Sunday Sermon for September 9, 2012, the Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary time, Year B

Readings: Is 35:4-7a; Jas 2:1-5; Mk 7:31-37

In the first reading today God tells us through the Prophet Isaiah that those who are frightened should be strong and not fear. We live in a world where there is a lot of fear in the hearts of people. We fear that there will be a war, perhaps an economic collapse, a depression worse than the 1930’s, and so on. Families are in trouble and people live in fear of being abandoned. Crime rates are skyrocketing causing many people to be nervous about their security. The list could go on for quite a while.

We need to ask, in the face of these kinds of things, why we should not be afraid. In fact, it seems that there is good reason to be afraid. The answer is clear and simple: “Here is your God, He comes with vindication; with divine recompense He comes to save you.” The question we are all left to ponder is whether or not we believe this. After all, we could conjecture, God has allowed horrible things to happen to people in the past. Even now, a brief check with the news broadcasts will tell you that tragic things continue to happen. Therefore, we conclude, God will not be there to save us.

It is precisely this lack of faith that brings about the problems in the first place. We somehow think that God should do whatever we want, just because we snapped our finger and told Him to do it. When He does not do what we want, when we want, we lose faith and trust in God and turn, instead, to our own self. That is the most foolish thing we can do, but it is also the most natural. I do not have to look very far to find the person who has let me down the most and has proven to be the most untrustworthy of all: it is me. Still, in our foolishness, we still think we can trust ourselves.

God says that He will open the eyes of the blind and that the lame will leap like a stag; the ears of the deaf will be cleared and tongue of the mute will sing. In the Gospel reading we see Jesus healing a man who was both deaf and dumb. It is by the power of God that this was accomplished. However, we might ask, what good did it do for the people of Isaiah’s time who were supposed to wait for the Lord to save them?

God may not have saved the people from the immediate trouble they were in, but He saved them in a far greater and more important way. Rather than sparing their lives so that they could live a few more years in this world, the Lord saved their souls so they they could live for eternity in Heaven. Often, this does not seem to be acceptable to us because we want something immediate.

If we focus only on the short term, not seeing what God is doing or trying to cooperate with Him, we may be condemning ourselves to long term suffering in return for short term relief. If may seem pretty good at the time, but we often regret if for the rest of our lives.

It is this kind of blindness that we need to ask the Lord to heal. We need our ears to hear God’s Word and our tongues to speak His praise. Perhaps the very things we are afraid of are the means by which God is healing us. I often marvel at the grossness of the Gospel reading today when our Lord puts His fingers in the man’s ears and spits on His tongue. He could have just commanded the man to be healed, but sometimes what is best is something more difficult, complex, or even something we consider gross or disgusting.

Each of us needs to ask God to show us where we are blind. I suppose that it should be obvious that we are blind to the areas of our own blindness. The people St. James wrote to in the second reading were blind to the dignity and equality of each person, favoring the rich while shunning the poor. They needed to have their eyes opened to see the truth. What about us? Do we really want to know the truth? Do we want to see the things to which we have willfully blinded ourselves? Do we really want to hear the things we have chosen to ignore? God may be trying to heal us, but we may be expecting Him to do something very different. We need to let go of our fear and our selfish ideas, and ask God for the grace to see what He is doing, to hear His Word and to speak His praise.

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit