February 11, 2011 - Friday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time

“Ephphatha!” (that is, “Be opened!”). The Ephphatha rite is performed at baptism. The deacon or priest who is baptizing puts his thumb on the child’s ears and mouth while saying “May he soon touch your ears to receive his word, and your mouth to proclaim his faith, to the praise and glory of God the Father.” I have seen priests skip this line, or more often, skip actually putting their thumb on the child’s ears and mouth. This is not the only ritual that I have seen priests skip. I know a priest who never washes his hands during Mass, on the principle that he washed them beforehand.

Why do we have these rituals, these unnecessary rituals? Why does Jesus go through unnecessary rituals? No one who knows the power of God can dispute that he could have healed the man with a look, but instead, we have before us today this elaborate ritual: “He put his finger into the man’s ears and, spitting, touched his tongue; then he looked up to heaven and groaned, and said to him, “Ephphatha!” (that is, “Be opened!”)” So much unnecessary work!

The heresy that our spiritual life does not include our bodies is one of the oldest, and it is constantly taking different forms. Sometimes a person says that the sexual sins do not matter because they only involve the body not the soul; sometimes a person says that it is not important to kneel in church since we can pray just as well standing in church, or standing on top of a hill for that matter.

The Catholic Church has always stood against such foolishness. When the priest washes his hands at Mass, or we turn to shake hands as a sign of peace, or we kneel before Jesus Christ, or we put on our best clothes before coming to Mass, our soul is affected. This is not merely a case of a physical symbol reminding us to think about something spiritual. We are body and soul. We have to get our whole selves into whatever we are doing. We know this instinctively: a person might say a lot of nonsense about praying in their recliner at home in sweatpants during commercial breaks, but when they have something really important to ask God, they are going to be in church on their knees. If we take our relationship with God seriously, our bodies have to pray along with our souls.