Never has the world seen so much changes and transformation, not just in its landscape or in terms of technology but even in morality. Whilst we are grateful that advancement in science and technology is making the world a better place to live in, we are bewildered at the loss of moral values and the counter-culture that are being promoted. When technological advancement progresses without human development, we will have a situation when the hard lessons of the Tower of Babel will be repeated in humanity. Man has become so proud of his achievements and knowledge that he has supplanted the position of God and crowns himself as his own god. He is now the point of reference for everything, expressed in individualism and relativism.
Indeed, we are coming to a critical point in the development of humanity, which is at the brink of despair and hopelessness brought upon it by secularism, materialism, individualism, pragmatism and relativism. When truth is blurred by relativism; and values are compromised by individualism and materialism, then humanity has no future. Without the presence of God in a secularized world, when He is not felt and experienced, man is left alone to fend for himself. He will eventually reach nihilism when he begins to ponder seriously on the meaning of life and all that he does in this world.
Hence, what is needed is a New Evangelization. We need to proclaim the Good News anew. It is not another news but to present the Good News in new ways. In the first reading, Isaiah speaks of a new creation. God wants to restore Israel which was in ruins after the destruction by the Babylonians. They were in exile. But God gave the people hope of a renewal and a new lease of life. Through the prophet, God is saying to all those with faint hearts, “Courage! Do not be afraid. Look, your God is coming, vengeance is coming, the retribution of God; he is coming to save you.” Indeed God is going to intervene once again to restore His creation and His kingdom.
How is the kingdom going to be restored? God Himself is going to open “the eyes of the blind”, “the ears of the deaf.” He is going to strengthen the weak knees and make those limping in life, “leap like a deer.” To those in sadness, he will release “the tongues of the dumb” so that they can sing for joy. Once again, the desert will be watered and those who are thirsty will be satisfied and there will be “streams in the wasteland, the scorched earth becomes a lake, the parched land springs of water.” Such are the promises of the Lord for His people. Our lands will be fertile again, not just in terms of economic development but the people will be blessed with joy and love.
All these promises are fulfilled in Christ in the gospel, for we read how He “makes the deaf hear and the dumb speak.” Jesus is our healer, liberator and our teacher of truth and love. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. He gives us purpose, meaning and show us the way to the fullness of life, truth and love by His life, passion, death and resurrection. Through His love for us, we are blessed. Sharing in His sonship through baptism, we are called to be His witnesses of truth and love in the world, and to lead humanity back to Him.
So how can we proclaim the truth about our identity, our destiny and our purpose in life to the world?
Firstly, we need to begin with the conversion of attitudes. Before we seek to change the world, we need to change ourselves. The real problem with evangelization is that the message, which is always the same, is presented in an old way that could not be understood by the modern generation. The Christian message is ever old yet it is also ever new. How do we ensure that this timeless message remains relevant in our times and for our people, helping them to make sense of life?
We need to remove prejudice from our minds and hearts. This was the case in St James’ community. St James wrote to them, “My brothers, do not try to combine faith in Jesus Christ, our glorified Lord, with the making of distinctions between classes of people.” They were making distinctions between the rich and the poor; and they were accorded special treatment. St James said, “Can’t you see that you have used two different standards in your mind, and turned yourselves into judges, and corrupt judges at that?”
Drawing from this, we too must be careful that in our judgment of others, we do not look at them in the way the world judges. Out attitudes towards non-believers and sinners; lapsed or nominal Catholics, must always be one of humility, openness and genuine love and concern. We are not here to condemn them but to enlighten them in the truth but always with love, respect and sensitivity.
Indeed, we are called to reach out to them, identify with them in their struggles, their aspirations and their challenges in life. Unless we are with them, we can never understand them. Through identifying with the poor, the suffering and marginalized, we will be able to offer them true Christ-like concern, compassion and love.
Secondly, we need to have the right approach and pedagogy in dealing with unbelievers and sinners and those hostile to our faith. In the gospel, Jesus showed us how. It is significant that the gospel mentioned, that He was “returning from the district of Tyre, by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, right through the Decapolis region.” In other words, He was in pagan territory. So we can learn how He reached out to such groups of people.
We read that He was asked to lay hands on the man who was deaf and as a consequence, suffered from an impediment in his speech. Unlike in other instances, Jesus did not heal immediately. Instead, “He took him aside in private, away from the crowd.” Why did He go through such trouble when He could have just uttered the Word of healing? It was His way of strengthening the faith of an unbeliever. He showed His love and sensitivity to the man who must have felt embarrassed that he could not hear or speak properly. To avoid embarrassment, He took Him aside away from the crowd.
Next, we read that He “put his fingers into the man’s ears and touched his tongue with spittle. Then looking up to heaven he sighed; and he said to him, ‘Ephphatha’, that is, ‘Be opened.’” Again, why the need to go through such lengthy ways to heal the man? This is because Jesus knew that He needed to feel the power of God sacramentally. This man needed the touch of God. Since He was healing him of his deafness and inability to speak, Jesus needed to allow him to hear and for him to feel that a spiritual operation was in process.
Indeed, this whole process of liberation from the impediment of speech is an indication of how Jesus heals us – gradually, patiently and with great sensitivity to our feelings and needs. Jesus knows who needs the human touch. We, too, in reaching out to people who lack faith or are hostile to us or are very hurt by life, we must treat them with gentleness, patience, and understanding and with great sensitivity and respect. Without such predispositions, they would not be ready to hear our message because they see us with suspicion.
Thirdly, we need to make use of modern or relevant means to communicate the message. Regardless of how wonderful the message is, if the medium is weak, it will hinder communication. It is not enough to do the right thing but the right way. In fact, often the message is not the problem but the medium and the recipients. We need to ensure that the message is received, and conversion of mind and heart is achieved. Many are not interested to hear the message of conversion. They are only keen to see marvelous and spectacular works. But without conversion of heart through hearing of the message, like the deaf man, miracles would be worked in vain.
Finally, we need to pray and rely on His strength. Indeed, it is He who brings about renewal and conversion, not us. To God be the Glory! We are merely instruments. We can only sing, “My soul, give praise to the Lord!” And like the people, we exclaim, “He did all things well!” We do our part and allow Him to work in and through us. So long as we are not blocking His grace, we will also do all things well in Him.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh
Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
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