Homily for the Twenty-third Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B.
When I was growing up, whenever any sort of new technology was invented, I always wanted to know how it worked. And although our family’s first computer wasn’t connected to the internet—which, admittedly, makes me sound like a caveman—when we finally got dial-up and then DSL, one of my favorite sites to visit was HowStuffWorks.com. It wasn’t enough for me to own a CD player, for example, I had to know how the laser could write and then read information off the disk. I had to know how it worked. So, I would look it up online.
The first new technology the science behind which I understood right away, and didn’t have to look up, was noise-canceling headphones. When I first heard about noise-canceling headphones, I knew how they worked right away. I was in high school at the time and I had just learned about the concept called “destructive interference” in my physics class. To cancel out a particular sound wave, all you had to do was produce a new sound wave that was the exact opposite of the first one. Where the first sound wave had a peak of a particular amplitude, the new sound wave would have a valley of the same amplitude, and vice versa. Peaks and valleys would cancel each other out—they would destructively interfere—and there would be silence.
Destructive interference, the scientific concept behind noise-canceling headphones, is a good image for what we so often experience today when our faith and culture clash. We hear the voice of God say one thing, our culture says the exact opposite thing, and sometimes—if we let it—our culture can cancel out the voice of God. It can destructively interfere with God’s voice to the point where we become deaf to it, unable to hear it, because God’s voice has effectively been silenced.
Now, just because our culture says something opposed to our faith, it doesn’t mean we will automatically believe it; it doesn’t mean that it will automatically cancel out the voice of God in our lives. We have free will; we can choose to hold on to our faith, and listen to the voice of God, even when it stands in opposition to our culture. But if we aren’t careful, if we aren’t discerning, we can allow God’s voice to become crowded out or even canceled by our culture. We can hear something or see something so many times in our culture that we begin to forget or not care what God has said or revealed about that matter.
Take, for example, the widespread phenomenon of cohabitation. Not so long ago, all Catholics and most Christians would have been scandalized by the fact that two people were living together before they were married. Many Catholics today still know that it is a serious sin to cohabitate, but many Catholics no longer seem to care or think that it’s a big deal. How did this happen? Part of the blame rests on us priests. After all, when was the last time you heard a priest publicly call out cohabitation as a sin? For too long we priests have been silent on this issue, and so part of the blame rests squarely on our shoulders. But part of the blame also rests on the way in which cohabitation has been normalized and even celebrated in our culture.
Instead of a sin, cohabitating is presented on TV shows and movies as a normal stage or milestone in a relationship—a kind of barometer of the seriousness and commitment of the couple. None of the problems or long-term consequences that come from cohabitation are given any airtime, nor the fact that cohabitation makes financial convenience and pleasure the primary reason for living together, rather than sacrificial love expressed in a life-long commitment. From an early age, anyone who watches TV or movies is inundated by our culture’s views on sex and marriage, including its views on cohabitation, and it becomes very difficult to hear the voice of God on these matters. God’s voice is crowded out and canceled, destructively interfered with by the loud and persistent voice of our culture.
In many ways, our situation today is not unlike that of the deaf man in our gospel. While our defect isn’t physical, we are nonetheless deaf to the voice of God. And notice how Jesus in our gospel takes the deaf man aside, away from the crowd, in order to heal him. We might think of the crowd as the many voices we hear in our culture today which, as it were, “crowd out” the voice of God. These voices are so loud, so persistent, and so opposed to God’s voice, that we become deaf to it. It’s like we’re all walking around with noise-canceling headphones—the kind that cancels out the voice of God.
The challenge, then, is to take off the headphones. The challenge is to let Jesus take us aside, away from the crowd, in order to heal us, in order to open up our ears and make us hear. In our gospel, Jesus heals the deaf man in an utterly practical and hands on way—Jesus literally stuffs His fingers into the man’s ears. The solution to our present deafness must be similarly practical and hands on. I think it would be a valuable exercise for all of us to try to keep track how much time we spend on an average day listening to or watching things which are products of our post-Christian culture.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with staying informed and keeping track of things that are going on in the world. There’s nothing wrong with watching certain TV shows or movies or listening to certain artists. There’s nothing wrong with keeping up with certain people on social media. But just how much time do we need to spend doing these things? At what point does the amount of time we are spending become harmful for us spiritually, mentally, or emotionally? And at what point does the amount of media or kinds of media we are consuming deafen us to the voice of God?
My challenge to all of this week is to keep track of how much time we spend listening to or watching things which are products of our post-Christian culture. And compare that to how much time we spend listening to the voice of God: through silent prayer, reading Scripture, reflecting on our day, spending time in Adoration, having a spiritual conversation with someone, or simply going for a walk and marveling at the beauty of God’s creation. How much time do we give Jesus to take us aside, away from the crowd, and allow Him to speak to us? Let’s take the noise-canceling headphones off, and let the voice of Jesus in. If we do so, the words of praise at the end of our gospel will be on our lips too: “He has done all things well. He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” Amen.