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Ordained in 2011, Father Friel served for five years as Parochial Vicar at St. Anselm Parish in Northeast Philly. He is currently studying toward an STL in sacred liturgy at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
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"When a friend speaks of his accomplishments and triumphs, he stands at a distance from our heart. When he shares his weaknesses and failings, he’s very near."
— Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen

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Ephphetha
published 14 September 2012 by Fr. David Friel

I vividly remember the first Baptism I ever performed. I had been ordained a transitional deacon just a week or two earlier, and I was scheduled to baptize one child that day. It was at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church in Doylestown, the parish where I was raised, and the baby’s name was going to be “Dylan.” Fortunately for me, I realized about three minutes before the Baptism began that Dylan . . . was a girl!

I remember that Baptism so vividly because, to be honest, it was only the second Baptism I ever attended, other than my own. I’m the youngest of four children, my only niece so far was born just last year, and I didn’t grow up with any younger cousins. So, since I was really the youngest in the family, I never had any occasion to go to a Baptism.

One of the prayers in the Baptismal ritual that has struck me ever since that day is an option right at the end of the ceremony. The prayer says this: “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 the Father.” As the priest (or deacon) prays that prayer, he touches his thumb to the baby’s lips and ears. (I remember that vividly, too, because Dylan tried to bite my thumb!) What a beautiful prayer this is, symbolically asking that the senses of the child might be open to receive the Gospel message.

Obviously, this prayer has its roots in the healing story of Mark, chapter 7, which we heard on Sunday. In fact, the prayer is even called the Ephphetha prayer, after the Hebrew word Jesus uttered to command the senses of the deaf-mute man to “be opened.” Is this an amazing miracle? Certainly. But the story is about much more than just the physical healing of one deaf-mute man. It is a story that concerns every one of us. But, “We’re not deaf and mute,” we might protest. Or are we?

For sure, there are times when we wish we were deaf. Every time I hear the song, Call Me Maybe, I wish I was deaf! But, are there times we actually are—really, truly—deaf?

We may be basically good, church-going people, but it’s probably true of all of us that we can sometimes be deaf to the needs of those around us.
• Are we as husbands and fathers sometimes deaf to our wives and children and their need for our strength & compassion?
• Are we as wives and mothers sometimes deaf to our husbands and children and their need for affirmation & affection?
• Are we as children sometimes deaf to the simple requests of our parents and teachers?
• Can all of us turn a deaf ear to the in-laws & crazy cousins & chatty neighbors who bother and frustrate us, rather than extending a listening ear?
• Perhaps we like to be deaf to the poor around us—the homeless folks we drive by, the immigrants we see on TV, and the aging parents we choose not to visit.

In addition to our deafness, I suspect there are ways we all allow ourselves to become mute.
• It can be as simple as the famous scene in the cafeteria, in this first week of school: do we extend an invitation to the loner to sit at our table?
• Are we quick to give compliments, or do we hold back our praise?
• We’ve learned so much this past year about the scandal and destruction that comes from being silent about abuse, rather than doing the right thing and speaking up.
• Do we have the courage to take a public stand against injustices like abortion and euthanasia and same-sex partnerships?
• Maybe someone in our family struggles with addiction, but we just can’t get up the gumption to confront them, and instead we become a mute enabler.

Our Blessed Lord wants us to know that to be physically deaf or physically mute is not some arch-evil. I’ve known several people who are deaf or mute or blind, and I know they would testify that they live very happy and fulfilling lives. The far greater tragedy is when we allow our hearts to be deaf and our consciences to be muted.

As the minister prayed over us on the day of our own Baptism: May the Lord Jesus touch our ears to receive His Word and our mouths to proclaim His faith, to the praise and glory of God the Father!