Sunday, July 3, 2011

We could use some more gentleness

Note: I'm enjoying my second week of vacation, so here's another homily from the archives. I delivered this on July 8, 2008.  I'll be back next weekend!  Happy 4th of July to everyone!
One of the famous Aesop’s Fables tells of a dispute 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. He blew and blew, but the more he blew, the tighter the person held on to the coat. Finally, exhausted, the wind gave up. Then the sun took over. It merely shone in all its glory. Within minutes, the person took of their coat. Aesop said that the moral of the story was this: you can achieve more by gentleness than by violence.

In our world today, gentleness is not as highly regarded as it once was. There was a time when the best compliment you could receive was to be called a gentle person. Our own word “gentleman” testifies to this reality. Today, however, it seems in our culture that violence is more popular than gentleness. Just look at the media. 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. It is estimated that by the time an average 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. And just listen to the titles of the four most popular video games today: “Super Smash Bros. Brawl,” “Battlefield,” “Grand Theft Auto” and “World of Warcraft.” It shouldn’t be surprising that our world and even our families reflect the violence of our age.

How different from what Jesus taught us. He said, “Learn from me for I am meek and humble of heart.” As we heard 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 bent over, gently, and wrote in the sand with His finger. His action stood out like a clap of thunder in the silence of a summer’s night.

Jesus taught us to be gentle also. He held up for our imitation the shepherd in the Parable of the Lost Sheep. He didn’t beat the sheep or drag it home. He placed it gently on his shoulders. Or the father of the Prodigal Son. The father didn’t shout at his wayward son. He didn’t hassle him; he hugged him, loved him and welcomed him home.

Joseph Lahey tells this story of himself in Guideposts magazine. As a child, Joseph ha a crippled back, twisted and distorted. Fully clothed, he could pass for all right, but when he took his shirt off, it was very noticeable. Joseph hated his deformed back. As a boy, one day he stood in line at school 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. Joseph 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,” Joseph 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 Joseph’s chart before stepping out of the room for a moment. Joseph was curious what the doctor had written, so he quickly looked at the chart. Under the heading “Physical Characteristics,” the doctor had written, “Joseph has an unusually well-shaped head.” Joseph couldn’t believe his eyes.

That brief episode in Joseph’s life took place many years ago, but the boy never forgot the gentleness and the encouraging words of that kind doctor. Today’s Gospel contains a similarly important invitation for all of us. We are invited today to learn from Jesus because He is “gentle and humble of heart.”

What does this mean concretely for us in the week ahead? First, it means we should try to respond to people as the sun did in Aesop’s fable – with gentleness and warmth. Second, it means we should try to respond to 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. Third, it means we should try to respond to people with heavy burdens just as the doctor did with young Joseph – with tenderness and sensitivity.

Let me conclude with a prayer. I invite you to close your eyes and pray silently with me. Lord, during the week ahead, help us to remember the gentleness and warmth of the sun in our dealings with one another; help us to remember the tenderness of the doctor as we meet people who are weary and burdened; help us to remember the words of Jesus, Your Son, who said, “Learn from me for I am meek and humble of heart.”

May God give you peace.

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