On Hearing the Word


The Gospel account of the man born blind (John 9:1-41), speaks of hearing four times.

Liturgically, it is not appropriate, save for reasons of hearing loss, for the faithful to read the Scriptures from some text as the lector is reading them. Such individualism is alien to Catholic sensibility. The Living Word said to His disciples, "Let him who has ears to hear, hear" (Mark 4:9). He did not say, "Let him who has eyes to read, read." The Word of God is not literature. His voice makes a personal contact. At the Resurrection, Mary Magdalene could see the Lord, but she recognized Him only when He spoke her name, and Cleopas and his companion saw Him on the Emmaus road, but their hearts were moved when He "opened" the meaning of the Scriptures to them, and they recognized Him only when He broke bread.

Jesus is not content with giving the blind man physical sight. Of course, He deals with the pedantry of the Pharisees like someone flicking a gnat, but His attention is toward that man who suddenly can see with his eyes, but needs yet to see with his soul.

At the behest of Pope Gregory X, St. Thomas Aquinas wrote his glorious Eucharistic lines so that they might be heard: Visus, tactus, gustus in te fallitur; Sed auditu solo tuto creditur. "Taste and touch and vision, to discern thee fail / Faith that comes through hearing pierces through the veil." (From Adoro te devote.)

One discipline of Lent should be to unplug the I-Pods, turn off the television, and listen for the Voice. It is easier to be aware that something is hard to see than hard to hear. But the Voice is all important, and explains what the eye may see but does not understand.

The salvific suffering of Jesus began when Philip and Andrew told Him that there were Greeks who wanted to see Him (John 12:21). We do not know what those Greeks made of Him when they saw Jesus. Just as hearing is not listening, so seeing is not perceiving. The virtue of Faith transforms the physical sensation into a moral fact. So our Lord said to His apostle in Easter: "Because thou hast seen me, Thomas, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and have believed" (John 20:29). As the soul understands Christ through the heart, the cure needed is not for hardness of hearing, but hardness of heart. When the human heart wills what God wills, then blindness and deafness both are cured. Having given sight to the blind man, Jesus asked him if he believed in the Son of Man. The man did not know what that meant. So the Voice spoke: "You have seen Him, and it is He who speaks to you." In that moment the man born blind understood and worshiped Him, "Lord, I believe" (John 9:35-38).




Father George William Rutler. "On Hearing the Word." From the Pastor (April 2, 2011).

Reprinted with permission of Father George W. Rutler.

Stained glass window by Debora Coombs.


Father Rutler received priestly ordination in 1981. Born in 1945 and reared in the Episcopal tradition, Father Rutler was an Episcopal priest for nine years. He was received into the Catholic Church in 1979 and was sent to the North American College in Rome for seminary studies. Father Rutler graduated from Dartmouth, where he was a Rufus Choate Scholar, and took advanced degrees at the Johns Hopkins University and the General Theological Seminary. He holds several degrees from the Gregorian and Angelicum Universities in Rome, including the Pontifical Doctorate in Sacred Theology, and studied at the Institut Catholique in Paris. In England, in 1988, the University of Oxford awarded him the degree Master of Studies. From 1987 to 1989 he was regular preacher to the students, faculty, and townspeople of Oxford. Cardinal Egan appointed him Pastor of the Church of Our Saviour, effective September 17, 2001.

Since 1988 his weekly television program has been broadcast worldwide on EWTN. Father Rutler has published 17 books, including: Cloud of Witnesses - Dead People I Knew When They Were Alive, Coincidentally: Unserious Reflections on Trivial Connections, A Crisis of Saints: Essays on People and Principles, Brightest and Best, Saint John Vianney: The Cure D'Ars Today, Crisis in Culture, and Adam Danced: The Cross and the Seven Deadly Sins.

Copyright © 2011 Father George W. Rutler

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