Sunday, September 9, 2012

Keeping Custody of the Senses: Fr. Andersen

A homily by Fr. Eric M. Andersen, Sacred Heart-St. Louis, Gervais, OR

Dominica XXIII Per Annum, Anno B

Our God comes with vindication, with divine recompense to save us. When He saves us, our eyes will be opened so that we will see; our ears will be cleared so that we may hear; our tongues will be untied so that we may speak.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus heals the deaf man with the speech impediment, opening the man’s ears to hear and freeing him up to speak clearly. St. Bede the Venerable comments on this passage saying that there are men who are deaf because they do not have ears to hear the words of God. They can hear, but they do not listen to anything worthy of the noble sense of hearing. Likewise, St. Bede says that there are men who are dumb because they do not open their mouth to speak the words of God (cf. Catena Aurea). They speak but do not speak anything worth listening to. This is very thought provoking!

Do we appreciate the gifts of the senses that God has given to us? We should consecrate the use of our senses to God’s use. After all, St. Paul tells us that our bodies do not belong to us, but that they were bought at a price. They belong to God. This is the divine recompense of which our first reading speaks! Do we treat our bodies as though they belong to God? Do we treat our five senses as though they belong to God? In other words, when we open our mouths, do we speak the words of God? Do we speak words that edify others; that encourage them to greater holiness? And what about the things that we listen to? How do we use the gift of hearing? We cannot control what we hear in public, but we can control what we listen to.

There is also the ancient practice among Christians of keeping custody of the eyes. This deprivation of the senses aids us in our growing in holiness. The ancient rubrics of the Mass instruct a priest to keep custody of the eyes even with God. So for instance, at the beginning of the Mass, the priest keeps a downward glance, not looking at the people nor at the Crucifix. Even after he approaches the altar, he keeps his eyes cast down through the Confiteor and the Kyrie Eleison. He does not look up at our Lord on the Cross until the singing of the Gloria, having been thus reconciled with God. But why does he avoid looking at the people? He avoids eye contact with the faithful because he is not to draw attention to his own person, but only to his office as priest. His office is that of the Eternal Priest, Jesus Christ. So his actions are those of the Church and not of his own personality. In this way, the man who is the priest becomes invisible and the priest who is a man of the Church, communicates the sacramental actions of Christ and not his own actions.

This is what Christ Himself shows us in the Gospel today. His action is a sacramental action. Looking up to heaven, he touches the man’s ears. He spits on His own finger and touches the man’s tongue, but He looks up to heaven while He does this. He does not look at the man while he heals him. This is so that the man will understand that the healing comes from heaven. It comes from God and not from man. It comes from the divinity of Christ, and it is communicated through his humanity.
The man is deprived of his sense of sight in order to be healed. We can see this in the sacrament of Confession. The modern practice allows for the hearing of confessions face to face, but I would argue that it does not communicate what is actually happening in the sacrament. We do not confess our sins to the man who is the priest facing us. We confess our sins to Jesus Christ, through the priest who is a man. But it is Jesus Christ who is listening to our sins and who absolves our sins through the sacrament. When we are deprived of looking at the face of the priest, whether through a screen or by closing our eyes, then we are more aware that it is God to whom we are speaking. It is God who forgives our sins. There is a man who becomes invisible to us so that we can see God.

Likewise, in the consecration of the Holy Eucharist, there is a reason why this has traditionally been hidden from our eyes. It is hidden so that we may believe. When it is so open, we see the piece of bread now at this moment as the priest picks it up, says some words and lifts it above his head. But all the while we see the piece of bread and it does not appear to change. Our minds need a transition. That is why it has historically always been slightly obscured or hidden altogether so that we do not see it clearly until after the consecration when it is lifted up to God and what we see is Jesus Christ. Through the deprivation of our senses, we see more, we believe more.

When we consecrate, or set apart, the use of our bodies and our senses for God’s use, we allow God to do great things through us. Last week we spoke about how a human being is differentiated from plants and animals because humans are given the gift of sapiens, or reason. Unlike plants and animals who are merely vegetative or sensitive, we have rational, spiritual souls which are immortal. Because we alone among creatures have the gift of reason, the use of our five senses is governed by our free will. We must govern our senses. Animals respond according to instinct but human beings respond according to reason.

We must govern our senses for the sake of holiness. We must govern what we look upon, so that we guard our souls from the dangers of indecency, and immodesty. We must govern what we listen to, so that we guard our souls from profanity. We must govern what we say, so that we guard our souls and the souls of others from sins of blasphemy, calumny, and detraction. We must govern what we eat and drink so that we guard our souls from gluttony or drunkenness. We must govern our use of smell so that we guard our souls from the perils of sensuality. We must govern our use of touch so that we guard our souls from covetousness, avarice, or unchastity.

There is a beautiful prayer that I ran across some years ago in a book called the Manual of Prayers. It is by an anonymous author. It speaks to us today about handing over our senses for God’s use. Here is that prayer:

Lord Jesus, I give you my hands to do your work.
I give you my feet to go your way.
I give you my eyes to see as you see.
I give you my tongue to speak your words.
I give you my mind to think as you think.
I give you my spirit so that you may pray in me.
I give you my self so that you may grow in me.
So that it is you, Lord Jesus, who lives and works and prays in me.


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