As St. Paul wrote to Timothy in the second reading on September 22 his wish that all “should pray, lifting up holy hands” (1 Timothy 2:8), so the community of St. Francis of Assisi Deaf Catholic Church in Landover Hills, Maryland did just that as they gathered with Washington Archbishop Wilton Gregory for a celebration of the Mass in American Sign Language.

Those in attendance at the Mass included those who are deaf or hard of hearing, those who are deaf and blind, those who speak other languages as their first language, persons with physical, developmental, intellectual or sensory disabilities, students from Gallaudet University – the liberal arts university in Washington, D.C., that serves deaf and hard-of-hearing students – and the many other people who make up the Deaf Catholic community of the Archdiocese of Washington. 

“No matter those differences, what gathers us as a community is our Catholic faith as experienced through the lens of deafness,” said Mary O’Meara, the executive director of the archdiocese’s Department of Special Needs Ministries. 

The Mass was celebrated orally and was then communicated in sign language, and the readings were done in sign language as well.

Using sign language, members of the congregation of St. Francis of Assisi Deaf Catholic Church in Landover Hills participate in a Sept. 21 Mass celebrated by Washington Archbishop Wilton Gregory. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)

During his homily, the archbishop spoke of that day’s Gospel reading from St. Luke, in which Christ warns the listeners, “You cannot serve both God and mammon,” the greedy pursuit of wealth or material gain.

The “addiction” of money is one that so often threatens and ensnares the human heart, he said. 

“We all know people who are addicted to something: alcohol, chocolate, gambling, golf, gaming, or some other trend,” he said. “We also know that some addictions are much more destructive than others.” 

While money can indeed be helpful when used wisely, the Gospel is so hard on money, the archbishop said, in order to teach us real fulfillment comes from a loving relationship with God, not from any material addiction.  

“Our human heart is made for love,” he said. “We are people who will only be perfectly happy when we are engaged in a loving relationship, and the ultimate loving relationship that we long for is with God.” 

In searching for this “contentment of love,” the archbishop said, we are so often bewildered and captivated by lesser goods of the world. 

But there is hope, because “the Gospel then reminds us that the human heart ultimately belongs to God,” he said. 

The archbishop encouraged the practice of the virtue of generosity, materially and spiritually, radically and in daily life, in order to conquer the attraction of wealth and to use wealth for its highest purpose. 

“You see, together, we can lick this addiction,” he concluded. 

Using sign language, Christina DiSalvo of the Archdiocese of Washington's Department of Special Needs Ministries interprets Archbishop Wilton Gregory's spoken words during the Sept. 21 Mass at St. Francis of Assisi Deaf Catholic Church. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)

After the Mass, the community presented Archbishop Gregory with a statue of St. Francis of Assisi, the namesake of their parish. The archbishop then greeted the members of the congregation. 

“Did you learn any signs this morning, Archbishop?,” Pauline Spanbauer, a member of the St. Francis of Assisi Deaf Council, asked the Archbishop in American Sign Language, which was then interpreted by O’Meara. He then raised his hands and rotated his wrists - the sign for applause.

The 10th annual White Mass, which celebrates the gifts of persons with disabilities and the Deaf community, will take place on Oct. 27 at 11:30 a.m. at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle.