Mark’s Gospel passage, read on a recent weekend, featured an account of Jesus trumpeting a single, stand-alone, and rare word to cure a deaf person – EPHPHATHA. It’s the key word of that story. It means “Be opened. Open up.” It made me think of my experience of ears plugged with wax. They had to be opened up. Perhaps you have had that experience too.
Mark’s account of Jesus’ healing made me think of a hymn we often sing:
· Open my eyes, Lord. Help me to see your face.
· Open my ears, Lord, help me to hear your voice.
· Open my heart, Lord, help me to love like you.
Too often I close-up my ears, eyes, and heart by myself when I don’t want to hear, see, or feel. That’s when I need to encounter Jesus and hear him say to me: EPHPHATHA.
With Jesus Pope Francis is calling us to open our eyes, ears, and hearts in this time of great challenge to the well-being of our planet, earth, our common home. He is calling us each year to celebrate a Season of Creation, not unlike our Advent-Christmas and Lent-Easter Seasons and though not liturgical, a whole month from September 1 to October 4, the feast of St. Francis of Assisi.
Here’s how this special Season came about:
- In 1989 the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, now Istanbul, saw what was happening to planet earth and made the first day of the Orthodox Liturgical Year – September 1 -- a day of Prayer for Creation.
- Pope St. John Paul II & Benedict 16 and now Pope Francis all joined the Ecumenical Patriarch in that concern over the damage being to our common home.
- In 2003 September 1 became a global interfaith and interreligious day of prayer by Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant Christians, Hindus and Muslims, Sikhs and others. They too were seeing what was happening and sounded the call.
- Now September 1 has expanded into an annual Season of Creation, an extended period of time to celebrate creation, appreciate it more deeply, thank God for it, while also committing ourselves more deeply to seeing and hearing and experiencing what’s happening, determined to do what we can to take better care of what God has entrusted to us.
- Pope Francis had much to do with developing this special Season. His Encyclical titled Laudato Si –praise the creator of Mother Earth, Brother Sun and Sister Moon, etc. -- called us all to observe this Season. It has taken strong hold on six continents where Christians are active.
The issue is important because over time our human family seems to have taken seriously Genesis 1’s affirmation of humanity’s “dominion” over our planet, but less seriously our Creator’s Genesis 2 call to humankind to till the earth, “cultivate and care for it.”
Many of us are blessed to be involved in responding to the call of God in Genesis 2 – tilling the earth, cultivating it, and caring for it. But other forces in our world don’t care and have neglected care, exercising dominance and doing to our planet what they please, destructive as their ambitions may be. It’s pretty clear now that all of us everywhere are suffering from the careless and abusive domination others are exercising, even by us. Our collective neglect of planet earth in some ways and our collective abuse of it in others is resulting in the problems our planet is now facing – climate change, polluted air and water, higher temperatures, fiercer fires, stronger hurricanes, rising oceans, etc. Think California, Nevada, New Orleans, New Jersey, New York, New England – all that in just the last week. Seventy millions of our global brothers and sisters are migrating around our planet these days, many of them because climate change is making their long-time home unlivable. Hearing all that should be our Ephphatha moment, opening all of us up.
The issue of climate change has been debated over the past 40 years as a problem that became more and more recognized, especially by scientists. Today few are arguing against the scientific conclusion that we need to change our ways or the environment in which life flourishes is going to become more and more deadly.
If you are not yet tuned in, hear God say to you “EPHPHATHA.”
In 2015, Pope Francis issued Laudato Si’, an encyclical that calls us to care for our common home. He did so just a few months prior to most nations of the world signing on to a UN Paris Climate Agreement that all nations need to mend our ways. Collectively we haven’t done enough, perhaps because our ears, eyes, and hearts are plugged. That’s why the fires, floods, hurricanes, etc. are getting worse and more destructive. A follow-up meeting to that agreement will take place in Glasgow, Scotland in November. We need to pay attention, listen, take to heart, and pray. Pope Francis may show up there in-person because he cares about us, future generations, God’s creation.
In that regard the problem is becoming worse and requires that we all become part of the work that needs to be done to assure that today’s children and their grandchildren will have a livable place to grow and develop. Many among us as a population have not sufficiently opened up to what is happening. Recent events should have opened our need to working more fully with God in caring for the Creator’s work.
It might help to ask ourselves some questions from simple to more demanding things:
- Am I living a simple and sustainable lifestyle rather than one that is exhausting earth’s resources by our constant consumption? Francis asks us to pray specifically about that all through September, this Season of Creation.
- Am I creating too much trash?
- Am I using too much plastic and throwing it away, contributing to the pollution of our oceans and the animals that live there, including the fish we eat?
- Am I using more gas than I need to, driving around more than I need to, knowing that the fumes that leave my tail-pipes are damaging our environment?
- Am I indifferent to the destruction of important forests like the Amazon and the Congo that breathe oxygen into our atmosphere so we can get and eat more meat from animals that let loose in the atmosphere more and more methane, especially cows? Methane is 8 times as climate destructive as carbon.
- Am I responding to the Creator’s call in Genesis 2 to “cultivate and care for” this garden where we live.
It’s interesting that today’s youth are quite sensitive to what is going on. Their eyes and ears and hearts are more open than are those of many older folks. They see it and get it and they are working to align their labors with God’s work so our planet can flourish and they on it. Think of how a young girl from Sweden, Greta Thunberg, has gained a global following by herself pleading with today’s leaders and demanding that they redress what is happening. She saw it when she was six or less. That drove her into silence. She became mute until she started to raise her voice at 11 or 12 because she felt the problem so deeply. Do I? Do you?
If we find ourselves today with eyes closed, ears plugged and hearts disregarding the damage that is being done, we need to sing that hymn with which I started this reflection. It asks Jesus the healer to fix our deafness, muted voices, and careless hearts. We all need such healing so we can see Christ in creation, hear and speak about what is happening, and then do what we can to care better for our common home.
As persons of faith and love of God and creation, we cannot write ourselves off as unable to make much of a difference. Alone we may feel insignificant, but together with millions to billions of others and by working with God every day – in our homes, in our place of work, in our shopping, in our diets and our driving and other meaningful decisions, etc. – we can make a huge difference. Little by little, like Greta and Pope Francis, we can get our human community into better alignment with the plan of our Creator and God’s continuing work with our Universe – that it be full of life and beauty.
EPHPHATA – BE OPENED. Sing every morning:
Open my eyes, Lord. help me to see your face.
Open my ears, Lord, help me to hear your voice.
Open my heart, Lord, help me to love like you.
I live within you, deep in your heart, O Love.
I live within you, Rest now in me, …
… so I can align my work with your work, live on a healthier planet, every day. AMEN.