Catholic Homily / Sunday Reflection

22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time (B)

August 30, 2009

Words inundate our lives ever increasingly as days go by. We see a plethora of words in print, we hear words uttered around us everywhere we go, at home, at school, at the malls, at work, in and out of the radio wave lanes, whether in AM or FM, or in VHF or UHF channels. Words are not only uttered in “real time.” They can be recorded through a variety of electronic means, either “analog” or “digital,” which is the current mode in use.

So many words written or uttered, transmitted by wire or “beamed” via satellite, using “wi-fi” technology, indeed, may well have contributed to the phenomenon of making words sound cheap, making them less powerful, and giving them less and less impact. The daily barrage of words may have lessened not only appreciation for them, but also, their innate power to symbolize the true inner state of the people who utter them or use them. Words – a great abundance of them – may be behind the eroding loss of credibility society now ascribes to them.

The post 9/11 society all over the world, for one, has become less trusting, less accommodating, and definitely less believing in ways more than one. It is not enough anymore just to go by “one’s word” and get access to many aspects of our societal lives that used to be open to everyone. We need to show more “words” to prove our real identity. Merely opening a bank account would entail the need to prove one is a bona fide resident of a particular address. And banks would settle for nothing less than two identity cards … valid, not fabricated and faked, as often happens in the Philippines. Getting by on “someone else’s word” is no longer as easy as it used to be.

Words have lost a lot of their original power to convey truth! There was a time airlines only did a series of serious questionings to a potential client in order for them to weed out potential problem-makers. After the onset of terrorism, and most especially after 9/11, mere verbal statements do not suffice. One can be thoroughly searched, despite one’s perfectly honest and sincere declarations.

One’s word needs to be matched by reality. What one says one is, must be matched by concrete signs that support the veracity of one’s word. This is the run of the day as of the present times. One not only talks about who one is, and who one is not. One proves it by his deeds, by his actions, by his showing concrete signs and corresponding proofs.

I should like to think that this thought could be a very good starting point to speak about what the readings today all point to - the need to tell and show; the need not only to hear, but also do what one hears: “Now Israel, hear the statutes and decrees which I am teaching you to observe, that you may live, and may enter in and take possession of the land which the Lord, the God of your fathers, is giving you […] Observe them carefully, for thus will you give evidence of your wisdom and intelligence to the nations.”

Words have become cheap, indeed. Today, however, we are reminded about what never gets cheap, what never loses its savor and flavor, what never becomes powerless and useless – the word of God, who is the author of “every perfect gift from above […] with whom there is no alteration or shadow caused by change. He willed to give us birth by the word of truth that we may be a kind of firsfruits of his creatures.”

The unchanging word of God, with its power and the brilliance of its saving truth, now confronts us and convicts us: “Humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you and is able to save your souls.” In the midst of so much wordiness that we experience daily, we are reminded to stick to the word that comes from him alone “who can neither deceive, nor be deceived,” as one old, traditional prayer, the Act of Faith, puts it.

Our words, mere words of mortal, need not become cheap. Our utterances need not become symbols of deceit and masks of insincerity. Our pronouncements need not anymore lead to death – our won, or that of innocent others. What we say need not become occasions for suspicion, mistrust, or utter unbelief. When what we say is patterned after the word of God, then we mean what we say, and say only what we mean. We would then be unlike the Scribes and Pharisees who really were resident experts on the words – understood as the material letters of the law! They were so cautious about what the law literally prescribed on every human action imaginable to the point of adding more and more words to the law, that Jesus deemed it proper to speak about them thus: “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts.”

In the case of the Scribes and Pharisees, their words were not matched by deeds. Their inner disposition, attitudes and intentions belied what they were saying and teaching with utter external dedication, almost to the point of obsession.

But there was something, of course, more important than mere external show of concern. And that which counted far more important, had to do with the inner reality deep within the person. It is not what one observes on the exterior plane, but what one observes deep within one’s personhood, the seat of real values, virtues, and interior dispositions. It is not what comes from the outside that counts as important, but what comes from the inside: “Hear me, all of you, and understand. Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile.”

Last week, St. Paul reminded us to “watch carefully how [we] live.” This Sunday, we are reminded to watch carefully what we say. We are reminded further, to watch carefully for what God says, and to be careful not only to hear His word, but also to act accordingly based on what He says. This is what true religion is. It is not principally rituals, although they constitute an integral element of religion. It is not primarily what we do but what we do based on what we hear from the Lord. Thus, James reminds us: “Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for the orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”

I have said more than enough. Multiplying words at this time, I guess, would run counter to what I just developed in these few paragraphs. Words do not become cheap when said and fulfilled with the “yeast of sincerity and truth.” No … not mere hearers, but doers. This is what we all ought to become.