Mass of the Twenty-Third Sunday of the Year
6 September 2015
St. Macartan’s Cathedral, 10.30am
My dear friends,
My name is James. Since I was completely deaf, I was deprived of most of what you take for granted. I couldn’t hear the shouts of children at play, the singing of birds nor the sound of the wind in the trees. I could not hear words of comfort, encouragement or advice. Few take the trouble even to try to communicate with the deaf. They feel awkward about it. It is too tedious an exercise for most people. I felt very isolated. I could not explain myself and couldn’t express my feelings. I had to bite my lip when insensitive people made fun at my expense.
I could not contribute anything worthwhile to the community. That left me feeling useless and in the way. To be handicapped is to be different. Some people are afraid of the handicapped. I often got the message from ignorant people that handicap is a punishment from God. If this were so, that would have been the end of God for me. I was full of self-pity. I craved for affection and for touch, for someone to hug me or even rest a reassuring hand on my shoulder. There did not seem to be anybody about who understood me or who pitied me. I cried often.
I had heard a lot of mention of Jesus Christ. He was a Jew. I was a gentile. It never even occurred to me, the thought of approaching him. Members of my family got it across to me that he was a prophet and that he cured and healed all manner of people whether they were Jews or Gentiles. A few of my friends persuaded me to allow them to take me to him. I was reluctant at first and then I began to say to myself – why not give it a try? I had no idea things could turn out as they did. The first thing Jesus did was to take me away from the crowds. That was a huge relief. He seemed to prefer peace and quiet but he got little of either himself.
When we were away from the crowd you could get and give full attention. He made you feel that you were important to him. It protected you from the scoffers and the curious. I don’t think he spoke to me at all at first. He touched me and his touch was warm and gentle. He touched me on the ear and on the tongue. He raised his eyes to the sky; I think he was talking to God. I learned afterwards that he called God his father and was very close to him. I am told he then said “Be opened.” Suddenly my ears were opened and I could also talk freely in a sort of a way. At first my friends and family had difficulty in understanding what I was trying to say. Jesus told me to keep quiet about it all and to tell no one what happened. That would have been very difficult.
There was so much bottled up inside me that I had to babble away and to sing or attempt to sing. I could not keep quiet about it. My life had been turned upside down. I had been given back my life. I could live now, do things and be of some use to others. Jesus was the most extraordinary human being I ever came across. He did all this for me and asked for nothing in return. He just told me to pray, not to sin and to have faith. I did not know what it meant to have faith and I’m not sure that I do even now. Whatever about understanding this, I believe in him and in the God he talks to because they changed my life completely and for the better.
Bit by bit I began to realise that I was doing all the talking, if you could call it that. I began to realise that I was annoying people and even hurting them because I was babbling and not what they call listening. It took me longer to learn how to listen than to learn to speak a few words. The first thing I learned was that if I was to listen, I had to stop talking. That was the most difficult lesson of all but, later, I came to realise that it was the most important lesson of all.
I could now learn a lot of helpful and interesting things. I discovered that there were a lot of reasons why some people found it difficult to talk or to listen – shyness, lack of trust, betrayal, lack of interest. Some people are prejudiced, some have been so badly hurt that they find it difficult to trust others to talk to them about themselves. It surprised me to learn that there are people who have ears that are healthy yet they have not learned to listen; that there are others who have tongues but who, for one reason or another, may not be able to speak when they need to or want to.
After I was cured, I spent a lot of time listening to the one who healed me – Jesus Christ. That’s where I learned most of the best of what I know. I came to realise the link between the mind, the heart, hearing and speaking. I came to realise that the heart and mind direct the ear and the tongue. I learned a lot of what seemed to be extraordinary and even contradictory lessons. I did not realise until then that to be born deaf and effectively dumb was not the greatest tragedy. Without a mind that is fed on wisdom and without a heart that is filled with compassion, we will never be able to use our ear or our tongue in the way God wanted us to. It is only with a healthy mind that we can speak as God intended and it is only with a compassionate heart that we can listen as God intended. The man who touched my ear and my tongue, this same Jesus Christ saved me. He also touched my mind and my heart and it was above all this which made me whole and renewed my life. That was the real miracle.
+Liam S. McDaid
Bishop of Clogher
6 September 2015