By Father Patrick Longalong
Growing up in an open adoption allowed me to spend time with my natural family who lived not too far away from our house. When school was out, I would sometimes stay with my birth family and get to know my three brothers. It was during these visits that I got close to a man that I call “Lolo Dadong” (Grandpa Dadong) even though he is not really related to me.
Grandpa was known by many to have hearing problems because of his old age. Even though you had to repeat yourself many times for him to understand what you were saying, you could not doubt his awareness of what was happening around him and the many people that lived in town.
I often saw him trying to fix some broken equipment or just sitting quietly outside our house, people watching. Many people knew to ask him if they needed to find where a person lived or some information about the history of the town. He would also be asked by many to help mediate between two arguing people, since they knew he would be honest and not take any sides.
This weekend’s Gospel took us on a journey with Jesus to a place predominantly inhabited by the Gentiles. It was in this place that he encountered a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment. The speech impediment should not come as a surprise since the man had no way of clearly hearing the true sound of someone speaking. His visual observation of what people were doing around him was his primary way of learning how to do things. Maybe it was for this reason that Jesus decided to take him aside away from the crowd so the man could only focus on him and the miracle that was about to happen.
The word “ephphatha” was explicitly defined by the gospel writer as “be opened.” It was in this command that Jesus liberated him from personal and social isolation. He can, at last, be able to hear clearly not just the sounds around him but God’s voice constantly inviting us to live a holy life.
His freedom from being imprisoned in his inmost self is the opportunity he needed to clearly speak the language of love that he wasn’t able to communicate from his heart.
This event is so important the Church incorporates it into the Rite of Baptism when the priest or deacon touches the mouth and ears of the newly baptized person while saying the same word, “ephphatha.” It is in this part of the baptismal ritual that we are taught we breathe the Holy Spirit whom Jesus called upon when he “looked up to Heaven and groaned.”
Grandpa Dadong did not finish college, nor did he have an impressive career. In fact, he worked for many years at our family’s bakery making simple bread that people bought for breakfast. But he was the wisest person I knew in his ability to communicate clearly, without even using words, the importance of love, compassion, loyalty to one’s friend, and generosity, simply by his actions and the way he lived his life. He was hard of hearing but he knew exactly what you needed and what to do just by looking at you, without hesitation or bias. In our world today, we seem to fall short in our ability to welcome everyone as we should.
Somehow, in our attempt to be inclusive we tend to create more categories creating outsiders and insiders. How many times have we seen groups that claim to be open to everyone but only until someone has a different opinion? The second reading from the letter of James instructs us to “show no partiality as you adhere to the faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ.”
May this weekend’s Scripture readings allow us to be in tune and open to accept people without discrimination so that we may become better witnesses to God’s love.
Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Father Longalong is the pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes, Queens Village, and coordinator of the Ministry to Filipino Immigrants.