Yesterday, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia announced an innovative way to bring devotion into the digital world – the Religious Signs for Families app. Touted as “a delightful and engaging way to learn ASL (American Sign Language),” the mobile tool offers everything “from signs for religious words and actions to everyday words and prayers.”
The app will be especially helpful for families with deaf children or deaf couples with young children. Easy to follow, it provides an efficient and pleasing way to teach the prayers that those of us who are not hearing-impaired learned while growing up. In this way, technology supports the truth that the family is the first school of spirituality.
But it’s even more important than that because it brings into digital reality a belief that is fundamental to our faith, namely, that the call to holiness is universal. Even the deaf can (and should) be devout, as should we all.
But growth in the faith presupposes communication. As St. Paul writes in his letter to the Romans, salvation is for all. “But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him?” (10:14).
One answer to those questions comes from St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622). The Bishop of Geneva and Doctor of the Church is renowned for championing the universal call to holiness in his Introduction to the Devout Life. Underscoring his teaching is the story of a real-life encounter that shows importance of communicating the faith to all.
While preaching in a nearby town in 1605, Francis met a deaf and mute man named Martin. The future saint, himself, prepared the young lad for his Easter communion there. Later the bishop brought him to work at the episcopal residence in Annecy. There he continued to give him lessons on the mysteries of salvation and the teachings of morality.
How they managed to communicate is a mystery! Francis signed, somehow, and Martin clearly learned.
As a visitor attests, Martin could make the sign of the cross, follow Mass during the day, examine his conscience before going to bed, express his prayers to the Blessed Virgin Mary and the saints, and even go to Confession with the Bishop.
The story of Francis and Martin exemplifies the pastoral importance of “accompaniment” that Pope Francis is constantly extolling. Finding a way to care for someone spiritually has eternal consequences – for both parties!
For his inventive ways of teaching Martin, and the tender charity that characterized their encounters, Francis de Sales is now the patron saint of the deaf. For all of us, this example of accompanying young people in the development of their faith offers a model to be followed.
And now there’s an app for that!
featured image from http://deafcatholicphilly.org/religious-sign-app/