The story of the healing in this gospel is very intriguing in its graphic detail. Jesus takes the man aside – puts his finger in his ears - spits and touches the man’s tongue – groans as he looks up to heaven. Then he says EPHPHATHA, which, Mark says, means “Be opened.”

Can you recall the first time you heard the word, EPHPHATHA? If you have attended a baptism you have probably heard it. In the rite of Baptism, following the actual baptism in water, the anointing with oil, the bestowing of the white garment and the lighted candle, the Ephphata or Prayer over Ears and Mouth follows. The minister of the sacrament prays thus:

“The Lord Jesus made the deaf hear and the dumb speak. May he soon touch your ears to receive his word, and your mouth to proclaim his faith, to the praise and glory of God.”

So what happened? Why do we stumble around trying to receive the word of God and proclaim it in our lives? I would suggest that we have all amassed some wax in our ears since baptism and don’t hear well. This wax is the culture we live in which drowns out the word of God.

Listen to these words of Walter Brueggermann:

“The crisis in the American church has almost nothing to do with being liberal or conservative; it has everything to do with giving up on the faith and discipline of our Christian baptism and settling for a common generic American identity that is part patriotism, part consumerism, part violence, and part affluence.”

That sounds like an Old Testament prophet, doesn’t it? Actually, Brueggermann is a Protestant Old Testament scholar whose book, “The Prophetic Imagination” is a classic on the prophets.

Patriotism – consumerism – violence – affluence. Surely he must be speaking about other Christians, not us Catholics!

I won’t try to explain or defend his statement. Rather I prefer to try to share my own experience.

I grew up in a Catholic sub-culture; call it a ghetto if you wish. I had Protestant friends but our life was centered in the Catholic parish – religion, education, culture, social events, athletics. It all hung together. The reality of God in our midst was felt and taken for granted.

This is all gone now. Catholics have been absorbed into the main culture. We live in a secular state. This isn’t all bad. There is more tolerance, understanding of differences and a willingness to live and work with others who are different. We live now with what has been called a self-sufficient humanism. It is now believed by most people that we are essentially adequate to face the problems of life. There is only what we see and that’s all – that is enough. We don’t need help from another world. There is no need for God in such a worldview. And even less for a church. All this works well enough until the wall of self-sufficiency is breached in some tragedy or some overwhelming event that lays bare the illusion and immaturity of soul.

The current crisis in the Catholic Church will now send many away. Or it will make us open ourselves to a deeper reality and a stronger faith. Over fifty years have passed since the Jesuit theologian, Karl Rahner, predicted that the Christian of the future will be a mystic or not a Christian at all. I believe we have reached that point. Following Christ and seeking God now takes more than cultural Catholicism. It requires an inner, spiritual life, a mystical life in God.

What would this look like?

  • The Mystic knows that God cannot be known but that God can be and is experienced in the ordinary events of life.
  • The Mystic sees, in God, the unity of all reality. There is no “us and them,” black or white, Christian or Jew, gay or straight. We are all one in God.
  • The Mystic knows that God is still creating and is at the heart of all the material cosmos. We touch God in the things of the earth.
  • Likewise the Mystic trusts the sensual and, with reverence and awe, honors art, music, the body, sexuality and all that we touch and feel.
  • The Mystic, in coming closer to what God really is, will experience times of desert, emptiness, darkness, as the self-centered ego is surrendered for the love of God to embrace us in the depths of all that exists.
  • The Mystic, in knowing he/she is one with all, feels the pain of anyone who suffers, the earth that is polluted, the poor who are exploited.
  • Mysticism finally is the path to radical transformation and freedom as Jesus tried to tell us.

To sustain such a mystical life requires we belong to a community, and share with others who are saints and sinners. As Catholics we gather around the Eucharistic table because this is the sign of God’s presence to us, present all the time and everywhere. The Mass is a mystical event in which Christ transcends time and place to be with us, to feed us, to be one with us that we might be one with him and others. Around this table we are joined to all believers of all times and places, living and deceased, with the angels and saints, in an act of adoration of the one great mystery which is God.

We live in confusing times and the institutional church has let us down. It is time to take the wax out of our ears and open ourselves to hear the word of God in prayer and community, in how we live our daily lives. Ephphata, be opened!

