Welcome to sackcloth, ashes and hairshirts! However, if this is your chosen Lenten garb, remember that you need the permission of your regular confessor! Personally I would never allow it...
This previous Sunday (05 August) I was supplying a Mass where the Pastor is away on holiday, and ended my sermon with the words “… and accept that the really courageous thing to do is begin again.” I mention this because there is a real need for the Christian disciple to be ENCOURAGED! The Gospel is GOOD NEWS, and we need to hear, receive, and welcome it.
We are surrounded by the news through all forms of the media, and so much of it seems to be bad, depressing, and discouraging. I have often wondered why it is that really good news seldom appears as headlines? Is there something in our contemporary society which expects the world to be bleak and filled with wearisome details of lifes failures? I do NOT believe that this is a part of Jesus plan for us.
How often do the headlines of our morning newspapers (what we wake up to!) tell us, for example, that an unknown deaf man, with an impediment to his speech, has suddenly been released from this CAPTIVITY? Would that news even make a small column at the bottom of the page four?
Yet, this SUNDAYS GOSPEL EXTRACT [MARK 7: 31 – 37] tells us that the people “zealously proclaimed it.” Do we, you and I, and the Church Itself, sufficiently proclaim the JOY of the Gospel, and its liberating effect in and for our lives? Good news encourages.
We need encouragement and the news that we CAN courageously begin again.
The scripture extracts this Sunday fit the bill perfectly. In addition, some weeks ago I mentioned the value of the ENTRANCE ANTIPHON which, this week, proclaims “you are just, Lord … treat your servant in accord with your merciful love.”
The opening words of the Old Testament Reading [ISAIAH 35: 4 – 7a] provides the foundation. “Say to those who are of fearful heart, Be strong, fear not.” Bombardment with bad news easily becomes debilitating, and we begin to be programmed by apprehension, pessimism and fear. Then we become captives (victims?) of our own negativity. “Say to those …” – – let us begin by saying it to ourselves. It is only when I refuse, as an individual, to be imprisoned by the contemporary obsession with badness that I begin to experience that my blindness will be opened, the deafness of my ears unstopped, and my lameness transformed into the ability to leap. It follows, then, that my mute tongue will “sing for joy.” Why? For the simple reason that negativity only breeds negative reactions, while only the positive results in experiencing that “waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert.” How good are we in the habit of seeing water in the wilderness, and streams in the desert?
The Gospel verses have something of particularimportance to tell us.
The man held captive by the impediments of speech and hearing was publicly brought to Jesus. However, the Lord takes the man “aside from the multitude.” There, privately, occurs a PERSONAL ENCOUNTER. The individual concerned was not in need of some sort of public exposure. HE had to be released from HIS captivity. Something had to happen TO HIM. Yes, Jesus wanted to cure him – wanted him released. True freedom from his captivity would only be achieved if the man encountered Christ. Indeed Jesus Christ was – AND IS – the Good News. Jesus was not interested in a public spectacle. What he really intended was to do something very personal and particular TO the man. This was achieved by doing something, one-on-one, for him. We are only able to proclaim the Good News when we have experienced it personally.
It is in this context that TODAYS PSALM  begins to challenge us. “The Lord opens … raises … loves … protects … upholds.” I have to recognise, believe and accept that he does this TO me, and not merely for me. This is the Good News!
In addition, do not overlook the word EPHPHATHA. “Be opened.” We must be open to GOOD NEWS! Look for and seek it. Then, as the Psalm tells us we are no longer prisoners – but set free.