumb by sin, would become able to hear the voice of God, the voice of love speaking to his heart, and learn to speak in the language of love, to communicate with God and with others. For this reason, the word and the gesture of ‘”Ephphatha” are included in the Rite of Baptism, as one of the signs that explain its meaning: the priest touching the mouth and ears of the newly baptized says: “Ephphatha” praying that they may soon hear the Word of God and profess the faith. Through Baptism, the human person begins, so to speak, to “breathe” the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus had invoked from Father with that deep breath, to heal the deaf and dumb man.
We now turn in prayer to Mary Most Holy, whose Nativity we celebrated yesterday. Because of her unique relationship with the Incarnate Word, Mary is fully “open” to the love of the Lord, her heart is constantly listening to his Word. May her maternal intercession help us to experience every day, in faith, the miracle of ‘”Ephphatha,” to live in communion with God and with others.
I offer a warm welcome to the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at this Angelus prayer, especially those from the Rome campus of the University of Mary in the United States. In today’s Gospel Jesus cures a deaf man with a speech impediment. Let us pray that our spiritual infirmities may be cured, so that our ears may be open to listen attentively to the Lord’s life-giving teachings, and our speech may plainly profess our faith in him. May God bless you!”
With all the distractions, pressures, deadlines, bills … complications … it is hard to be fully open. But once we are, and continually, it makes all the difference. Mary’s “soul was the space from which God was able to gain access into humanity,” B16 has also written. What a yes it was! And it was not just one yes in history, ours today can be a balm to the souls of men, including our own.