Taking Scripture to heart | Persons, places and things

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By Barb Arland-Fye
Editor

When we make the sign of the cross with our thumb on our forehead, then on our lips and then over our heart at the introduction to the Gospel, I feel my heart stirring. Father Apo Mpanda, pastor of Our Lady of the River Parish in LeClaire, reminded us during Mass Feb. 11 of the meaning of this physical action, weaving his explanation into his homily for the day’s Gospel.

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As we sign ourselves, “We are encouraged to pray ‘May the Word of the Lord be on my mind, on my lips and in my heart,’” Father Apo said. “These external actions represent our desire for the word of God to fill us completely, so that nothing but that word will inspire our words, thoughts, desires and actions. It is a sign of truly opening ourselves before listening to the Scripture.”

In the Gospel for that day, Mark 7:31-37, we hear about the people of the Decapolis bringing to Jesus a man who is deaf and has a speech impediment. They beg Jesus to lay his hand on the man. Jesus takes the man off by himself, away from the crowd, puts his finger into the man’s ears and, spitting, touches his tongue. Looking up to heaven, Jesus groans and says to the man, “Ephphatha!” (“Be opened!”). The man’s ears open, his speech impediment is gone and he speaks plainly. Although Jesus orders the people not to tell anyone, they proclaim widely what has happened. “He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

“The story of a deaf man in today’s Gospel is a story of openness and faith,” Father Apo said. “The deaf man asks the Lord Jesus to heal him and the Lord says ‘Ephphatha,’ meaning, be opened. The deaf man opened himself to Jesus and he could hear and was able to talk correctly without impediment. The lesson for us today is to let ourselves be open to the word of God in our lives. We are called to receive it and live it with our lives.”

Father Apo’s homily left an impression on me because our diocese is encouraging listening sessions and conversations this winter and spring for Synod 2021-2023, which is Pope Francis’ call to all Catholics to be a listening Church. The Holy Father wants us to journey together, seeking God’s will and “deeper communion, fuller participation, and greater openness to fulfilling our mission in the world” (Vandecum for the Synod on Synodality).

Being reminded why I sign my forehead, lips and heart at the introduction to the Gospel, coupled with the story of the man whose eyes were opened and his speech impediment removed, was an epiphany for me. Sometimes, I am that person, particularly during times of frustration or distractedness.

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As I strive to be present to Christ in the proclamation of the Gospel, I must strive to be present to Christ in the people he places in my life and in conversations and listening sessions. I am grateful for the reminder of the physical sign that opens my eyes, my lips and my heart to God’s call.

(Contact Barb Arland-Fye at arland-fye@davenportdiocese.org)


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