Dear Brothers and Sisters,
It has been said that Mark Twain saw overly pious Christians as being a bit phony. One of the famous stories that validates his concerns happened at a dinner party where a man cornered Twain and said, “Before I die, I am going to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. When I arrive, I will climb Mount Sinai, and from the very top I will boldly proclaim the Ten Commandments.” Twain replied, “I have a better idea. Why don’t you stay right here at home and obey them.” While the story reveals Twain’s sarcastic side, it also points to today’s readings which invite us to look at the difference between talking and doing. The letter to James reminds us that we are to “be doers of the word, not only hearers.” And Jesus turns to the prophet Isaiah in today’s gospel to make the point that “these people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”
I can make the case that it is good that we honor God with our spoken words. We do it all the time in very effective ways. A few examples: We confess sorrow for our sins as we say and pray the Confiteor at the beginning of Holy Mass. After the readings we say: “Thanks be to God.” Immediately before the Eucharistic Prayers are spoken by the priest, we sing or say, “Holy, holy, holy.” After the priest says or sings the words: “Through Him, with Him, and In Him…” everyone is called to say or sing what is called Amen and again just before we receive the Body and Blood of Our Lord. These spoken words that come from our mouths point us to a deeper reality that is meant to change our hearts. Our spoken or sung words inform our hearts and move us to take actions that eventually will build God’s kingdom here and prepare us for the hereafter.
A simple way to examine our action meter is to look no further than your family. It is one thing to say that you love your spouse but love in action requires effort beyond words. If you are blessed to have children, you know that you must make the time to show them how to live life. You know they are watching your actions. Children are very perceptive, and they are negatively impacted when they witness your loving words are not backed up by loving actions. Many solid Catholics understand that we are blessed to live in this country, yet we encounter those folks who are very quick to criticize politicians. I am okay with constructive criticisms, but I believe we all could speak less and work harder to assure that the candidates that are elected are men and women of character and integrity. Similarly, there are always those well intended but misguided folks who say that they love the Catholic Church. But I find that many of these same people who are complaining about the Church, are unwilling to promote and support vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life and get involved in making the Church stronger and more holy.
Most rational people understand that words do have real power and real consequences. Words have the power to build up and make stronger and words have the power to tear down and destroy. So yes, words do matter, but the spoken word is not usually enough. Real change for the better often happens when words are accompanied by our actions. Easier said than done. Don’t lose heart. Our actions include courage and willpower but as people of faith, we understand that God works with us and through us as we act to make a difference in our world. The letter to James says, “Humbly welcome the word that has been planted within you and is able to save your souls.” God’s word has been planted within us. As you and I nourish that word of God with the Sacraments, especially Confession and Holy Communion, then God’s word will grow within us. As God’s word grows within each one of us, we grow in wisdom. We also become more courageous and more committed to doing God’s will.
Open your heart to receive the word that God has planted within you. By God’s grace, you are strengthened to worship God not only with your lips but with your heart and with your deeds. May you be a disciple, not only in words but in actions—actions that bring about the good, the true and the beautiful in our lives and in our world.BACK TO LIST