In this weekend’s second reading, Saint James asks his conflicted audience, “Where do the wars and where do the conflicts among you come from?” Then he points to the root cause, the war within: “Is it not from your passions that make war within your members?” There is a war within the members of our body driven by the disordering of our passions that resulted from original sin. We see the good that we want to do, but we cannot carry it out. In his Letter to the Romans, Paul wonders who will rescue him from this awful situation. Then he cries out in thanksgiving to God for the gift of Jesus Christ (see Rom 7:15-25). Christ does not want us to repress our passions. He wants to help us redirect them toward infinite satisfaction. While it’s true that our passions often draw us toward vice, we become even more lost if we think the solution to this tendency is to annihilate them. As Saint Augustine is often quoted as saying, “He who is lost in his passion is less lost than he who has lost his passion.” Why? Because to lose our passions is to become a non-feeling, non-desiring automaton. The war within ceases not as we tyrannize our passions, but as we allow God’s grace to redirect them toward everything true, good, and beautiful.
Of all the accounts of healing presented in the Gospels, this Sunday we hear one of the most visceral. It’s almost – no, it is – shocking in its physical intimacy. Jesus takes a deaf man with a speech impediment away from the crowd. Apparently, what was about to happen demanded privacy. He “put his finger into the man’s ears.” And if that weren’t enough, Jesus then spits and puts his finger in the man’s mouth, touching his tongue! I don’t know about you, but I’m not so fond of strangers probing my body like that. Who is this Jesus and what on earth is he doing?! He’s looking to heaven, he’s groaning, and he’s exclaiming, “Ephphatha!” which means, “Be opened!” He wants our bodies and our hearts to “be opened” … why? So he can enter. Yes. That’s Jesus’ deepest desire: to enter our bodies with his body, our hearts with his heart. It’s called Eucharist. And to be entered, to be filled by Christ with all the fullness of God (see Eph 3:19) – that’s the deepest desire of our hearts. It’s a spousal desire. It’s a spousal mystery. The Church is the Bride; Christ is the Bridegroom. If we want to be healed of our maladies; if we want to be filled with Infinite joy and love and life, we must “be opened.” As Pope Benedict XVI observed, this small word, ephphatha, “sums up in itself Christ’s entire mission” (Sep 9, 2012).