Saturday, July 8, 2017

Gentleness is the language of Christians















HOMILY FOR THE 14th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, July 9, 2017:

One of Aesop’s Fables tells of a contest between the sun and the wind over which of the two was stronger. One day a person dressed in a coat was walking down a deserted country road. The sun said to the wind, “Whoever makes that person remove the coat faster will be the winner.” The wind agreed and decided to go first. The wind blew stronger and stronger, but no matter what, the just person held on to their coat tighter. Finally, exhausted, the wind gave up. Then the sun took over. All the sun did was shine in all its glory. Within minutes, the person took of their coat. The moral of Aesop’s story was: you can achieve more by gentleness than by violence.

In our world today, gentleness is not in as high regard as it once was. There was a time when the best compliment you could receive was to be called a gentle person. The word “gentleman” testifies to this reality. Today, however, our culture values aggressiveness and divisiveness more than it values gentleness. Just look at the media. News channels spend all day long shouting at each other. The average child spends 25 hours a week watching television, more time than they spend in school or engaged in any other activity except sleep. And it is estimated that by the time a child is 18; they will witness 200,000 acts of violence, including 40,000 murders. One study concluded that teens who watch more than one hour of TV a day were four times more likely to commit aggressive acts in adulthood. It shouldn’t be surprising that our culture reflects the violence of our age.

How different from what Jesus taught us today. He said, “Learn from me for I am meek and humble of heart.” Likewise, in our first reading today, Zechariah foretold the gentleness of Jesus, “Your king shall come to you; a just savior is he, he is meek…and he shall proclaim peace to the nations.” A beautiful example of the gentleness of Jesus is the way he handled the woman caught in adultery. Jesus was gentle not only with the woman, but also with her self-righteous accusers. He didn’t shout or rave. He didn’t yell or scream. He simply wrote in the sand gently with His finger. His gentle and loving compassion towards the woman stood out like a clap of thunder in the silence of a summer’s night in comparison to the violent accusations of the crowd.

Jesus repeatedly gives us gentle examples to imitate. He held up for us the shepherd in the Parable of the Lost Sheep who didn’t react aggressively to the sheep that ran away. He placed the sheep gently and lovingly on his shoulders. Or the father of the Prodigal Son who didn’t shout at or reject his wayward son. Instead, he hugged him, he loved him and welcomed him home.

I read a story in Guideposts magazine about a child who grew up with a crippled and twisted back. Fully clothed, he could pass for healthy, but when he took his shirt off, his disfigurement was noticeable. As a boy, one day he stood in line waiting to be examined by the school doctor. He always dreaded the moment when the doctor would say, “Remove your shirt.” Finally the terrible moment came. He fumbled with his buttons, his hands shaking badly. At last, his shirt was off. The doctor looked at him and then did something very unusual. He walked around the desk, held the boy’s face in his big hands, looked right at him and said, gently, “Do you believe in God?” “Yes sir,” the boy responded. “Good! The more you believe in Him, the more you believe in yourself.” The doctor went back to his desk and wrote something on his chart before stepping out of the room for a moment. The boy was curious and so he quickly looked at the chart. Under the heading “Physical Characteristics,” the doctor had written, “This boy has a perfectly well-shaped head.” The boy couldn’t believe his eyes. And, although that brief episode took place many years ago, but the boy never forgot the gentleness and the encouraging words of that kind doctor. This is the invitation of today’s Gospel for all of us, “Learn from me for I am gentle and humble of heart.”

And so, let us respond to the people we encounter as the sun did in Aesop’s fable – with gentleness and warmth. Let us engage those who have wronged us as Jesus did with the woman caught in adultery; and as the father of the Prodigal Son – with compassion and understanding. Let us build up people with heavy burdens just as the doctor did – with tenderness and sensitivity.

Pope Francis said, “The language of Christians is the language of gentleness and respect. It’s terrible to see people who say they are Christians, but who are full of bitterness. The Holy Spirit is gentle and calls us to likewise be always gentle, and to always respect others.” Let gentleness and respect be our language always.

“Learn from me for I am gentle and humble of heart.”

May the Lord give you peace.

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