Speaking, hearing truth in health care reform Print
Bishop Morlino's Column
Written by Bishop Robert C. Morlino   
Thursday, Sep. 17, 2009 -- 12:00 AM

Dear Friends,

Two weeks ago I was very fortunate to be back on campus at the University of Notre Dame. Once and a while I take advantage of returning to that campus, where I spent a few years teaching philosophy and serving on the staff at Moreau Seminary (I always recall so very fondly the 11 years I spent on the college campuses, at Notre Dame and elsewhere.)

The following are the words I chose for the occasion, in celebrating the 10 a.m. Liturgy at the Sacred Heart Basilica on campus:

The Gospel of a few weeks ago (Mk 7:31-37) directs our attention to the senses of hearing and speaking. The man in the Gospel has a speech impediment and he is deaf. And that makes sense, because, under most circumstances, people with a speech impediment of this sort also can’t hear, because it is through hearing that one learns to speak. (This is why we have to be careful of what is on television while children are learning to speak — for they can repeat some things at the worst possible moment!)

So, hearing and speaking, for the most part, go together. And what we desire is unimpeded hearing and unimpeded speaking. That’s what Jesus restored to the man who was deaf and mute in the Gospel. The man was hearing-impaired and speech-impaired, but Jesus gave him the gift of removing the hearing impediment and the speech impediment. Why? So that his human life could take on a greater fullness, in the first place.

Speaking and hearing the Truth

The Lord has made the ear to embody the desire of the person to hear the Truth. The Lord made the mouth and the vocal cords and the tongue to embody the fact that a person is called, having heard the Truth without impediment, to speak the Truth without impediment. Hearing is made for hearing Truth, speech is made for speaking truth. And this is the first point.

Jesus has said to all of us in Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist, “Be opened!” so that our ears, without impediment, might hear the truth, and our mouths, without impediment might speak the truth.

There are a couple of temptations for us all, to refuse to hear and to speak the Truth. There was a survey recently taken that indicated that in every 10 minutes worth of conversation, at least three lies are told. At least three lies for every 10 minutes. There is a temptation to use the faculty of speaking against God’s purposes. Speaking is meant to tell the truth. And in like manner, many of our young people today are tempted to lie at different times, and frequently, unfortunately, in the relationship of girlfriend and boyfriend. I know, from my time on campus, countless stories where relationships did not come to a good end because so many lies were told by guys and gals to each other.

And this temptation to lie can also take the form of cheating and stealing. Cheating is lying in that you are telling the professor that you are better than you are, instead of working hard to earn excellence. Lying and cheating, for our young people in the college years, are a great temptation, and, if you give in, the older you get, the worse it gets — to the point where you can’t remember anymore what lies you’ve told.

The lies in the pursuit of health care reform

And this is the second point: we have a lot of problems today in our society, in this regard! There is a lot of impeded hearing that goes on in our society, and, as a result, there is a lot of impeded speaking. Just think of the current healthcare reform discussion.

From both sides of the debate on healthcare reform we have regularly been told lies. (For a very clear explanation of the Church’s teaching in regard to this issue, see my Catholic Herald column space of August 27, “Seeking ethical health care reform”) Many people seem to be so used to hearing lies that they don’t even notice. And then, depending on their point of view, they go to a town-hall meeting and shout those lies back at each other, and often, in the end, nothing is accomplished.

When the ears are no longer focused on hearing the truth and the mouth is no longer focused on speaking the truth, communication becomes futile. People get together, they yell at each other, and the only thing that is accomplished at the end of the evening is that no one has killed the other person. And that is a rather modest goal to set: “well, we had a town-hall meeting and nobody got killed; didn’t we do well!”

The philosopher Emmanuel Kant offered the observation that if everybody always lies, lying is meaningless, because people can only “get away” with a lie and make it work, if most people are telling the truth and presuming that they are being told the truth. If everybody knew that everybody else was lying all the time, we’d be finished. And yet, we seem to know that many, many people are lying all the time, and we just let it go, and we’re happy that we didn’t kill each other in the course of argumentation.

This is not the world that the great men and women and Notre Dame want to build for their children and grandchildren, and it’s not the world that any of us want to have for ourselves. And this is the second point. We have so many problems in this area in our society. We need to work actively to seek to hear the Truth again and to speak the Truth.

Giving preferential treatment to the poor

The third point relates to the Second Reading from two Sundays ago (James 2:1-5) wherein Jesus speaks of how we should treat all of our brothers and sisters — the rich and powerful and the poor and lowly. And it is clear that our Christian faith has always said that we must give preferential treatment to the poor.

Each of us is called to be the “Ephphatha” of today. Each of us is called to hear the Truth that the important thing is to care for the poor, and the sick, and the lonely, and the oppressed, and the defenseless.  We are to hear that Truth and then to go out and speak that Truth — especially through our actions!

You, my brothers and sisters, are the ones who have to “be” Jesus, saying “Ephphatha” to our society and to our world. You must say to the world, “be opened,” to hear the Truth, “be opened,” to speak the truth. That is the mission that is so apparent in the readings of a few Sundays ago, and which is so clearly taught in our Christian faith. You, become Jesus proclaiming, “be opened!”

I want to reiterate here that with which I closed my homily at the Basilica. And that is, first, that I love very much my brother Bishop D’Arcy, who is the Bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend. And too, I love the Holy Cross Fathers and community very, very much — I go back with them a long way. And I love the students so much, and that is why I came to the campus these days.

And, finally, I said to the students, and I say to all of you, as you take up your mission to be the “Ephphatha,” with Christ and like Christ, please do not let any one or any ideology quell your determination to stand always, and unambiguously, pro-life! Our preferential option for the poor must first strive to ensure life for the most vulnerable among us. That is the foundation of all else that the “Ephphatha” is about. And if we stand unambiguously pro-life, only then, can we be filled with the life and the joy that Jesus Christ wishes for every blessed one of you. And everyone of you is indeed blessed!

Praised be Jesus Christ!