Fr. Timothy J. Joyce, OSB, STL



Last Sunday, in a church in Georgia, a man stood up and addressed the priest. He said, “My son is about to receive his first communion. What can I say to him?”

I do not know what the priest responded. And I do not know what I would or could say. The crisis we are undergoing in the church is overwhelming. We are overcome with evil, sinfulness, suffering and betrayal. I have spent a good deal of time this past week reading various commentaries in the religious and secular press, blogs, and descriptions of depravity baseness. I have listened to a few people’s anger and resentment.

What can I possibly say? Maybe listening is the best thing I can do.

But, first of all, I am one with the victims in their pain and need for healing. There can be no cover-up. There must be no looking down on victims and telling them they bear blame as people have done. All of us, especially bishops should be ready to listen to those who come forth with stories of abuse.

Some things have to be done. Crimes deserve punishment. Sin may be forgiven but crime must be punished. The abuse of children and vulnerable adults has been a great crime. But the issues have been compounded by cover-up. Our bishops have failed us. A false sense of protecting the church and an old boy’s club solidarity have scandalized us. Complete openness on what has transpired in the local church, processes of accountability, recourse to higher authority and follow-through in acknowledging and acting on these failures must be brought about. Actions, not just words, are needed.

But something deeper has to be faced. In his message to the Catholics of the world, Pope Francis has once again denounced clericalism in the church. He has personally tried to change this culture, an attitude, but has faced much resistance. Clericalism is a mind-set of entitlement, superiority, exclusion, and abuse of power. Clericalism has been abetted by misogyny and homophobia. It has been expressed in authoritarian and harsh ways. Clericalism has been institutionalized since the Council of Trent in how our seminaries have been conducted, in the pastor–lay division in the parish, and the passivity of the laity.

Reforms are needed. The US Association of Catholic priests, a band of about 1000 priests that started meeting five years ago to promote the implementation of the Second Vatican Council has been crusading for the renewal of the formation for candidates to the priesthood, for ordination of married men to the priesthood, and women to the diaconate. There are such voices and hopefully these will increase.

Today’s gospel is poignantly relevant to us. Jesus addresses the few people who have remained with him after his bread of life discourse. “Do you also want to leave?” Peter answers him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Jesus, the bread of life, pours out his body and blood for us and asks us to do likewise. So many priests and bishops have failed to embrace this Jesus. In a sense they have walked away and chosen power over service.

I need to stand up for justice and the protection of the weak. I need to promote reforms of the church that call for transparency and accountability But I know I must also face the clericalism that I have accepted. I am complicit in all these issues. It is similar to my place in American society and the injustices of our culture. I am a white, educated male. All these have brought privileges. I have imbibed white superiority over blacks, men’s superiority over women.

In the same way we have all bought into the system. So many Catholics have been passive and accepted what Father says, not thinking for themselves. Not only that, but they have contributed to coddling priests, ceding them privileges. Priests have easily eaten up a richer lifestyle whereas their real commitment to Christ calls for asceticism and a deep spiritual life of prayer. Celibacy is dangerous without an ascetical and spiritual life supported by friends and intimates. Priests and laity need other in an adult, mature relationship.

Write to the bishops, to priests. Speak up. Invest your time in knowing your faith more deeply. If the future reform of the church is to come from the laity, as many say, they must be an educated, mature laity. Fidelity to the gospel, not to American culture, has to be the center of reform.

There are countless good and holy priests, nuns and lay people throughout the world. There are heroic people ministering to the poor, to the homeless, to refugees – in Gaza, in Iraq, on our American borders. We belong to a universal church. It is the body of Christ. We need to renew this church in the vision of the head, Jesus Christ. The Pope writes to us, “Without the participation of the People of God, the church becomes small elites, creating groups, projects, theological and spiritual approaches and structures without roots, without memory, without faces, without bodies.”

The present crisis could be a watershed in the church, a time of enlightened reform. One church historian has said it is the greatest crisis in the church since the Protestant reformation. It is only in commitment to Jesus that we will avoid cynicism, despair and find healing for our anger and guilt and blame.

Will you also walk away? To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.

Fr. Timothy J. Joyce, OSB, STL