Saturday, September 6, 2014

Sept. 7, 2014: 23rd Sunday in Ordinary A

Click to hear audio homily
How well do you take criticism? Criticism is an expression of disapproval of someone or something based on perceived faults or mistakes. Imagine you’re on the bleachers at a Friday night Ascension Catholic High School football game. Your son, who is a wide receiver, is about to catch the ball that would score a touchdown. With anticipation you rise up from your bench to get a glimpse, hoping your son will see the ball and catch it. Your son reaches out for it, and has it on the tip of his fingers, but at the moment he is about to catch it, he gets distracted and drops the ball. You hear a collective sigh of disappointment from the home team bleachers. Then you hear a distinctive word from somewhere up in the bleachers, “Idiot!” That word hurt you more than the disappointment from the dropped ball.

Do you ever find yourself inadvertently or intentionally giving criticism that is not well received? Whether you are reviewing an employee or dealing with a family member or a friend, there is nothing pleasant about criticism. Even the best intentioned critique still stings. People like to be right, correct, and accomplished, and when they're not, it hurts to hear the truth, no matter how nice your critic tries to be. Constructive criticism is seldom received constructively. Still, those who strive to improve, value direct feedback no matter how painful.

In today’s Gospel we hear Jesus talking about the duty of a Christian to correct an erring brother or sister. He lays out how to go about doing so. Every effort is to be made to bring the erring person to repentance: first in private, then before a few, finally before the whole community. Do we follow that order that Jesus suggests? Or do we sometimes go the reverse order?

Suppose we were hurt by a person. First we begin by keeping it to ourselves. Then we brood over the injury. Eventually, unable to contain it to ourselves, we begin to tell others about it—friends, neighbors, relatives. Sometimes total strangers are brought into it. We bring them in, not as advisers, but as people who will validate our feelings. The last person to hear about the hurt is often the person who is causing it.

Confronting the person directly takes courage and involves risk. Sometimes a little honest talking may clear the air. The person may not be aware of the extent of the hurt he is causing. After speaking with him, he may understand the pain he has caused you, but what if he doesn't?  What then? Do we keep silent?

There is a time for silence, initially. According to St. Faustina, “Silence is a sword in the spiritual struggle. A talkative soul will never attain sanctity. The sword of silence will cut off everything that would like to cling to the soul. We are sensitive to words and quickly want to answer back, without taking any regard as to whether it is God’s will that we should speak. A silent soul is strong; no adversities will harm it if it perseveres in silence.” Yet we should not remain silent when silence can be taken to mean that we approve of what is happening. In that case we share responsibility for the evil. In the First Reading, Ezekiel was called to be a watcher for the house of Israel. He speaks to them, not out of arrogance, but out of genuine humility and care for them.

If we confront the offender in the right spirit, and he is genuine, he will want to put it right. If not, he won’t be able to plead ignorance, saying, ‘Why didn’t you tell me?’ Our responsorial psalm reminds us, “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” God is continually calling us from the error of our ways into a closer relationship with him and with one another. I’m sure there were times when you were hurt and had to speak up. Remember what St. Therese of Lisieux advised, "Whenever someone exasperates you, even to the point of making you angry, the way to regain peace of soul is to pray for that person and to ask God to reward her for giving you an opportunity to suffer."