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  • Writer's pictureFr. Scott Haynes

Offer Your Heart and God will Enter

Fr. Scott Haynes


A Meditation for the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost



Introduction


We need to contemplate the entire Sacred Liturgy, which includes the Divine Office, in order to make sense of the texts of the Mass each day. Consider how the Mass is like the sun in relation to the cosmos. It serves as the nucleus. In the same way that the planets revolve around the sun, the hours of the Divine Office (Matins, Lauds, Vespers, etc.) revolve around the Mass to allow us to pray continuously throughout the day. Our understanding is enriched by considering too the texts of the Divine Office of this day, which include the narrative of Ezechias (4 Kings 20: 1-11), told in the Office of Matins. After Ezechias's prayer led to a miraculous victory over the Assyrians (4 Kings 19:15-19), he was struck down by a horrible illness.


Ezechias Stares at the Wall


Saint Jerome, in his commentary on the illness of Ezechias, pays special attention to the fact that, while unable to go to the Temple, Ezechias prayed in his bed and "turned his face to the wall." Saint Jerome adds that because the Temple was constructed next to Ezechias' palace, when Ezechias turned to the wall, he was actually facing the Sanctuary of the Temple. Saint Jerome suggests that Ezechias may have done this so that only God would be able to see his tears while he prayed.


God Within His Sacred Temple


Jesus Christ is represented by the Temple. Is it not true that Jesus said,

"Destroy this Temple, and in three days I will raise it up?"

However, St. John adds,

"But he spoke of the Temple of his Body?" (John 2:19-21)

Every Old Testament focus on the temple foreshadows New Testament focus on Christ. When we want to pray to Christ, our natural inclination is to face East, toward the Tabernacle, where He is truly and substantially present and fully facing us.


Consider the hagioscope (squint) that medieval hermit monks would mount on the wall of their monastic cells in order to better view the sacred texts. The monks in their cells could watch the services in the chapel below through these peepholes. This gave each monk the solitude he needed to concentrate on God in the quiet of His room in the monastery. The monk was able to pray freely and openly to the God who is genuinely present in the Most Holy Sacrament. I believe that Ezechias' prayer inspired today's Introit, which begins with a grandiose assertion of God's presence: As the Latin phrase goes, Deus in loco sancto suo:

"God is in His holy place" (Psalm 67:6).


Shedding of Tears


As he prayed, "Ezechias wept with great weeping" (4 Kings 20:3). The gift of tears in prayer is indeed a grace God occasionally bestows on us so that we may feel greater remorse for our sins. The tears of the soul are heartfelt, private prayers that only God can hear. And we do not create these tears of repentance. An actor may be able to fake tears for an audience, but they will not fool God. Sincerity of heart is the source of tears of the heart, a spiritual gift for which we can pray.


The Answer from God


According to the Bible, Ezechias prays to God to heal him and spare his life. Ezechias's prayer reaches God's ears and moves God's heart to answer his petition. After visiting Ezechias in his final hours, the prophet Isaiah left the king's palace, but not before God answered the king's petition. God told Ezechias's messenger to return and tell him,

"Thus saith the Lord, the God of David thy father: I have heard thy prayer, and I have seen thy tears: and behold, I have healed thee; on the third day thou shalt go up to the temple of the Lord." (4 Kings 20:5)


Gradual


The Gradual Psalm for the 11th Sunday after Pentecost expresses Ezechias’ response:

"In God hath my heart confided, and I have been helped. And my flesh hath flourished again, and with my will I will give praise to him. Unto thee will I cry, O Lord: O my God, be not thou silent to me." (Psalm 27:7, 1)


Holy Gospel


In today's Gospel, Saint Mark describes Jesus' miraculous healing of a deaf mute. It is the prayers of others on behalf of the sick that allow Jesus to heal them:

"And they bring to him one deaf and dumb; and they besought him that he would lay his hand upon him." (Mark 7:32)


Physical Indices


By use of visible symbols, Our Lord brings forth this healing. Saint Mark describes the seven steps of this miraculous sacrament in detail:

“And taking him from the multitude apart, he put his fingers into his ears, and spitting, he touched his tongue: And looking up to heaven, he groaned and said to him: “Ephpheta, which is, Be thou opened. And immediately his ears were opened, and the string of his tongue was loosed, and he spoke right.” (Mark 7:33–35)


First of all, Jesus pays a private visit to a sick man. Even though he had trouble hearing and speaking, the man saw Jesus and recognized the Lord's mercy and goodness reflected in His holy face. Keep in mind that God tends to work behind the scenes in a hidden and quiet way.


The Lord Jesus Christ reached down and touched the man's eardrums. The work of the Holy Spirit is represented by Christ's healing touch. The Son of God frees people from wickedness, restores them to wholeness, and sanctifies them by the Finger of God, the Holy Spirit, Who alone can touch the soul's most personal wounds. The Finger of God's Right Hand can softly touch the painful spots in our lives to heal us.


