Saturday, September 5, 2009

Speech Impediments

(23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, B)

I’ve been here with you over two years now, and so I’ve fallen into various regular patterns of life, like what I might do on a day off, for example. Sometimes on a day off I like to take a walk down to St. Mary’s. I like that church very much, and I can make a visit to the Blessed Sacrament, or maybe go to confession or attend the midday Mass. Then I walk back down the Square, have a couple of tacos, and then get on the #2 or the #6 bus and come home. I know; I lead a pretty boring life.

So one day a couple of months ago I was walking down Park Avenue on my way to St. Mary’s. I had just crossed Lake Avenue when I noticed a funeral procession emerging from Whalen & Ball. That’s when I remembered there was to be a funeral here at Sacred Heart morning, so I paused in my walk there on the corner of Park and Lake to pray for the deceased and the mourners as the procession passed. Now I don’t know what happened, but something went wrong in the intersection: somebody got cut off; I wasn’t sure. But whatever happened, one of the mourners, with his car windows down no less, started cursing another driver pretty forcefully. I mean, it was pretty bad—the sort of thing you might expect to hear hanging out with drunken merchant marines, but not from someone on his way to Holy Mass. As I stood there, and as I continued my walk, I began to reflect on how there was a good chance that this man would soon be receiving Holy Communion with that same foul and cursing tongue.

Now, it’s sad, and it reveals something of the terrible sickness of irreverence for the Sacraments that afflicts us as a Catholic culture, but it also reveals something about God. Jesus is willing to be received by sinners; he allows himself to be placed on the same tongue that indulged such useless and self-destructive passion as that man displayed that morning. In this, and in the Holy Communion we receive, Jesus is the fulfillment of the promise we hear today in the prophet Isaiah, “Here is your God…he comes to save you.”

Are we so different from the foul-mouthed, angry man I encountered that morning on the corner of Park and Lake? I know I’m not. In fact, it seems to me that a very large proportion of our day-to-day sinning we do with our voices and our tongues. Gossip, bochinche, detraction, calumny, foul or unchaste words—all of these sins flourish in our workplaces and our neighborhoods. When we commit them, we aren’t much different either from the man with the speech impediment in the gospel today, because whenever we fail to use our voices for the prayer, praise, and “good things people need to hear” as Ephesians 4:29 puts it, we impede the grace of God in the world. That we have these voices by which we speak is an aspect of our creation in the image and likeness of God, who from all eternity speaks the Eternal Word Who becomes flesh for our salvation in Jesus Christ. We are created to imitate our Creator, and our voices are no exception. They are meant to be voices that speak God’s words and breathe forth God’s kindness and gentleness in the world.

As Jesus gave his healing touch to the man in the gospel and healed his speech impediment, so he also touches our tongues today in Holy Communion. Let us hear the prayer of the Lord for us: “Be opened!” Let us allow the healing touch of Christ open our voices to let go of whatever sin we commit with them, and become channels for the Word of God to enter the world, voices of prayer, praise, and the “good things people need to hear.”


Karinann said...

Br. Charles,
Thank you for this very convicting homily. While I don't go around using the Lord's name in vain and do not make use of profanity as standard vocabulary, I certainly do have some of those other speech impediments you mentioned.
Thanks and God bless!

Anonymous said...

"He loved to curse; let curses come on him. He did not like blessing; may it be far from him." Psalm 109:17

Anne said...

This is wonderful! I would never have considered gossip and calumny to be a speech impediment, but you are right, I need Jesus to spit a little and heal me of that! Thanks for this great post!

Brother Charles said...

How good the Lord is, in letting me fall into one of these sins already today, when I still have to preach! Good opportunities for humility I have.