YEAR B: HOMILY FOR THE 23RD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
HOMILY THEME: “He has done everything well; He even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.” (Mark 7:37)
BY: Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC
A singular verse in the gospel passage we hear today captured me, transporting me to the long ago day when, with a group of bystanders, I, too, would profess, “He has done everything well; He even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.” (Mark 7:37)
I have a vague remembrance of being hauled to a speech therapist when I was a youngster because I was afflicted with a stutter. The speech therapist informed my parents that my brain was trying to communicate faster than my mouth could formulate the words. The resulting gibberish was a humiliating affliction but also a cause for some pride, the therapist advising my parents that I was intelligent and creative, and once my brain and mouth agreed to work together, all would be well. I’d pretty much forgotten about that painful childhood experience until, some years back, Bernard came to the hospital’s pastoral care office looking for me.
With a knock on the partly-open door, I looked up to see him: middle-aged, rotund, bearded and smiling warmly at me. As I stood up from my desk, hand outstretched in welcome, he spoke. “Ffffffathththter, will you hear my confffffffessio n” “Yes, please come in,” I offered as I pointed to a nearby chair and closed the office door. I continued by introducing myself and offered my hand once again, he taking my hand in another shake and introducing himself. "My name is Berberberbernard. I jjjjust moved here." A painfully long confession followed, me on the edge of my chair trying to coax the words out of him. Bernard seemed far more comfortable with his stutter than I was. I’m sure he knew what discomfort it was causing me. Then something dramatic happened.
A few days after that tortured confession, I saw Bernard sitting in the front pew of the hospital chapel just before noontime Mass was to begin. These daily Masses usually drew a small, devout congregation, and our efforts to sing without organ accompaniment were passable enough. Standing before the congregation that day, I announced the opening hymn and, as I threw forth a beginning note in the hope that others would pick it up, I heard the most beautiful rich tenor voice—Bernard’s
As he continued to sing, other voices in the congregation dropped out so as not to taint the beautiful sound arising from the front pew. By verse three of the hymn, it was just Bernard and me, he not even aware that the others had stopped to listen. Ending the hymn and closing the book, he looked up at me with no awareness whatever of what had just happened.
Speaking with him after Mass in the sacristy about what I’d just heard, we engaged in a now- familiar volley. “Bernard, what a beautiful voice you have!” His lips began quavering before words came forth, “Ththththtanks, Ffffather. I’ve sung in profffffessional chorales all myyyyy life.” I continued, “Speaking is difficult for you, but your singing is like something from heaven.” Smiling and taking my hand, he humbled me with his insight: “It’s hard ffffffor me to talk to ppppppeople, but wwwwhen I sing, I’m talking ttttttto God.”
For several years, until he moved away, Bernard continued to seek me out for stuttering confessions, and we continued to meet at noontime Mass. Gregarious by nature, in spite of his speech difficulty, Bernard quickly became known to the other Mass-goers, and painful, halting conversations with him were often heard outside the chapel before and after Mass. But when he sang, so beautiful was his voice that we knew God was as enraptured by the sound as were we. As his sonorous tenor voice encompassed us, it seemed to lift to heaven the limitations and afflictions we all labored under. And when the echo of his last note finished bouncing off the back wall of the chapel, he’d smile at us, and we knew that God was surely smiling on us too.