Sunday, September 25, 2011

Out Loud

Yesterday's Confirmation Retreat for our 10th graders was simply stupendous, thanks in no small part to my dear friend, Michelle Watkins, who was presenter/facilitator.  What a great group of young people!  They were even given a chance to guide their blindfolded pastor through a sort of obstacle course...which included several raw eggs...and which had us all LOL.

Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

We had a retreat day yesterday for our Confirmation students.
I shared this story with them during the closing Mass
and—since it comes from their world—
I’m not surprised that they liked…
…but I suspect that you will too.

Some time ago I heard a true story about a father and son.
Luke was 12 or 13 and starting to spend a lot of time in his room,
a lot of time on his cell phone and on his computer.
Dad was beginning to feel a bit disconnected from his son,
so he asked Luke to teach him how to text,
figuring this might be a good way for the two of them to communicate.
Luke taught his father all of the mechanics,
and some of the many abbreviations that are part of texting,
like GTG, “got to go,” and BRB, “be right back.”
But there was one abbreviation Luke didn’t have to teach his Dad
since he thought it was so obvious: LOL—
obvious—Dad thought—that it means “lots of love.”
The father saw LOL often at the end Luke’s messages
and was quite touched.
For example, he’d send his son a somewhat stern text
about doing his homework or cleaning his room,
and Luke would reply, “OK, whatever you say Dad, LOL.”
“How sweet,” thought Dad. 
“Even when I discipline him he tells me that he loves me.”
And so, for about sixth months,
Luke father’s sent LOL not only to Luke,
but to nearly everybody he knew.
He thought of it as a virtual hug coming over your cell phone.
When his sister was going through a bitter divorce
on the other side of the country, he texted,
“We’re all here to support you!  LOL!”
When his own father lay sick in the hospital, he texted,
“Get well soon!  LOL!”
The last straw came when Dad was traveling for work—as he often did.
Feeling a bit guilty and homesick, he texted Luke from the airport:
“I really hate being away so often,
but I only work so hard to take care of you.  LOL.”
Which is when he got a reply from Luke entirely in capital letters:
“Lots of love, of course.”
“No Dad,” Luke answered.  “It means laughing out loud.”
And in that instant he realized:
I have six months of texts for which to apologize.
(This father has since gone on to reflect
that the whole mix-up is actually a lot like raising teenagers:
parents keep sending their kids lots of love,
while kids keep laughing out loud at their parents…
…who don’t generally even realize
that their kids are doing it.)  (cf. Adam Gopnik, The Moth Radio Hour, 2009, PRX)

In the gospel, Jesus tells the story of a father and his two sons.
In this case, however, it’s the father who communicates clearly,
but the sons who do not.
“No, I won’t do it,” says the first…
…and then he heads out to the vineyard anyway.
“Yes, I’ll get right to work, Dad,” says the second…
…but he doesn’t go.

It would be easy to conclude from this brief parable
that actions speak louder than words.
And—of course—we know that they do.
A promise isn’t good for very much
until one starts taking steps to bring it about.
But we can take the notion a bit too far
if we start to believe that only our actions really matter,
while our words matter little—or not at all.
In Jesus’ parable about the two sons,
neither son is being held up as a particularly positive example.
The first son may have done his father’s will…
…but only after being incredibly rude to him.
Both sons respond to their father imperfectly;
both sons show that they have some room for improvement.
The big difference is that the first son—
like the sinners who heard John the Baptist—
has begun to make a turn for the better.
He’s taken a crucial step in the right direction.
His change of mind and heart is showing in his deeds;
now he needs to start using words which back them up.

As Luke and his Dad prove so clearly: words matter.

We American Catholics
are spending a lot of time reflecting on words these days
as we prepare for the upcoming changes in the text of the Mass.
In the midst of all the brochures and new music
and bulletin inserts and educational programs being offered,
there’s one question that I keep hearing:
“Why?  Why are they making these changes?
All this trouble, for what?  They’re only words!”

Much of what we say in the liturgy,
we so easily take for granted.
We often speak our responses without a lot of thinking.
A priest was once having trouble with his microphone
at the very beginning of Mass and said,
“There’s something wrong with this mic,”
to which the congregation automatically responded,
“And also with you.”
We can go on for quite a long time
assuming we know what something means…
…only to discover that we don’t really know at all.
I had a friend who made it well into her twenties
thinking that a Christmas manger scene
was called an “activity set”…
…and it took quite a while to convince her otherwise.

The forthcoming changes in the English texts of the Mass
will force all of us—priests at the altar and people in the pews—
to stop and think about what we’re saying.
Even though there are many other good ones,
I think that would be reason enough to make the switch.
Words matter.
And the words we use in worship especially matter
because these words shape our faith,
and our faith shapes our actions,
and our actions shape the world.

In Christ Jesus,
our heavenly Father has sent us a message—
a message filled with lots of love;
a message repeated in every Mass
as Christ opens the scriptures for us
and breaks the bread.
May we be ready to make whatever changes are necessary
to respond wholeheartedly to that love—
both in word and in deed.

1 comment:

muffin24 said...
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