Homilies by Fr. Alan Phillip

1st Sunday of Lent (C) The Power Of Words
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      A quick riddle: What do you call a cow that twitches?  Beef jerky


     As we begin the season of Lent, I have a suggestion about fasting and almsgiving. I begin with an example.


     I’d like you to imagine on my right a little child and on my left another little child.  Both have a group of people gathered around them.  This little child on my right tries to grow and develop, but the people pour something over it, and the child bends over and shrivels up.  Again the child struggles to straighten up and grow, and again these people pour something over it and it winces, flinches and withdraws. This goes on and on, and the poor child never grows and develops.  During its life it is always sick, scrawny, weak, unproductive.  


     However, over here, when this child on my left starts to grow, the people gathered around it pour some stuff on it, and it brightens up and grows some more. Again, the people pour some more stuff on the child and it gets healthier and grows some more.  The pour more stuff and finally the child becomes beautiful, handsome, strong, fully human and fully alive. 


     Both groups of people, the ones on the right and the ones on the left are pouring the same thing on these children.  What is it?  The answer: words.  Yes, words. But, obviously, different kinds of words.


     On the right, the people are pouring words such as these:


     Get out of my way, dummy.

     Don’t bother me.

     How could you be so stupid?

     I don’t have time for you.

     You’re such a nerd.

     You never do anything right.

     You’ll never amount to anything.

     Why can’t you be like so-and-so?

     Why don’t you act your age?


     Even worse, they use words and phrases that are

ethnic put-downs, racial slurs, along with some swear words and phrases that deeply insult and tear people down.  


     The result is that the child  

is filled with anger and apathy

loses the ability to dream,

has difficulty dealing with failure,

feels inadequate,

lacks self-confidence,

has a poor self-image,

and is filled with sadness. 


     The child’s life, full of possibilities, never develops.    Needless to say, it has a tough time believing in a loving Creator.


     Now, on this side the people are pouring upon the child words like these:


      It’s so nice to be with you.

      I missed you when you are away.

     Nice going.

      Keep up the good work

      Tell me, what do you think?

      What are you feeling?   

      You’re beautiful.

      You can do it.

      You are such a good friend.

      You are such fun.  

      You really tried hard, didn’t you?

      You’re such a delight.

      Thank you.

      I love you.


     Constantly pouring words like these over the child has amazing results.  The child

is able to dream,

can deal with failure,

is filled with hope,

has lots of self-confidence,

has a healthy self-image,

wants to share its gifts and talents,

and knows how to spread joy


     The child grows up feeling a deep bond with other human beings.   It feels a peace within and possesses a real love for God who first gave it the gift of life.


     We are all like children.  So my suggestion is that during Lent we make a special effort to fast from negative words and alms-give positive words.  


     What’s it going to be like when we die and have to face our God?  Fortunately, Jesus told us what it is going to be like.  In the Gospel of Mathew, Chapter 25, he paints a picture of our final accounting.  


     “When the Son of Man comes…All the nations will be gathered before him and he will separate them as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  He will say to those on his right, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me food.  I was thirsty and you gave me drink.  I was a stranger and you welcomed me.  I was naked and you clothed me.  I was sick and you visited me.  I was in prison and you visited me. …  Whatever you did to the least of my people you did for me.’”  (Cf. Matthew 25:31-40) 


     Jesus is saying that we will be judged by how well we responded to the needs of others.  He could have given further examples: 


     “I was anxious and afraid, and you gave words of comfort. 

      I was discouraged, and you gave me words of encouragement.  

      I was insecure and filled with self-doubt, and you gave me words of praise.  


     I was sad and depressed, and you gave me words that cheered me up.  

     I was suffering, and you gave me words of compassion. 

     I was feeling unloved and you gave me words of affection.  

     I was feeling unappreciated and you said ‘Thank you.’ 


     I was angry and your words calmed me down.  

     I was hurt and you said you were sorry. 

     I was broken hearted and your words helped me heal. 

     I was lazy and your words challenged me. 


     Whatever you said to the least of my people, you said to me.”


     The psychologist, William James, said,

“The deepest principle in human nature is

the craving to be appreciated.”


     Imagine that every person you see is carrying a sign on their forehead that says, 

“Appreciate me.”  And every chance you get this Lent you say, “Thank you.  I appreciate

you and what you are doing.”
  What a great way to keep Lent by fasting from negative words

and almsgiving positive words.  It will do wonders both for the ones hearing those words and the ones speaking them. 
     I’d like to close with some other quotes:


 “I can live for two months on a good compliment.

                                                                                                       -- Mark Twain


“Sticks and stones can break my bones,

but words can break my heart.”

                                                                                       -- Robert Fulghum


“A kind word is like a spring day.”

                           -- Russian proverb


“Kind words will unlock an iron door.”

                                                                                        -- Turkish proverb


     And St. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians said, “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for edifying, as fits the occasion, that it may impart grace to those who hear.”  -- Ephesians 4:29


     By fasting from negative words, almsgiving positive words, let’s make it a very happy and holy Lent.





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