Contemporary Scripture Reflections for Spiritual Seekers
Dr. Elizabeth-Anne Stewart

Sunday BibleTalk: September 9th, 2018
Sunday BibleTalk with Sunday Video Chat!
Please scroll down for my scripture reflection and for information r egarding two free Tele-Listening Circles I am offering. PPP
Greetings, SBT Readers:

Bless me Father, for I have sinned.... From the time I turned seven years old, the Confessional Box-- so rare to see these days -- was a regular, if not uncomfortable, part of my childhood piety. Every Friday morning, my classmates and I donned long black veils and processed to the Sacred Heart Chapel to be absolved of our sins. Kneeling on one side of the priest, barely reaching up to the metal grille, I always hoped he wouldn't recognize me and that the student waiting at the other grille couldn't hear my pathetic list of standard sins -- lying three times, disobeying my parents three times, and fighting with my sisters three times. The only variation was when, as a second grader, I had learned about Saint Maria Goretti in class and decided I should try adding the sin of impurity to my list. Given my confessor's reaction ( a rigorous cross-examination regarding "what," "how often" and "with whom"!) and the extra penance I received, I went back to my standard venial sins....

When I reached high school, the confessional was the place my confessor once grilled me on what I had done with my boyfriend in the back of his car over the weekend. Since I had neither boyfriend nor car, I found this entirely confusing. In retrospect, I was fortunate that the matter ended there. For many survivors of clerical abuse, the Confessional Box is a symbol of both sexual and spiritual abuse; instead of separating priest and penitent, it provided a place where both physical and emotional abuse could take place-- and did so for centuries!

Clerical sexual abuse is not a new phenomenon in the Catholic Church; it goes back centuries and is ingrained in clerical culture. Jesus surrounded himself with women and married men; as an observant Jew, he would have considered marital sexual intimacy not only to be a blessing but also a mitzvot or commandment. And God saw that it was very good (Gn 1:28). The early church, however, was influenced by Greek thought, especially the writings of Aristotle and Plato. Men represented the rational and God-like; women were associated with uncontrolled sexuality and the demonic. Plato, in fact, held that only men have souls (Plato, Timaeus 90e), while Aristotle viewed women as "defective males" on account of their inability to produce sperm ( Generation of Animals , I, 728a) . In keeping with this thinking, Tert ullian believed that women were "the devil's gateway"; for his part, St. Jerome held that if a woman renounced marriage and lived for Christ only, she was then worthy of being called "a man."

Not surprisingly, women and the body became taboo within Christianity. Asceticism and virginity were idealized and regarded as the only way to find God/ please God. By the eleventh century, Pope Gregory VII condemned priestly marriage and promoted mandatory celibacy for the clergy. In 1139, his successor, Innocent III, declared all priestly marriages invalid: "Overnight, women who had been legal wives were now labeled concubines, whores, or adulteresses" (Torjesen, When Women Were Priests, NY: HarperCollins, 1993 , 226).

The church founded by Jesus was neither hierarchical nor patriarchal; it was based on an "embodied spirituality" which valued friendships, the ordinary events of daily life such as weddings and parties, and the beauty of the natural world. The very ritual of the Eucharist reflects this:
"Take - eat- this is my body." Jesus would have been entirely confused by the notion that the soul is imprisoned in the body or that women's only function in life is procreation. Nor would he have understood the idea that women cannot serve God fully because, unlike men, they do not mirror him (Jesus) anatomically.

If we are going to move beyond a "band aid" approach to clerical sexual abuse, then we need to return to basics -- Gospel basics! The roots of our present crisis are not the 1950's, or 2002, but, rather, they stem from the church's shift away from Jesus' holistic spirituality to an ethereal spirituality which demanded the suppression of sexuality, the material world and the feminine.

Many Blessings!


PS Please note that Sunday Chat is an imperfect production, entirely unscripted and therefore prone to some "rough spots" in terms of clarity and expression! Please note that I should have said that there were married clergy until the C12th not the C11th and that the philosophers who most influenced Christianity were Plato and Aristotle.


And people brought to him a deaf man who had a speech impediment,
begging him to lay hands on him.
Jesus took him away from the crowd,
put his finger into the man’s ears
and, spitting, touched his tongue;
then he looked up to heaven and groaned, saying to him,
“Ephphatha!” — that is, “Be opened!” —
And immediately the man’s ears were opened,
his speech impediment was removed,
and he spoke plainly. 
MK 7:31-37

There are multiple ways of interpreting any text, whether sacred or secular. In Jewish tradition, gaps in the biblical texts were filled by "Midrash Aggadah" or narrative/ theological interpretations penned by rabbis mostly between 200-1000 C.E. ; these commentaries explored nuances in the text which would expand its meaning and therefore its timelessness. Similarly, in creative writing classes, I teach my students that what a literary work means = the original intention of the author + all the interpretations of its readers. When approaching today's Gospel, we will see that multiple interpretations are possible, without distorting the original meaning. Here are three different approaches:


