A meditation by Fr. Francesco Ferrari, rector of the House of Formation. The subject: vocation.

I would like to reflect on the call that you all have received and on the journey of these years in seminary beginning from this passage of the Gospel of Mark which tells of the healing of the blind and deaf man.

Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, through the region of the Decapolis. And they brought to him a man who was deaf and had an impediment in his speech; and they besought him to lay his hand upon him. And taking him aside from the multitude privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue; and looking up to heaven, he sighed, and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. And he charged them to tell no one; but the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well; he even makes the deaf hear and the dumb speak!” (Mk: 7:31-37).

 

  1. Ephphatha: Opening ourselves to the love of Christ

 

The words that Jesus uses in this passage, the words that accompany his miracle, help us to understand what really happened to this man. He had been deaf and mute. He was not able to hear or to speak, and, therefore, he could not communicate. He was closed off, impeded from entering into communion with others.

The miracle of Jesus consists in opening up the life of this man: ephphatha. To what does He open it? Certainly to the world and to relationships, since now he can hear and speak. But, in a particular way, the healed man is now open to a relationship with Christ; he can hear Him and speak with Him. The miracles of Christ are always connected to faith, or, to the relationship of the person with Him. After the miracle, in fact, the man and his friends exclaim: he has done everything well. It is a recognition of the divine power of Christ. It is an act of faith.

The aim of Jesus, therefore, is to open this man to faith. It was not simply to give him back his sense of hearing, and, thereby, his ability to speak. It was meant to reopen his so-called “spiritual senses,” those interior capacities that allow us to recognize the presence of God.

Very often our spiritual senses are numb. Our life is closed in on itself, and we feel that our ability to recognize God present has become cloudy. We struggle to pray, to see His work in the world, to feel grateful or to be moved by Him. We are deaf to his action in the world and so everything becomes small and impoverished.

“There is not only a physical deafness which largely cuts people off from social life; there is also a ‘hardness of hearing’ where God is concerned, and this is something from which we particularly suffer in our own time. Put simply, we are no longer able to hear God – there are too many different frequencies filling our ears. What is said about God strikes us as pre-scientific, no longer suited to our age. Along with this hardness of hearing or outright deafness where God is concerned, we naturally lose our ability to speak with him and to him. And so we end up losing a decisive capacity for perception. We risk losing our inner senses. This weakening of our capacity for perception drastically and dangerously curtails the range of our relationship with reality in general. The horizon of our life is disturbingly foreshortened. […] The Gospel invites us to realize that we have a ‘deficit’ in our capacity for perception – initially, we do not notice this deficiency as such, since everything else seems so urgent and logical; since everything seems to proceed normally, even when we no longer have eyes and ears for God and we live without him. But it is true that everything goes on as usual when God no longer is a part of our lives and our world? [1]

Our life needs to be reopened so we may listen to God, and enter into communion with Him. We entered the seminary because we discovered that Christ is everything, the One who merits our heart and our reason, all of our life, and, therefore, we want to learn to listen to Him, to speak with Him. We are here because we desire that our life become more open to Christ. How, then, can this opening happen?

 

  1. They brought to him a man who was deaf and had an impediment in his speech: The role of companionship

 

The blind and deaf man does not reach Christ by himself. He is accompanied by others. What’s more: in certain moments, the blind and deaf man is not distinguishable from his friends. After the miracle, for example, Jesus speaks to all of them, and, all together, they make an act of faith, exclaiming: He has done all things well! These friends are almost one subject before Christ. This fact illustrates a permanent truth of our Christian life: there is no salvation, there is no Christ, without His body which is the Church. In our life, there are two paradigmatic events that recall this truth. The day of our baptism, when someone led us to Christ and, for the first time, someone said to us, in the liturgy: ephphatha, be opened. In baptism, our life was opened to communion with God through the companionship of the Church. The second event was our encounter with the Movement, through which we became existentially aware of this communion with Christ, and so our life continued to open itself to communion with God, who is the final destiny that awaits us.

The Gospel and our own personal story are saying something decisive: opening one’s life to Christ is an eccelsial event. We do not, on our own, make the first move towards Christ; it is the Church who leads us to Him. And the healing that Christ works in our lives does not only have to do with us, but with the whole Church.

Furthermore, as Christ in the Gospel performs miracles through concrete gestures – touching ears and spitting -, so Christ reaches us and walks with us today through the concrete presence of our brothers. Even our healing happens through these concrete gestures: men with names, temperaments, imperfections and greatnesses. It is the dumbfounding and scandalous concreteness of the Church, through which God draws close to men: For he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen (1 John 4:20).

