23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time: Gospel – Mk 7:31-37
“Spiritual Deafness – greatest tragedy ”

Preached by Msgr Philip Heng, SJ at Church of St Ignatius – Singapore
on 6 September 2015

In today’s Gospel that we just heard proclaimed, there is much significance in the event of Jesus curing the deaf man who had an impediment in his speech.  I would like us to reflect on it in relation to the living of our faith and our relationship with Jesus.

It is one of the greatest ironies of music that Beethoven, arguably the greatest composer, was deaf.  Beethoven appears to have had a progressive sensori-neural hearing loss that started off in the high tones and progressed until he became totally deaf.  Beethovan was born in 1770 and died in 1827 at the age of 57.  There is no evidence that he was deaf before the age of 26.  He first mentioned about his deafness in a letter written in 1801, to his friend Amenda.            

He shared, “. . . my ears sing and buzz continually, day and night.  I can truly say that I am living a wretched life.  For two years I have avoided almost all social gatherings because it is impossible for me to say to people, “I am deaf.”  If I belonged to any other profession it would be easier, but in my profession it is a frightful state . . . in the theatre I must get very close to the orchestra in order to understand the actor, and if I am a little distant, I do not hear the high tones of the instruments or singers.  It is curious that in conversation there are people who do not notice my condition at all; since I have generally been absent-minded, they account for it in that way.  Often I can scarcely hear someone speaking softly; the tones yes, but not the words.  However, as soon as anyone shouts it is intolerable.  Heaven knows what will happen to me.”


My brothers and sisters in Christ, Beethovan’s progressive deafness in many ways illustrate the great horrors of what we see happening in the secular world – the progressive lost of our sense of faith in God.  The cause of Beethoven’s deafness is subject to a great deal of medical speculation.  Likewise, the cause of our progressive loss of faith, hope and love for God in the world, especially in today’s secular society that we live in cannot also be easily pinpointed.

While Beethovan’s physical deafness was progressing, he was increasingly horrified at what would happen to his reputation as one of the world’s greatest composer of all time.  However, in contrast, the progressive loss of faith in God in our secular world today is fashionable.  Have we not heard of the common phrase, “I believe in God, but I do not believe in the manmade rules of a Church?”  In other words, such people are basically asserting that even as they want to believe that God exist, they are saying, “I want to live my life in my own way . . . don’t tell me how to live my life!  I have my freedom to choose what I want to do with my life.  If I feel like talking to God, I talk to God.  Don’t tell me that I have to go to Mass on Sundays.”

In short, my sisters and brothers in Christ, such loose thinking is essentially a “self-centred” way of thinking and living.  Freedom is not doing what I want, but living responsibly and facing the truth and reality that I live with others and I am not living alone on an island.  Thus; the needs of others and the common good has to be part of the ingredients of my choices.


Regardless of how I wish to celebrate life, I cannot drink, get drunk and drive at the same time.  I not only endangering my life in the over drinking, but also the lives of others in the driving. And rightly so, the person when caught will be charged and imprisoned if he were to kill someone on the road . . . If someone likes my 13 year old Nissan, which I doubt, can he simply drive it away without my permission?  Likewise, if someone says he truly loves his spouse, but continues to have extramarital affairs, he cannot be serious because he is clearly living an irresponsible life.  So also, if someone says that he believes in God, but refuses to heed the Church’s moral teachings on abortion, and the faith that we are to obey the Commandments and come to Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of obligation, then he too cannot be serious about God and his faith.  We cannot have our cake and it, so to speak.

Deafness is one of the most tragic illness of all times.  A deaf person is cut off from the world . . . and because he cannot hear anything, he also cannot hear himself, and thus cannot speak.  Deafness cuts us off from the world and in all probability, confine us in a world of loneliness and isolation and even depression.  Not to be able to relate to people meaningfully and to hear the world around us is like a “dead man walking.”

That is why as Beethovan struggled with the horrors of his deafness he told Amenda his friend, “Amenda, I beg you to keep the matter of my deafness a profound secret; to be confided to nobody, no matter whom.”  While Beethovan was struggling with the crises of his progressive deafness he was very conscious of it.  He was totally helpless . . . even though he wanted to do something about it.

However, in contrast, while our secular world is aware of the progressive loss of their faith in God, they do not consider it a crisis.  On the contrary, the secular world has even made it, fashionable not to go to Church and not to obey her moral teachings.  That is why we Catholics are often embarrassed to tell our friends that we are going to Church, or do not believe that abortion is killing, or make the sign of the Cross before meals in public . . . we are embarrassed about God . . .!


My brothers and sisters in Christ, while physical deafness is horrifying as it can isolate us from others and the world, spiritual deafness is infinitely more tragic because it isolates us from the God who created us and given us our existence and life on earth.  And, this God who has created us, desires that we hear His Voice and heed His promptings the Gospel, that offers eternal life and happiness.  The tragedy of the spiritual deafness in our secular world today is the arrogance and pride that we can live without God, and that even if there is God, He is not to interfere with the choices I make.

The sadness about such human arrogance and pride of the secular world is the failure to recognise that the “self-centredness” of the human person and his claim of power are all frivolous and at most futile fantasy.  If God, our Creator were simply to switch off the supply of oxygen on this planet earth . . . all human beings and living organism and plants will die and disintegrate within a few minutes.  If this is the reality of our human fragility, what power and pride are we talking about?

Human arrogance and pride was first initiated by our First Parent, Adam and Eve.  They lost the perfect peace of paradise and true freedom when they rebelled against God.  In all of human history, even though Jesus has been sent as the Messiah to save us . . . Human history does not seem to have learnt the true lesson of what life is truly about.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus took the deaf man aside in private, away from the crowd, put His fingers into the man’s ears and touched his tongue with spittle. Then looking up to heaven He sighed; and He said to him, “Ephphatha” that is, “Be opened.”  And his ears were opened, and the ligament of his tongue was loosened and he spoke clearly.


My sisters and brothers in Christ, as I conclude, let us remind ourselves that Jesus in today’s Gospel is calling you and I to face the reality of our finiteness and fragility as human persons.  You and I are called to be humble.  Let us not allow the influence of secularism to distort our thinking.  And if so, let us swallow our pride and calm our arrogance.  Let us reaffirm our faith and reverence God as the Almighty God of our lives and the universe.  He has sent His Son to redeem us and forgive us of all the sins we have been committing in our lives.  Let us be grateful to God and not take His Mercy and Compassionate Love for granted.

Today, through the Gospel, that we heard proclaimed, Jesus who healed the deaf man and his impediment in his speech also desires to say to you and to me, “Ephphatha” . . . “Be opened”.  We know that if we are able to hear clearly, we will also be able to speak rightly.  Let us allow God’s Spirit to whisper His Words of Wisdom into our ears in our daily living so we are no longer deaf to His Voice.  Let us then also allow Jesus’ Spirit to remove the impediments of our tongue so that we can also then speak His Words of Wisdom that brings greater peace to our family, homes and the world.

(cf. “Beethoven’s Deafness”, presented at the Symposium on the Psychology of Medical and Acousties, Lawrence, Kansas, Feb. 20, 1989.)
Msgr Philip Heng,S.J.

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