Words Matter

I have decided to start a campaign to reclaim the meaning of words.

Adorable does not mean cute (I’ll get to that word later) and scandal does not mean worthy of a newspaper headline.

The Catechism defines scandal as:

“Anyone who uses the power at his disposal in such a way that it leads others to do wrong becomes guilty of scandal and responsible for the evil that he has directly or indirectly encouraged.”

Ouch! I don’t need to be a big public figure to cause a scandal. Anytime anyone who knows I am Catholic sees or hears me do something unworthy of Jesus Christ, I am causing a scandal by my poor example.

Today’s readings reminded me of how often I am guilty of doing just that and the Catechism reminds me of just how serious it is.

I was raised in a culture of back-handed compliments. “She is so pretty, if only she’d do something with that hair.” “He is so smart, if only he would channel it properly.” The habit around these comments is to agree with something like, “She is so, so pretty. Just think how pretty she’d be if she wore her hair down once and awhile.” “He is smart as a whip. It’s too bad all he does is play video games.”

Couched in these seemingly innocuous comments are some pretty treacherous undercurrents. After all, I said she was pretty. I acknowledged he was smart. I see their gifts therefore, I tell myself, I am a positive uplifting person.

But, I am not seeing people as God sees them. I want to make them over in my image rather than seeing His image already in them.

That sounds pretty ridiculous when laid out in black and white, doesn’t it?

Yet, how often do we do just that? “He is so dedicated and puts in so much time on the finance council, but if he really wanted more people to come to Church, he’d make sure they just….” “Our DRE is such as sweet lady and works so hard, but if she really cared about kids, she’d make them memorize the …” “I just love our pastor, but if he really wanted families to come to Mass, he’d make his homilies more…”

Today’s readings speak right to this very human tendency. In James we hear, “You are a puff of smoke that appears briefly and then disappears.” Ouch again. My ego doesn’t like that one. “But now you are boasting in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So for one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, it is a sin.”

In the Gospel, John is so bold to approach Jesus and tell him about how someone else was working in Jesus’s name, (and I am paraphrasing here) “but don’t worry, we took care of it. We told him to knock it off, because he is not one of us.” But rather than Jesus saying, “Thanks, Dude, we gotta make sure we keep this in house.” Jesus tells him, “Do not prevent him. There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me. For whoever is not against us is for us.”

“Whoever is not against us is for us.”

I think we forget that, especially as leaders in our faith. Sometimes we feel like we are in competition. We have to compete for room in the budget, for numbers of volunteers, for having our ministry talked about, for meeting the unlimited needs which pull on our limited resources. It becomes easy to forget that those who are not against us are for us. In other words, we are on the same team. And every time we use the word “but” when talking about others, we are tearing down, not building up.

At a leadership conference recently, we were reminded that ‘What we tolerate, we endorse.” When we listen to others talk this way, we are causing a scandal by indirectly encouraging the tearing down of our brothers and sisters in Christ, no matter how nicely it is couched. When we, out of tiredness or frustration or whatever, make these kinds of comments ourselves, we are directly guilty of scandal by encouraging those around us, by our example, to commit the same sin.

How do I know this? I have had to take my own tendency to give back handed compliments to confession time and again. Today’s readings have challenged me once again to examine my own behavior.

As a matter of fact, I wonder what Father is doing this afternoon. It might be time to confess and start again. I am so grateful that both Father in the confessional and Our Father in Heaven are so patient with me.

While wearing many hats, Sheryl O’Connor is the wife and study buddy of Thomas O’Connor. Not having received the gift of having their own children, their home is filled with 2 large dogs and their hearts with the teens and youth with whom they work in their parish collaborative. Sheryl is the Director of Strong Families Programs for Holy Family Healthcare which means her job is doing whatever needs to be done to help parents build strong Catholic families. Inspired by the works of mercy, Holy Family Healthcare is a primary healthcare practice in West Michigan which seeks to honor the dignity of every individual as we would Christ. Find out more at https://www.holyfamilyhealthcare.org/