Discovering Our Own Deafness

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM, February 18, 2018

Ephphatha! Be opened! What a wonderful Gospel not only for the close of a retreat experience but for any time when we’ve been discerning how the Holy One has been moving in our lives and for reflecting on what we’ve taken in and truly heard.

In this passage from Mark’s Gospel (Mark 7:31-37), Jesus heals a person who has a double challenge: he’s deaf, and he also has a speech impediment. This may be why Mark writes that “the people brought him to Jesus.” This unnamed person couldn’t hear or speak, so deafnesshe couldn’t even cry out to Jesus in his need. He had to rely on others to intercede for him and to get Jesus’ attention. In this action of the others is an invitation to us also, an invitation to remember with gratitude all those who support and hold us in prayer at any time, but most especially during those times when we can’t seem to speak for ourselves, when our energy or passion is so low that we need others to advocate on our behalf.

Pause for a moment to offer thanks for all who, right at this moment, are holding you in prayer, bringing you to Jesus as the friends of the deaf person did; pause for a moment also to remember anyone in our world who right now is desperately in need of your prayerful encouragement and affirmation.

Whenever I hear this gospel, I think of a man named Benito. I first saw him when I lived in Jersey City, NJ in a high rise apartment building. The residents there were mostly Latino, so my very limited Spanish was sorely tested. But I happily discovered that sometimes we don’t really need words to communicate. From the first moment I moved in, I was so touched by the graciousness of my neighbors, who were constantly asking me “How are you?”, “How are you finding your way around?” “Is there anything you need?” Everyone was helpful. Everyone welcomed me. Everyone except Benito.

Anytime I saw him, it was as if I didn’t exist. When I was with Benito in the elevator, he would always yell “Abierto!” (“Open!) when we reached his floor, and then he’d exit and brush by me without saying a word. In this warm Latino culture, his behavior was a striking contrast to the spirit of all my other gracious neighbors.

If I greeted him with “Good morning” or “Buenos dias” or “How are you?” Benito never responded. Not only that, but he would sometimes brush against me, knock things out of my hand, and never apologize. I began to think, “What’s his problem?” And for weeks I had a single story for him, the only thing I knew about his life. And that single story was Rude. Rude. Rude.

Then one day I was on the elevator with another neighbor and as the doors started to close, Benito walked by.

“Isn’t that a shame about Benito?” my neighbor said.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Well,” she said. “You know his eyesight is so limited. And he just found out yesterday that his hearing is almost gone.”

In that moment, I wanted the elevator to swallow me whole. Here I had been making all kinds of judgments and sticking negative labels on Benito, when all this time he was struggling like the deaf person in today’s Gospel. He carried the double challenge of both limited sight and loss of hearing.

So which of us, Benito or Chris, was the deaf one? Which of us needed to pray “Abierto!” Open! to the needs of our neighbor?

When my heart was opened in that Ephphatha moment, my view of Benito was turned upside down. He was no longer a single story of rude, rude, rude. He was now a person of courage, navigating a dark and silent world with amazing grace. My judgment, my single story of who I thought him to be, got in the way of the truth of who he actually was.

deaf4This same Holy One who makes the deaf hear and the mute speak is active and alive in us, offering us the grace of his presence and healing. As we move into our day, may we continue to listen. May we live Ephphatha in the days ahead. May we be opened to the invitation to truly hear and offer compassion to all that our world loves, pursues, and suffers.

Ephphatha! Abierto! Amen!


Sit in a place of stillness. Listen intently and openly to the Holy One.
Can you call to mind a time when you might have passed judgment on another?
When your critical judgment based on what you saw or heard turned out to be far from the truth of the other’s reality?
What assumptions might have been underneath your judgment?
How did your view of the other change when you learned the truth of their circumstances or their story?
Ask the Holy One to bathe you in compassion and in openness of heart.


Thank you for your prayerful remembrance of all who were part of the guided retreat for the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Dubuque, Iowa February 4-9. Today’s blog post is adapted from a reflection I offered on the closing day of that retreat.

Please now hold in your prayer these upcoming experiences:

February 21: Retreat day for the staff of RENEW International at Mount St. Mary House of Prayer, Watchung, NJ

February 26: Retreat day for Regional Vocation Directors at Emmaus House, Ocean Grove, NJ
Thank you!

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8 thoughts on “Discovering Our Own Deafness”

  1. Abierto! I have a dear friend and neighbor who is bi-lingual, and when I knock on her door she frequently shouts: Abierto. What she means is, Come in, I can’t wait to see you, my door is always open to you. Once again a beautiful reflection on opening our hearts to others. Thank you Sr. Chris.

  2. Thank you, Chris, for this moving story. So often we don’t know
    what is really happening to others and why they may act the
    way they do. It is surely a call to lift up those who seem to
    act in negative ways. They may have so much pain that they
    don’t know what to do. They need our kindnesses and
    compassion most of all.

    Blessings on you upcoming retreats.
    I did sign up for the end of June at Cape May. I will miss your
    voice there.

    MaryLouise ❤️🎶🤗🕊

    Sent from my iPad

  3. Thanks for your insights, Chris.
    Two of the staff from St. Joe’s asked to receive your messages.
    That’s a start.
    Blessings on your ministry.

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