Mk 7:31-37 can be read on a literal level as a story of healing. The man who is hearing and speech impaired cannot speak for himself and so "people" (friends? family? neighbors?) beg Jesus to heal him. What follows is a personal encounter between Jesus and the afflicted man; this results in the man's being able to hear and speak clearly. The story follows a familiar formula:

* There is a statement of faith in Jesus. In this case, the afflicted man cannot speak for himself, but he does allow his "people" to present him to Jesus and this implies that he, too, has faith.
* There is a personal encounter between the man and Jesus that has a physical dimension; in this case, the "tactile elements" for a contemporary reader may seem rather too "raw" for comfort!
* Jesus prays (looks up to heaven and groans).
* Jesus utters a command -- "Ephphatha!" ( "Be opened!")
* Healing takes place (the man can now hear and speak clearly)
* Jesus instructs those who have witnessed the healing not to tell anyone.
* The witnesses are astonished and proclaim what they have seen to everyone.


On a symbolic level, the man who is hearing and speech impaired is Everyman (or Everywoman !) The "fallen state" of humanity means that each of us is prone to selective seeing, hearing and speaking. We are closed to Truth and therefore block out anything we would rather not see or hear. This makes life more comfortable (we think) and, in our imagination, safer, healthier and more prosperous. We delude ourselves. Our inability to see and hear leads only to suffering for ourselves and others. God constantly calls, but as long as we are close-minded and willfully turn our backs, we are on a downward path, even if we are unaware of this. At some point in our lives, there may be a turning point -- often a moment of crisis or profound loss, followed by an encounter with the Living Christ. Brought to our knees, we cry out for healing and then, miraculously, our eyes and ears are opened and amazing grace enters in. At such a time, we may be gripped by the need to give witness or to speak prophetically in God's service. The story of the deaf man, then, is a story of everyone who journeys from not-hearing to having hearing, from not-seeing to having sight, from remaining silent to learning to speak Truth and be an advocate for others, especially the voiceless.


If the man who is hearing and speech impaired can represent all of us on a symbolic level, he can surely represent the church. He is brought before Jesus as surely as the church is being dragged to the foot of the cross by the survivors of clergy sexual abuse and by the outraged faithful. He cannot speak for himself any more than the bishops, cardinals and religious superiors who have protected their own rather than intervene on behalf of the victims; those who have covered-up these heinous crimes only know how to utter defensive statements and denials of wrong-doing. Nor does he hear screams of anguish, cries for justice or the teachings of Jesus, The Good Shepherd, because he has covered his ears. Instead, he wants to maintain the status quo , to continue to peddle power and influence while buying silence. Unless he opens his heart and asks for healing, there is no hope. Jesus says to him, Ephphatha and demands that he be open -- this is what the institutional church must do if it hopes to survive. Be open.....

  1. If you were to imagine yourself as the hearing-impaired man in the Gospel narrative, what would you ask of Jesus?
  2. Are you fully open to God's Word or are there topics/ issues that you would rather not hear about?
  3. To what extent is the story of the hearing-impaired man a conversion story?
In last week's Sunday Chat, I called on spiritual directors to form Listening Circles in which parishioners and religious leaders can share their thoughts and feelings regarding sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in a "safe" and respectful Listening Circle ; such faith-based groups could also be facilitated by pastoral counselors, chaplains, Christian coaches, teachers etc. I am offering TWO sessions by conference-call for anyone who wishes to join me. Each group will be limited to ten participants who must pre-register by email ( to receive the conference code; there is no cost to participate.

DATES: September 13th and September 27th, 6:30-7:30 p.m. (CST)
  1. Brief introductions: first name and why YOU have chosen to participate in a Listening Session.
  2. Sharing of images which capture how YOU feel about the sex abuse crisis e.g. your parish church demolished by a wrecking ball or the contents of the chalice spilling over the altar after the consecration.
  3. Sharing of how the ongoing revelations about sexual abuse and cover-ups have affected YOUR faith in God and in the institutional church.
  4. Sharing of what YOU need at this time to support you in your faith journey.
  5. Sharing of how YOU can help others in their own spiritual healing process.
  6. Discussion of what the Church needs to do to be fully transparent, to respond to the needs of the abused and of the outraged, and to return to Gospel values.
  7. Brief "check-in" regarding the Listening Circle process.
  8. Closing prayers of intercession offered by participants who wish to end with prayer or optional silence.

The September 20th book launch is just 2 weeks away! If you live in the Chicago area, please join me and Dr. Patrick Williams to celebrate TWO books on inner guidance! There is no obligation to buy our books, but we would love to share with you some of our work in inner guidance. Follow this link for full details:

This video explains my work in Image Guidance and introduces the contents of my new book, Mind-Shifting Imagery. You can order the book or its Kindle version on Amazon:

Mind-Shifting Imagery

Photos by Elizabeth-Anne Stewart,