That the conversion of our life happens through the Church awakens two sentiments in us. Above all, gratitude, for our personal history and our present, for all of those faces that have allowed and allow Christ to touch us and to heal us. Faces which have accompanied us for years or which we have only known for a few minutes. At times, faces which we did not even ever know directly, such as Don Giussani. We need to learn to experience gratitude, which is the most reasonable sentiment of the one who has encountered Christ.

The second sentiment that arises is the desire to belong and to entrust oneself now to this companionship, with all of our heart and all of our intelligence, so that Christ can continue to open our life to communion with Him.

 

  1. They besought him to lay his hand upon him: Needy for redemption

The miracle happens in the territory of the Decapolis, which means in a place that is far from the true God. It is meaningful that Jesus performs a miracle there. It is indicative of a situation of distance, of the absence of faith, which is the true deafness from which we need to be healed. Our life can still be far from God, lacking God. We need to be redeemed. Cardinal Giacomo Biffi used to say that “there are entire continents in my heart in which the cross of Christ has not yet been planted.”[2] There are within us entire territories without God, closed to His word, and, therefore, needy of redemption. “Redemption” means acquired, reacquired, and taken into possession. There are aspects of our life (things that happened to us, aspects of our personality, desires, fears…) which need to return to being property of Christ. Recognizing concretely that we need to be redeemed cannot be taken for granted. Different temptations can undermine this humility, in particular pride and disdain for oneself.

The first temptation is pride, in which one believes oneself to be just, and does not recognize that he needs to change. Jesus denounced forcefully, particularly against the Pharisees, the temptation to pride. Let us call to mind this parable which is so useful, and must remain for us a constant reminder.

 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Lk 18:9-14).

How sad is the attitude of this Pharisee. He stays on his feet; he does not kneel. He is completely focused on measuring himself and on deeming himself sufficient. One can see the annoying pleasure that he experiences in feeling himself to be a just man. Pride is a constant possibility for every man, and attacks when one does something good, maybe even extremely good. In this moment, you need to be vigilant because entering seminary and having received the admiration of many people can even lead you all to think that you are great men!

Be merciful to me, a sinner. This is the truest attitude we can have. The surprising taste of redemption, of discovering that you have been forgiven and saved, is precluded to those who presume to be just already.

A second temptation is self-loathing, thinking of oneself as inadequate, thinking that your own evil is too great an obstacle. In the end, this temptation means thinking of oneself as incurable, terminally ill. “The evil I have done is too great, is too rooted in me, I have been like this for too long…” This temptation is often accompanied by a fear of others’ judgment: “If only they knew who I am, they would abandon me…”. Even St. Peter felt this disproportion between himself and Christ on the day in which, after having worked without fruit all night, following the indication of Jesus, he found a great quantity of fish. “But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” For he was astonished, and all that were with him, at the catch of fish which they had taken; […] And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; henceforth you will be catching men.” And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.” (Lk 5:8-11).

In our journey towards God, we can feel a sense of disproportion, of smallness, a sense of inadequacy due to our limits and our sins. Declaring ourselves to be sinners, as St. Peter does, is a gaze of truth upon ourselves. The falsity – the temptation – lies in deciding that this unworthiness is an objection to following Christ. Christ does not deny the unworthiness of Peter, but, at the same time, He invites the fisherman to follow Him.

Pride and self-loathing have a common root: measuring ourselves. Both of these attitudes are characteristic of one who is intent on measuring himself, of the one who is overly focused on himself, preoccupied with his own greatness or smallness. One can escape these temptations by learning to lean upon Christ, to measure himself according to His presence. What is required is a change of preoccupation: not so much “how great I am” but “how great is Christ.”

Leaving behind pride and the despising of oneself, seeking an attitude of humility, we must ask: what must be redeemed in us? What must be healed? I’d like to offer a few suggestions.

 

  1. And his ears were opened: Healing reason, a new mentality

 

Benedict XVI, in the passage quoted above, says that there is too much noise, too many different frequencies in our ears that impede us from listening to the word of God. These noises are the opinions of the common mentality; without even realizing it, they enter into us, and we find ourselves giving absolute value to limited things: outcomes, recognition, power…They make us think that, for example, what we do is only important if others see it, if it is recognized, if it is effective.

Benedict XVI also speaks about a rationalistic mentality, that, ultimately, makes us look at God as something that has little to do with reason, or that is “pre-scientific.” Questions about God, and, in general, about spiritual life, appear to us as somewhat magical, like fairy-tales, irrational. What must be healed in us is, therefore, our mind, our mentality. We need a new use of our reason. Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Rm 12:2).

