01 October 2017
"Let your words teach and your actions speak"
Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
I think we have all been on one side or another of the following situation: a mother or father says to a child, “I need you to take out the trash, dear,” and the child says, “Ok,” and then some time passes, and the trash is not taken out because the child is playing a game, or watching tv, or doing something that he or she considers a little more important (and definitely more enjoyable) than taking out the trash. That’s basically the same parable that Jesus gives today in the Gospel, and this parable is one to which we easily relate.
Talk, as is said, is cheap. What really counts is actions. We all know this. If we loan someone money, and they keep telling us, “Oh yeah, I’ll get that to you by the end of the week,” but the weeks pass, and there is no reimbursement, we learn not to loan that person money. Kids can sometimes get in trouble for not doing the chores they say they will but never seem to accomplish. We can sometimes find out who our true friends are when we are in need and someone does or doesn’t stand by us. What we say has exponentially more force when we follow it up by what we do. St. Anthony of Padua said it this way: “Actions speak louder than words; let your words teach and your actions speak. We are full of words but empty of action, and therefore are cursed by the Lord, since he himself cursed the fig tree when he found no fruit but only leaves.” People say lots of things, but if they really want to make a difference, then those words need to be followed up by action. The son in the Gospel who was praised was the one who originally said no, but did what the father wanted.
We have, in our life as Christians, said yes to the Lord on numerous occasions. The minister of baptism says to parents,
You have asked to have your children baptized. In doing so you are accepting the responsibility of training them in the practice of the faith. It will be your duty to bring them up to keep God’s commandments as Christ taught us, by loving God and our neighbor. Do you clearly understand what you are undertaking?
Parents say to God that they will raise their child or children in the faith. And yet, how many times do we never see those parents again at Mass? How many times do children, especially as they approach First Holy Communion, not know how to pray, either conversationally with God, or even our simple memorized prayers like the Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be? It is not uncommon, even for parents who send their children to a Catholic School, to think that they no longer have to worry about raising their children in the faith, and yet, my personal experience and so many studies have shown that when the faith is not lived out at home, even if the child attends a Catholic school, that child will abandon the practice of the faith.
Or if we look at another sacrament, the Sacrament of Confirmation. In that sacrament, we are given more grace and power of the Holy Spirit to share our faith with others, and to live as witnesses to the faith that was, for most, professed for them in baptism. But out of those who have been confirmed, who said to God that they want to accept the grace of the Holy Spirit, how many show that faith in their words and actions? How many simply leave the majority of the practice of their faith at the doors of this church, so that their worship of God at Mass has no effect on the choices they make in their daily lives? And that’s if people even continue to practice their faith after Confirmation. The old cheesy joke about a pastor with a bat problem comes to mind: a young pastor has bats in the church. He tries to kill them with a tennis racquet, but no luck; he tries an exterminator, but the bats keep coming back. So he asks a neighboring, older pastor who previously had bats what to do. The older pastor says, “I just confirmed my bats, and I never saw them in church again.”
The other temptation for us, as children of God, is to do what we probably all have done as kids. When it came to our life at home, we have all probably said to ourselves ‘I’ll do my chores later when it’s more convenient.’ We have all also probably said to ourselves, ‘I’ll grow in my faith when I’m older.’ Whether it’s saying a rosary more frequently, saying daily prayers, going to an extra Mass or two during the week, or any other religious practice that we know is good, it can be very easy to say, “I’ll do that when I’m older or retired.” And certainly sometimes our Mass time is not conducive to working people, since we start at 8:15 a.m. But, I know we have more retired people in our parish than come to daily Mass. It’s not a requirement, so I’m not saying you have to come, but how many of you have thought about daily Mass, and maybe even told God you would go more, but then don’t follow through? It’s very easy for all of us, myself including, whether we’re in school, working, or retired, to promise God that we’re going to grow in our faith, and then not follow through, and so we keep saying that we’ll do it later. But in reality, we never have later. The future is never ours to own. All we ever know is that we have today, and how we can live our faith in the present.
Today the Lord invites us to let our actions speak; to follow what we say by what we do. May we all take seriously the admonition by St. John in his first letter, “let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth.”