“Be Opened!”

Alfred Pang

Today’s post is from guest contributor Alfred Pang. Alfred is a teacher and independent scholar. He takes an active interest in the faith formation of Catholic school educators and leaders, and writes on Lasallian spirituality. He has a PhD in Theology and Education from Boston College. 

Today’s liturgical readings for the Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time can be found by clicking here.

God longs to heal us with a healing that liberates and restores us to wholeness. In today’s Gospel, Jesus incarnates this longing by healing a deaf person with a speech impediment. “Ephphatha” – “Be opened!” says Jesus, as he puts his finger into this person’s ears and touches his tongue with spit. This bodily encounter provokes a visceral reaction from many. What also captures my attention is the sequence: the opening of ears is followed by the return of speech. God’s healing toward wholeness is connected to how we are listening to ourselves and others.

Metaphorically, the experience of being unable to hear or to speak as I would like resonates with me. As a gay Catholic, it is hard to hear the Good News of God’s radically inclusive love in a church that still does not recognize the fruitfulness of same-sex love as worthy of blessing. LGBTQ people are still viewed as a crisis to be managed, rather than as gift to be welcomed as we are.

Discrimination in the form of LGBTQ people being unfairly dismissed from jobs in schools, parishes and other Catholic organizations makes it even harder to hear God’s Good News. Such actions not only stymie us from hearing the whisper of God’s hope, but they unleash fear that silences us as LGBTQ Catholics. It tells me that no matter how committed I am to serving God’s people in ministry, I am somewhat not good enough. In the face of such discouragement, it is easier to shut out and shut down to numb one’s pain.

Yet, Jesus says to you and me: “Be opened!” His call comes not in an imperceptible way but as a groan, as if sharing in the depths of our pain.

Be opened to hear God’s faithfulness, to which Isaiah was tasked to prophesy in the First Reading: “Here is your God, he comes with vindication; with divine recompense he comes to save you” (35:4).

Be opened to perceive once again the new thing that God’s Spirit is doing in assuaging the “thirsty ground” of our being with “springs of water.” (Is. 35:7)

Be opened to believe once again in God’s choice of us as “the poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom,” (Jas 2:5, Second Reading), transforming our marginality into a place for truth-telling.

Be opened to receive once again God as enduring love that releases us from the oppressive and disordered narratives of shame, inadequacy, and fear.

Be opened.

The healing power of these words lies in how they open my memory to remember the many people who have compassionately listened to me into wholeness. They are couples who have awakened me to the possibility of faithful same-sex love by the witness of their lives.

They are professors, colleagues, and friends who have encouraged me to give voice to my story as a gay Catholic and share it courageously with faith.

Most significantly, they are my parents, who, in loving me from the start, have accepted me unconditionally when I first came out to them. God sent and continues to send people through whom I hear once again the Good News of God’s unconditional love.

And sometimes, it is the wisdom of another tradition that helps me hear God again as the source of love and life. Recently, I have started to practice mindfulness and stumbled into the insights of Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk who also met with Martin Luther King Jr. in 1966 to speak out against war and build a movement of peace and nonviolence. One of his insights about mindfulness is that it is integral to deep listening as a practice of compassion that heals us to heal others.

In The Mindfulness Survival Kit, he writes:

“We can sit with ourselves, come home to ourselves, and listen to what emotions rise up without judging or interrupting them. We can listen to whatever thoughts come up as well, and then let them pass without holding onto them. Then, when we’ve spent some time listening to ourselves, we can listen to those around us.” [1]

My practice of mindfulness has led me to appreciate this insight. In being attentive to my breath during meditation, I am learning to hold open and gently emotions of anger and disappointment such that they do not consume me.

In a church where LGBTQ issues have become so emotionally charged and triggering, I have ironically found space to breathe in the practice and philosophy of another tradition. Mindfulness has cleared a space within me and opened my ears to hear God more clearly: You are my beloved in whom I am well pleased. Honor me by entrusting yourself to my care.

Indeed, God works in multiple mysterious ways but with the same desire of reaching into our hearts through our ears. Perhaps, a question that emerges from this Sunday’s readings is this: How might God be healing your hearing today, to listen to yourself and others in fresh ways that attune us to the spaciousness of God’s presence?

For those of us in the LGBTQ community who are discouraged and afraid, may our ears be opened to God’s words through Isaiah: “Be strong, fear not!” (35:4). May these words also be the balm that helps us speak boldly as wisdom-holders and truth-tellers, cooperating in God’s healing of our church who remains unable to heart and notably silent on the lives of LGBTQ people as whole, gifted and sent. Ephphatha. Be opened!

Alfred Pang, September 5, 2021

[1] Cited in https://www.stillwatermpc.org/dharma-topics/listening-deeply/

6 replies
  1. John Calhoun
    John Calhoun says:

    Thank you Dr. Pang for a Spirit-Blessed Post. At 83 as a life-long Catholic I’ve come to appreciate that the Church “as is” is not oriented to seeking and finding the Charisms of laypeople – where and how the Spirit actually creates “The Christ in You” and then enables you to discern the Lord’s ongoing presence guiding you as his disciple. I can be quite useful in parish ministries yet totally unknown personally. In the main, the professional Church takes interest if one shows evidence of wanting to join their number. This holds true not only for LGBTQ folks but is the case pretty much for all laity. Interest in the Christian’s growth in Spirit-inspired charisms isn’t there. Why? is worth discussing.

    Reply
  2. rodolfo c salinas Jr
    rodolfo c salinas Jr says:

    Dear Dr. Pang:
    Your reflections on today’s readings came up at
    the end of a tiring day. Talk about a “picker upper”
    I hope and pray that you continue your outreach
    work to all of God’s people not just the LGBTQ
    community. Remember how long it took for the
    church to condemn slavery, to allow
    Blacks into seminary and religious order. Finally to add one more item to the litany of infamy here goes one: If ever some deserved canonization after 9/11 it was Fr.
    Mychal Judge OFM the fire department chaplain who was the first to die in the line of duty that day. But his Franciscans brothers wouldnt advance the case leaving it to future Franciscans to make that decision. Articles such as yours bring light to the darkness. God bless you and keep up the good work. R C Salinas, Jr.

    Reply
  3. Diane DAngelo
    Diane DAngelo says:

    Buddhism was intrinsic to my recovery from the spiritual abuse I experienced in the Catholic Church. Once I got grounded there, I was more open to Catholic mystics like Thomas Merton.

    Reply
  4. H. John McDargh, Ph.D.
    H. John McDargh, Ph.D. says:

    Beautiful reflections Alfred.. .I recall vividly Thich Nhat Hahn speaking on my campus Emory University in Atlanta.. his quiet, gentle but brave witness against war was unforgetable. It was years later that I realized he had come South to visit Thomas Merton in Kentucky first..
    You are a teacher’s teacher my friend
    Courage
    John

    Reply

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