What is this new use of reason? It must be a reason that is open to the invisible world. There is not only what we can see and touch. There is also something beyond reality. A reason that is open to the invisible is a reason that is able to grasp the signs of the Mystery in reality and, therefore, is the only way of using reason that can see reality in its entirety. Because reality is not only what I see and touch, part of reality is also Who wanted it and why He wanted it. Healing consists in returning to listen to the voice of reality, that is, listening to Christ present. In these years, it will be decisive, therefore, to learn to pray, to frequent the sacraments, to discover the companionship of the saints, of those who, in other words, have lived a real relationship with God, with the invisible.

A reason that opens itself to listening to the voice of God, always through a companionship, acquires, in time, a new judgement on reality, which draws its criteria from communion with God and not from the world. The mentality that we desire to renew in ourselves must begin from an open reason, able to grasp the true value of reality, which means reality as God sees it, as it has been revealed by Christ. This is what is meant when Saint Paul claims, writing to the Corinthians, that we have the thought of Christ.

It is fascinating to think about the inestimable possibilities of having the thought of Christ. The road towards gaining this new and surprising mentality is the knowledge and the frequenting of the person of Christ, of his way of looking at life and at the world. It is His person that we find in the life of the Church, of the Movement, of the Fraternity. It is His thought that we find in Scripture, in the liturgy, in the tradition of the Church. In these years, study, liturgy and prayer have no other purpose than to bring you to a familiarity with the person of Christ.

In order for this to happen, what is asked of us is a systematic work of correcting the false judgments that we have within us. Many things are looked at and thought of as if Christ did not exist, according to a thought that is not His. We think, to give a couple of examples, of liberty as autonomy and not as dependence, of fulfillment as self-affirmation and not as a gift, of sacrifice as an objection and not as the possibility to love. I invite you all to have the courage and the simplicity to put yourselves into discussion, to acknowledge, in dialogue with us, all that which in you comes from a thought that is far away from Christ.

One of the most beautiful fruits of this healing of the reason is the discovery of a unity of life, as Fr. Giussani reminds us: “Something that belongs by right to the company of Christ in our life is this aspect of recapitulating in His person every meaning of every history, a unique cultural dignity, therefore, brought by His presence in every life. […] It is as if Christ were to say: ‘All that has happened is for me; all of history is for me. I am the meaning of history.’ His companionship and His presence decide, therefore, the perception that one has of himself and of reality. […] Ex uno Verbo omnia, et unum locuuntur omnia et hoc est principium quod et loquitur in nobis: ‘From one Word, everything, and a single Word cries out everything. And this Word is the principle that speaks within us.’”[3]

Even Saint Paul speaks of the knowledge of Christ as the single factor which makes everything else worth it: But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him (Phil 3:7).

The healing of our reason is a healing of knowledge; it is the discovery of the sublimity of the knowledge of Christ.

 

  1. His tongue was released: Healing the heart, certain of love

 

We need, then, a healing of the heart and of our affections.

We live to love and to be loved. But too often this need of ours is dirtied by doubt and fear. For many reasons, we find ourselves easily filled with the fear of not being loved, and of not knowing how or if we can love. There are cultural reasons for this, because a society that does not esteem the family, that separates sex from love, that does not have pity for the lives of the weak, insinuates a skepticism about the possibility of truly loving. There are moral reasons, because our evil makes us feel unworthy of being the object of love and of giving our own love. Even our personal history can generate fear in us, because certain wounds of the past, if they are not redeemed, can close us to love. We find within ourselves in this way an unconscious fear, which manifests itself in many ways: anxiety to be recognized, solitude, egoism, possessivity, fear of messing up or of being judged, etc. Giussani and Testori, in a dialogue, speak of the loss of a sense of birth, meaning of the sentiment of being wanted.[4] To use the world from the Gospel, there is a knot in us that needs to be united, in order to live freely that communion with God and with other men for which we are made. We need to be healed by discovering that our life is wanted, loved, awaited and that we are capable of loving.

This is the redemptive work of Christ, which knocks down our enclosures by communicating His personal love for each one of us, giving us the certainty of being loved and the courage to love.

