Homily – Travellers from the Decapolis – “Be Opened!”, Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Sunday 6th September 2015 (Bishop Kevin Doran)
On the face of it, today’s Gospel reading seems to be “just another healing” in the ministry of Jesus. But, of course, there is no such thing as “just another healing” for the person who is healed. This man was a human being, a person like ourselves. It is, perhaps worth noting that this miracle happened as Jesus was travelling through the Decapolis region, which corresponds to modern day Jordan and Syria. It was “on the other side” of the Sea of Galilee. In all probability, the man was a foreigner, and not of the Jewish faith. The mercy of God is not limited by borders or by doctrinal orthodoxy. That doesn’t mean these things are not important; simply that they are not the only consideration.
Miracles of healing, especially the healing of the blind, the deaf and the dumb, are often connected in the Scriptures with the call to faith. The opening of ears and eyes is a symbol for the opening of the heart. Traditionally, this Gospel reading is associated with Baptism. After the pouring of water in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, there are a number of rituals which emphasise the mission of the person who has been baptised. One of these is the blessing of the ears and lips with the prayer “The Lord Jesus made the deaf hear and the dumb speak; may he soon open your ears to hear his word and your lips to proclaim his praise”.
Baptism, of course, is not just a moment or an event. It is the beginning of a journey. As Baptised people, our ears and our hearts must always be open to the transforming power of God’s word. What does that mean today? What word is the Spirit speaking in your heart today?
The words I hear in the Gospel are the words “be opened”. It seems today that we in Europe are being challenged by circumstances to open our hearts to people who, out of fear for their lives, have been forced to leave their homes. Yes they are from the “other side” of the sea and from the same region through which Jesus was travelling in today’s Gospel. Many of them from may not share our faith, but they are people first and foremost.
Yes, of course, some of them may not be genuine refugees, but it would be stupid to suggest that all these thousands of people would just take it into their heads to get up and travel such distances under very difficult conditions unless there was a very powerful motive for doing so. I have walked thousands of kilometres in Europe, but never more than a couple of hundred in one year. I have always had good boots, a bed to sleep in, a credit card in my pocket and a flight home at the end of it. This is quite different. As one Syrian man said in an interview in the railway station in Budapest. “Hungary is a lovely country, but I never came here before. I don’t know anyone who ever came here before. I don’t want to be here now”.
“Be opened”! This begins with our hearts. But, very quickly, it becomes clear that it is also our borders which need to be opened to deal with this humanitarian crisis. If our borders are opened, of course, our towns and villages and perhaps even our homes will also have to “be opened”. I’ll be honest and say that, like most of you, I would prefer not to have to respond at that level, but I think we may not have any option.
At a strategic level, this is a matter for government, both national and local. I support Trocaire’s call for the Dail to be recalled immediately so that the whole of Irish society can begin to build on the excellent work being done in recent months by the Naval Service.
At another, more personal level, however, this is a challenge for every parish community. I am asking parishes throughout the diocese to begin a process of identifying suitable accommodation that might be made available to refugees when they do reach our shores, so that they don’t just have a roof over their heads, but also the possibility of living as members of a caring community. I will be communicating directly with the clergy about this in coming days.
It is true of course that we have “our own homeless” people. This new challenge is not instead of caring for the homeless Irish. Perhaps, if we find it in our hearts to help the stranger, we may also realise that we can and must look after our own at the same time. Today, however, I simply want to invite you to think about what it might mean for you to respond to the words of Jesus, “be opened”!