by Katie Locus
Kneeling at the rail in my brand-new dress, my cheeks stinging, I swallow, trying not to cry. It was my confirmation, and the bishop had just slapped me. I must have failed whatever this was. I wish I could understand why I failed. Walking back to my pew, I see my family smiling, waving at me. I don’t understand, why are they so happy I failed?”
Anita, 12 years old at the time, didn’t realize the bishop’s slap was part of the rite of confirmation years ago, since she couldn’t understand what he was saying. Anita is deaf, and her sacramental experience of confusion and embarrassment is common for deaf children and adults.
Although a slap is not used now in the confirmation rite, it illustrates the point. Imagine living in a world where sound is muted. You are detached from everything until something or someone interacts with you. You quickly review the files in your head to decide the next steps: “Do I need to nod my head and smile?” “Do I need to move out of the way?”
Now living every day with the mute button on, imagine going to church. Stand up! Sit down! Stand again, now kneel! You watch the priest and lector talk, but you don’t understand a word.
Imagine trying to follow the congregation and trying to decipher what’s happening — would you be able to contemplate the homily? Would watching the priest just move his mouth be fascinating? How about having the priest “hear” your confession? Or “hearing” the priest when you renew your baptismal vows at confirmation or make vows at your wedding?
Would you feel lost? Yes.
So, not surprisingly, many deaf children and adults report feeling like lost sheep among the fold because they don’t understand what’s going on.
It is these sheep that deaf ministry has come to serve. The ministry provides interpreters, deaf Masses and religious education classes. Classes are taught with catechists formed to teach deaf children. Attention is given to make our parishes accessible for the deaf members of the body. A church where the word is dimly muted suddenly becomes vibrant, visual sound.
Abstract ideas make sense and stories from the Bible become tangible. Jesus is transfigured from a corpus on a cross to the living Son of God.
It took Anita a while to understand the happiness of her confirmation. No one should feel like a failure in faith simply because she cannot hear.
If you know a Catholic family with a deaf child or a deaf Catholic adult who has not received all his or her sacraments, contact me online at: firstname.lastname@example.org or call (913) 324-5378.
I can help because I too am deaf and have known what it feels like to be lost among the faithful, and to be saved by the church that understands.