Thirdly, the Lord uses spittle in His in this healing. According to Saint John's narrative of the healing of the man born blind (John 9:6), Our Lord concocts a remedy for the man's sight by combining soil and His own spittle. People in the ancient world widely held that spittle had curative properties. Our Lord, in this miraculous event, turns it into a sacramental, a rite that is still observed in the Sacrament of Baptism. Jesus then puts His hand on the man. The connection is genuine and instantaneous. It is the saving power of Christ’s touch. The incarnate God has the power to cure any disease or illness.


Our Lord now gazes heavenward. We observe that Jesus does looks to the heavens in the prayer He offers His Father before raising Lazarus from the dead (John 11:41). In a similar way, Christ raises His eyes in the Upper Room as He offers His priestly prayer:

"These things Jesus spoke, and lifting up his eyes to heaven, he said: Father, the hour is come, glorify thy Son, that thy Son may glorify thee." (John 17:1)


Then the Lord groans. Christ groans de profundis, or "from the depths of his soul" (Psalm 129:1). In this way, Jesus personifies the cries of the universe to God:

"For we know that every creature groaneth and travaileth in pain, even till now" (Romans 8:22).

Jesus' prayer appears to have been marked by this moaning in a number of different contexts. The Bible says of Jesus,

"Who in the days of his flesh, with a loud cry and tears, offering up prayers and supplications to him that was able to save him from death, was heard for his reverence" (Hebrews 5:7).


Jesus commands, "Be thou opened" (Ephetha). This statement does more than restore normal hearing. It represents what Saint Benedict refers to as "the ear of the heart" opening up. The ceremony of the Ephetha, here shown by Christ, is mirrored in the Sacrament of Baptism, and therefore Saint Ambrose urges the newly baptized,

"Open, therefore, your ears, and draw in the sweet savor of eternal life..." (St. Ambrose, "On the Mysteries," 1:3).


Offertory


Today's Offertory Antiphon is the prayer of a man whose restored hearing allows him to finally worship God as he should. On the third day after his recovery, King Ezechias comes to the Temple's to pray, and the Offertory Antiphon expresses his gratitude to God:

"I will extol thee, O Lord, for thou hast upheld me: and hast not made my enemies to rejoice over me. O Lord my God, I have cried to thee, and thou hast healed me.” (Psalm 29:2–3)


Communion


The Communion Antiphon informs us that giving God our own selves is the best way to express gratitude for the healing that He has bestowed upon us. The Bible says,

"Honor the Lord with your wealth; give him the firstfruits of all your crops, and your barns will be filled and your presses will overflow with wine." (Proverbs 3: 9–10)

We give honor to God properly by offering our very selves. This is understood well in a true story I heard about an orphan boy who was left abandoned. A family found the young child, and seeing his pitiful condition, took him into their home. When Sunday came, they took the boy to Holy Mass. He had never entered a church before and knew nothing of faith in Jesus Christ. As he observed the Sacred Liturgy unfold, he was drawn into worship.


During Mass, the Priest spoke of the gifts that we offer to the Lord, and of how we should be generous. As the offering plate was passed, he saw people making monetary donations. He had not even a penny. He wanted to give something to God in thanksgiving but did not know what to do. The ushers brought the collection baskets forward and put them before the Altar. Mass continued.


At the time for Holy Communion, most people came forward to receive the Sacred Host. As he observed this for the first time in his life, the boy wanted to be united to Jesus in this Holy Sacrifice. As the time for Communion was ending, the boy reverently walked down the aisle, went before the Altar, and then knelt down in the offering basket. The sentiment was clear. He wanted to be one with the Lord and to make a perfect offering of himself.


As Christians, we are to honor the Lord with the very substance of our lives. In Holy Mass, we receive the gift of God, the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ in Holy Communion. It should be the very gift we offer back to God the Father in thanksgiving, for the love of Christ, and in communion with the Holy Ghost. The boy, though he was attending only his first Mass, grasped this perfectly, and wanted total union with Jesus. But we often hold back. We put limits on what we allow God to do in our lives.


Postcommunion


Last but not least, the Postcommunion prayer is the most important one now because of the images of healing and medicine it contains. To quote the prayer after Communion, the Church bids us pray:

"Having received Thy Holy Sacrament, we beseech Thee, O Lord, that we should feel supported in soul and body, that being healed in both, we may glory in the fullness of the heavenly remedy."


Because sin is a spiritual illness, we need God's grace. It is the cure. There is no one who cannot be saved from spiritual death when we turn to Christ our Savior. If we covered in the Blood of the Lamb, we will be washed of our sins. As we turn to the Lord with all our hearts, minds, and souls, we ought to make an offering of our very lives to God.


Remember Ezechias who prayed with his faced turned toward the Temple of the Lord. His eyes were filled with tears for his sins. But we are consoled by the response of the Lord that we hear in the Fourth Book of Kings:

"I have heard thy prayer, and behold I have seen thy tears: and behold I have healed thee; on the third day thou shalt go up to the temple of the Lord." (4 Kings 20:5)

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