Icon writen by Iconographer Marek Czarnecki of Seraphic Restorations in Meriden, Connecticut.
(23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time-Year B; This homily was given on 6 September, 2009 at the Chapel of The American College of the Immaculate Conception in Louvain, Belgium; See Mark 7:31-37)
I am sure you are at least somewhat familiar with the common arguments or proofs for the existence of God. For instance, there is the argument from the order or structure of the universe. We come to see that the sun rises each day and sets every evening; the planets do not crash into each other; there is unity and order, and so there must be one who created that order and maintains it: God.
Then there is the argument from beauty. We look at a breathtaking sunset in the spring or gaze at the ocean on a cool summer afternoon; the leaves change into dazzling colors in the fall. There must be someone who created all that, someone who is even more beautiful than creation itself, and that someone is God.
Yet there is a situation found in the Gospel this weekend that could be considered as an argument against the existence of God! How is that for disturbing? It is the deaf man with a speech impediment.
“Well,” you might be thinking, “that does not sound like a very convincing argument to me!” But do not be too hasty. That deaf man with a speech impediment has experienced what the philosophers and theologians of antiquity define as evil. The philosophical and theological definition of evil is "privation"; it is a lack of a proper good where a good ought to be.
We ought to be able to hear sounds in the world around us. We ought to be able to listen to a majestic symphony or hear the sound of our own mother’s voice calling our name. We ought to be able to communicate and speak with the people in our lives we love most. All of those things have been denied that deaf man with the speech impediment.
I assure you there is no more common or convincing argument used down through the ages to deny the existence of God than the experience of evil. The atheist is seldom the one who has sat down and read the Scriptures and the Summa Theologica; It is not often the one who has studied theology extensively and then come to the sad conclusion that the idea of God is simply untenable.
It is the man or woman who has looked at the Holocaust in the face and experienced a living hell here on earth that will sometimes say, “I cannot believe that God exists.” It is often the person who has encountered a tragic or sudden loss or the one whose life seems to be falling apart without any rhyme or reason; that is the one who will say, “I refuse to believe in a God who has allowed this to happen.”
Even as people of faith we are often at a loss for words when confronted with an argument like that. But St. Thomas Aquinas, in his Summa contra Gentiles, uses that same line of reasoning to argue for the existence of God. He says, rather shockingly: Quia malum est, Deus est. Because evil exists, God exists.
If evil is a privation or lack of the good, then it can only exist in relation to the order of good; there would be no order of good if not for the supreme good who is God (see Summa contra Gentiles, III, 71).
But more importantly, we could not live in this world another day if there were no possibility of God’s existence. We could never go on as a people of hope if, when all is said and done, this world is all that there is; if there is not a final recompense for something as atrocious as the holocaust. There must be a God who will respond to the violence, racism and discrimination that occurs in the world we live in. There must be one who will set things straight and bring about justice after all the injustice that has taken place from the beginning of time. Quia malum est, Deus est.
As people of faith we believe that even now God is beginning to do just that. He is—even now—beginning to restore the order, unity and beauty to the world that we live in. We see that clearly in the Gospel this weekend. Jesus Christ meets evil—that privation of the good—head on…and heals it. Yet, He does so in a rather peculiar way.
Christ not only speaks the words of healing to this person but He also touches him. We are body and soul, spiritual and physical, and thus Christ heals this man physically and spiritually at the point of his greatest need. He not only speaks to the depths of that man’s soul: “Ephphatha!” that is, “Be opened!” (Mark 7:34). He also sticks His finger in the man’s ear and spits on his tongue. Have you ever considered how strange that is?! Jesus Christ is literally reconnecting this man—physically and spiritually—to the source of healing, power, and life that is Himself! He reconnects that man and restores all that he had lost, opening up the possibility for an entire spectrum of experiences and relationships, both human and divine.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that Christ, who did that, and consistently reaches out and touches those who are broken and the hurting in the Gospels, continues to touch us in the sacraments in order to heal us (see CCC, #1504). Thanks be to God for the Church that Christ founded! Thanks be to God for the Sacraments by which Christ continues to reach out and touch this world so effected by evil and so much in need of healing and wholeness! Quia malum est, Deus est!
But I would borrow from that argument of St. Thomas Aquinas just a bit this weekend, and say not only “Because evil exists, God exists.” Following from that I would also say, “Quia malum est, sacerdos est!” Because evil exists, the priest exists!
If God is to continue to reach out to this broken world through the Sacraments of the Church, then there must be some who are called by God to surrender their bodies and their souls in love so that God may say through them:
This is my body given up for you…this is the cup of my blood. Take it and receive it. Be reconnected to the source of life and the source of healing that is Myself.
There must be some, called by God, who will surrender their bodies and their souls in love so that God may say through them, to the broken and those filled with sorrow for their sins:
I absolve you from your sins.
There must be some, called by God, who will receive a small child and pour water over that child’s head—or receive an adult, converted inwardly by faith and the Holy Spirit—and say “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
Because there is such a lack of the good in so many places of society and life and because there is such a need and so many hunger and thirst for the living God, there must be at least some who will make Him sacramentaly present in this world. That is why Pope Benedict XVI has asked us all to focus on this year as the Year for Priests. Because evil exists, God must exist, and so, too must the priest.
There are 16 men here at the American College in Leuven preparing for priesthood. In this Year for Priests I plead with you to pray for them, intercede to God for them. Pray that they will be as connected to Christ as the man who was healed in the Gospel, that they will be physically and spiritually touched by Christ in the Sacraments of the Church and opened up for all that He wills to do in their lives this year. Pray for those of us entrusted with their formation, for their professors and all who will be a part of their preparation for Holy Orders. There is indeed a lack of the good in the world we live in, and these men have said, “Yes,” to God because they have understood that He wants to use them to do something about it.