The New Evangelization challenges us to rethink what it means to be missionaries. Yes, ad gentes! To be disciples to all the nations is still a priority but, what about those who sit next to us in the pews or those who aren’t even there in the pews yet? We know there are many of our brothers and sisters who are baptized Catholic, but are not actively engaged in their faith. This is one level of evangelization. And a large one at that! Overwhelming, even.
Let’s take it a step further: What about those who are more invisible? The marginalized. The unseen. The unheard.
In ministry with the Deaf, I am constantly amazed at the faith that dwells within them. Many of our older Deaf senior citizens came to Mass for years standing, sitting and kneeling, without understanding anything that is occurring in front of them. And yet, they understand it’s a mystery. I marvel at their faithfulness.
When asked if they believe (in words they understand) in the Creed, in Baptismal promises renewed or in the stories of God working miracles through the saints, I have seen them respond with an emphatic YES. Chills. Pure simple faith. A faith made visible, incarnational really, in communicating their belief with their body.
I have seen their eyes well up with tears as the teachings of Scripture are unveiled. I have seen them give hours of time for their faith – driving over 1 hour away to go to a Bible Study or a Mass with a Deaf priest, or ability to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation, taking Holy Communion to the homebound of the Deaf Catholic community, witnessing their faith to their Deaf brothers and sisters & challenging them to come to Mass, giving rides to those who cannot drive or interpreting for Catholics who are Deaf/blind. They are a linguistic culture that brings a beauty to the Church.
Imagine this: You in their place. Desiring, hungering for more – to have the Scripture explained, to understand and receive the Sacraments readily. Searching, yet feeling unheard. This goes unseen by most of us.
Often, we think of the Scripture passage of Jesus healing the man who was deaf and mute as a physical healing but, we are missing the deeper meaning. There is a reason why His words are also used in the Baptismal Rite. Pope Francis said in an Angelus message in September 2015 that the gesture of touching the ears and the tongue is first “to reestablish a relationship with this man who communication is “impeded.” God opens himself and places himself in communication with humanity. To bring about this communication with man, God becomes man.” Ephphatha! Be opened!
The Word of God enters into the silence, both physically and in the soul of the person in front of him. This story is less about a Deaf person being “healed” (by hearing) and more about all of us as believers. Our hearts need to be opened. They need to be stretched. They need to be ready to be filled to an infinite capacity by our God. But in order to do so, we need new wineskins.
Pope Paul VI in Ecclesiam Suam challenges us to, first and foremost, seek a deeper self-knowledge. “We are convinced that the Church must look with penetrating eyes within itself, ponder the mystery of its own being, and draw enlightenment…(which) inevitably leads to a comparison between the ideal image of the Church as Christ envisaged it, His holy and spotless bride, and the actual image.” This growing in self-awareness inevitably brings about conversion; a renewal. The goal with this renewal is to expand our capacity to love, and when love grows, we cannot help but share it, to be witnesses because it bubbles over. This is where the New Evangelization gets legs.
“Make yourself a capacity, and I will make myself a torrent.” Jesus said to Angela of Foligno.
Ask. Ask your parishioners (who are Deaf or hard of hearing) if they have what they need to access a full life in parish especially the Sacraments?
Listen. Come with open ears and open heart to hear their response. Don’t be automatically fearful of the “cost.”
Respond. With love. Meet for coffee with them if you would like to understand further what their need is.
Invite. Invite your Deaf and Hard of Hearing sheep to volunteer or to help with a project or on a committee.
Resource. Reach out to the Coordinator of Deaf Ministry. I’m here to support you in your service & would love to collaborate with you!
Who are we missing in our parishes? Are we truly open – in our hearts and in our mind – to be present with those in front of us, to see them as another human being made in the image and likeness of God? How do you communicate individually and as a parish in your writing, at Mass, and in the interpersonal one-on-one exchanges that God is waiting to use to reveal the divine within? Ephphatha! May our hearts be filled with a capacity to fall more in love with the Word of God, the person of Jesus Christ, made visible in Word and Sacrament. It’s time to build bridges, to develop friendships, and to witness love. Be opened!