Before pronouncing the word “Ephphatha!”, Jesus looks at heaven and sighs. He looks at the Father and sighs with compassion for man. It is a state of being moved that can be found elsewhere in the Gospel: before the two blind men of Jericho (cfr. Matt 20:34); before the widow of Nain (cfr. Lk 7:13); before the hungry and lost crowd (cfr. Mk 6:34; 8:1); he weeps for Jerusalem (cfr. Lk 10:41) and for the death of Lazarus (cfr. Jn 11:33-35). Jesus opens our life to God (to the Father to whom He looks), giving us the experience of an impossible love, which goes beyond every possible expectation. What unties the knot of our heart and pulverizes our fears is the discovery of being loved and wanted from all of eternity. It is the discovery that we are in the heart of Christ. This is the revelation of the cross, of a love for my life that is unimaginable. The redemption of our heart coincides with the personal discovery of the love of Christ, who died on the cross for me, whose love reaches me in the always actual gift of the Eucharist. I am not only speaking here of a sentiment, or of a psychological perception, but of a fact that happened for me. It is not about feeling loved, but knowing that you are loved. It is the discovery that shook up and revolutionized the life of St. Paul: But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us (Rm 5:2). And again: the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Gal 2:20).

The man who was deaf and dumb was freed out of love, because Christ was moved by him, and since he was freed, he was able, in turn, to know and love Christ.

This love reaches us through the company of the Church. The sacraments, our brothers, the house that God has given us. Massimo Camisasca described our Fraternity in these terms: the place where Christ bends down over our wounds.[5]

We are able to return to loving, no longer slaves of our fears, our evil or of our insecurities, by embracing the path that is offered to us in this house.

 

  1. He has done all things well: the discovery of the Father

 

In the episode from the Gospel of Mark, after Jesus performs the miracle, the persons around him express their wonder and gratitude. He has done all things well; he even makes the deaf hear and the dumb speak!; the second part of this sentence recalls Isaiah, who describes the coming Messiah in the same way. The first part, instead, –  He has done all things well – hearkens back to Genesis, when God declared that the things He made were “good.” After the miracle, Jesus is presented by Mark as the awaited Messiah, the One sent by God to reveal the Father, the creator of everything, to the world.

We have arrived, then, to the heart of the healing worked by Jesus, to the ultimate content of that openness to Him of which we have spoken. The redemption of Christ throws our reason wide open, reopening within us a capacity to know God and to look at reality with His eyes. The redemption also reopens the heart, instilling in our life the certainty of love, love which was revealed by Christ on the cross.

There is a word that describes this new life which Christ opens up for us: sonship. Christ opens our life to the discovery of the Father, of He who wanted (in other words, loved) all things, who made them all good. The Greek word used by Mark is kalos, which means “good” but also “beautiful.” Reality is good because it is wanted by the Father, and, therefore, it is beautiful because it is a sign and revelation of His love. And the reality that is supremely good and beautiful is man. I am a son, that is, wanted, desired, made well by a Father. It is to this marvelous discovery that Christ opens our lives. In the end, His mission in the world consists in revealing to man the features of a Good Father. As it says in this truly pacifying passage of Mark’s gospel:

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his span of life?And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin;  yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O men of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. (Mk 6:25-33)

We can paraphrase this passage as follows: there is a Father; you all are sons; you have no need to fear.

 

  1. The more zealously they proclaimed it: The urgency of mission

Jesus tells the healed man and his friends not to say anything to anyone. He had his reasons: he did not want to be mistaken for a magician. However, they resist; they are not able to be quiet about what they have seen, and, immediately, they begin to speak about it to everyone. The discovery of the love of Christ, the beauty of knowing Him, is the motor of our mission.

For the love of Christ compels us, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, that those who live might live no longer for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised (2Cor 5:14-15).

The love of Christ compels us. The Greek verb, synechein, has many different meanings. It could be translated: the love of Christ pushes us, possesses us, urges us, assails us, claims us, sequesters us! Our mission is born from this discovery of an overwhelming love that gives our life a new direction. The new creature, in fact, the creature healed by Christ, is a man who lives no longer for himself but for Christ. Mission does not spring from our greatness or our capability; it is born from the power of the love of Christ that reaches us in a human companionship, and gives us the certainty and the courage that come from being a son, from the discovery of the Father who holds our life in His hands and in His heart.

Pictured: a detail of a fresco in the Abbey of Sant’Angelo in Formis in Capua.

 

 

[1]Benedict XVI Homily in Munich, Sunday, 10 September 2006

[2] G. Biffi, Riconciliazione nella verità, Piemme 1984, 14. Our translation.

[3] L. Giussani, Alla ricerca del volto umano, Rizzoli, Milano 1995, 72. Translation ours.

[4] Cfr. L. Giussani and G. Testori. The Meaning of Birth, Slant Books, Seattle, 2021.

[5] Cfr. M. Camisasca, Lesson, Vacation of the Fraternity of St. Charles. Sauze d’Oulx, July 27, 2009.

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