Posted September 07, 2009 in Word Made Flesh:
Yuk or Ephaphatha?

by Fr. Patrick McNulty.

And they brought him a deaf man…(Mk.7:31-37). A reflection in connection with the Gospel for September 6, the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time:

"Yuk!" One foot in a pile of fresh donkey dung was a fitting finish to a very frustrating day in the Old City of Jerusalem.

It was my first day in Jerusalem, the first day of a pilgrimage in the Holy Land which ended up lasting almost two years. I was especially looking forward to making the Way of the Cross, on the very path Jesus himself took some 2000 years before, the Via Dolorosa, "the sorrowful way."

That portion of the old city of Jerusalem has very narrow streets which accentuate everything—the crowds, the noise, the grime and the donkeys. Those sad looking beasts of burden are everywhere.

I wasn’t particularly surprised or disturbed by all that as I made my way alone on the Via Dolorosa. However, I was quite disturbed by what I experienced at the final Station in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the age-old basilica built over the site of Christ’s death and resurrection.

I had expected a modicum of silence, reverence, a way of being present in a holy place. But once inside, I was swept up into a noisy crowd.

We began climbing a steep set of stairs carved out of rock leading up to a very limited space on the original hill of Calvary. Half the small room was already filled with people attending a Mass, so the rest of us were hurried rather irreverently by a monk to a silver-covered hole in the ground, the historical site of the Crucifixion.

All the while in a not-so-quiet fashion, he was demanding a fee from each of us. We had only seconds alone at the holy site before we were pushed away to make room for the next person.

Then since there was no space in which to stand and pray, we were immediately directed back down the busy stairway and into an even more crowded and smaller space at the historical site of the tomb where Christ was buried and rose from the dead.

When it was all over, I left the basilica quite disappointed and was talking to myself along the way: "I don’t believe it Lord: I came halfway around the world for this? I was so looking forward to being there with you in prayerful spirit on Calvary and at the Tomb. Blah. Blah. Blah."

And suddenly, there I was, one foot in a pile of fresh donkey dung! Yuk! "Thank you Lord for a perfect end to a perfect day!"

Believe it or not he answered me right there on the spot! As I was trying to clean the dung off my sandal, I swear I heard the words, Oh really, Patrick? And just what do you think the original was like?

I thought I had come to the Holy Land to make a holy pilgrimage to all the holy sites and have holy experiences myself. I had heard so many pilgrim-stories of unusual happenings in people’s lives at one or the other of those sites, especially along the Via Dolorosa. Me too?

"Here I am, Lord!"

Here I am too, Patrick. But you can’t hear because you’re not listening.

"Can’t hear what, Lord?"

The answer was there throughout the land as I made my way hither and yon, to this site and that one. But I didn’t hear it because I wasn’t listening, and so I couldn’t see. I was in some kind of faith fantasy, à la Hollywood, looking to find that place where everything would finally be all neat and clean, some site along the way where something special would happen to me and my life would change ever after. No more mess!

Donkey dung on the Way of the Cross? Yuk! Noise and money in a basilica? Yuk! Less than perfect people at all the shrines? Yuk!

Life is not meant to be that way! Faith is supposed to be a way out of the mess of life. Genuine faith is supposed to do away with such unholy things as obstacles between me and others, heartbreak and disappointment, wounds and addictions, emotional and psychic pain. No! No, that’s for people who do not have enough faith.

Oh really Patrick? And just what do you think the original was like?

It shouldn’t have taken a long pilgrimage to the Holy Land for me to hear that response to my own faithless "Yuk!" If I had been listening, I would have heard it every day in the Gospels.

And I had heard it loud and clear on the day of my baptism when Christ himself, through the priest, put his fingers into my ears and said to me, in my new name, with the same power he said it to the deaf man in St. Mark’s Gospel, "Ephphatha." "Be thou opened."

Open up Patrick! Open your ears. Open your eyes. Look around. Where do you find faith? Faith is found in people who struggle to live in the circumstances of their everyday lives. Faith is found in people whose lives are not neat and clean and perfect and holy. Faith is found in people who believe against all odds that I have made life holy by living it, I, the Son of God.

All you have to do is take the risk to "step into" the mess of life and let me teach you how to see the holiness, because I have made life so holy that now you can find me, even in the donkey dung!

And remember, when you walked that Way of the Cross, you only stepped into the mess of life, but I, the Son of God, lived in it over and over and carried the smell of it to my last breath on the cross.

That, my friend, is what the mystery is all about if you have the ears for it: life lived now, in the flesh, as I lived it then, in the flesh. But it’s up to you, my friend: do you really want to follow me or are you going to live in your spiritual dreamland for the rest of your life? What’s it going to be: Yuk or Ephphatha?

Meanwhile, back in the Old City:

"Did you ever meet that monk again, Padre?"

"Just about every day when I returned to the basilica to pray."


"No. I finally started thinking, ‘Ephphatha’ Open up!" After all the old monk and I were both on the same pilgrimage. So, I started giving him an offering at the holy site in the basilica whenever we met there.

Then one day, as we passed on the Via Dolorosa, he bowed to me and I bowed in return. I don’t know if he thought it was a miracle but I sure did.

PS: Before I left Jerusalem, I even befriended the donkeys. Yuk!


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