28th Sun [C] 1998

Fr. Charles Irvin

“No” is a word that needs to be spoken from time to time. We need to say to others: “No, you can’t do that.” This is the era of “Freedom of Choice” — but freedom of choice is not an absolute. I am not free to own a Black slave. Smokers have recently discovered that they are not free to smoke wherever and whenever they please. You are not free to run a red light on the traffic signal. If you think you are, I don’t want to be driving any more. There are some choices, some things, that we cannot have. “No” is a word your children need to hear from you more often than you think and more often than you may wish to employ because of the hassles it will bring.

2 Kings 5:14-17; 2 Timothy 2:8-13; Luke 17:11-19

I came across this story about an old farmer who, with his wife, was celebrating fifty years of married life. Life on a farm can be tough; commitment is required. And you have to be frugal.

Their children gave them a party during which lots of friends congratulated the honored couple. They looked at old pictures, brought out old phonograph records. The fifty-year couple even danced a bit to the old, familiar music. When the party was over and all had gone home the happy couple found themselves alone. It was a tender moment. The old farmer, who was careful with his money and even more frugal with his words, felt moved to speak. “You know, Ma, over these fifty years, sometimes I’ve loved you so much that I could hardly keep from telling you.” She reached for a hankie tucked up in her sleeve, dabbed her eyes and said: “Thank ya’, Pa.”

Why are we so reluctant to let others know how we feel? Why are we so stingy and so slow to speak words that others long to hear, so private in saying things that cry out to be said?

Jesus is dealing with that in today’s gospel account. Who knows that those lepers had been through? Who could ever calculate the pain they had been forced to endure? And after such a startling encounter in which so much had been given them, why did only the Samaritan return to speak the words that cried out to heaven to be spoken? I can only imagine what Jesus felt about the attitudes of the other nine.

We all have within us words that cry out to be spoken, if only we pay attention to what’s deep within our hearts. We all have words that need to be said.

Kids, I know that it is your mother and father’s duty to feed you, to clothe and shelter you, to care for you and provide you with a warm home and safe shelter. They know that it’s their duty. But they’ve given it all to you not just out of duty — it’s all come to you with a whole lot of love and hopes for your futures. You need to go to them and tell them you love them. They need to hear you say “Thanks” to them.

And parents, your kids desperately need to hear you say something to them, too. They need to hear you say: “You’ve done a good job.” Your kids get a lot of bad news about themselves. They LONG to hear you say some good things about them and to tell them they’ve done a good job and that they’re good kids.

Bosses, you need to tell those who work for you that they’ve done a good job. I know what happens within me when my bishop tells me I’ve done a good job. It makes me want to be even better in accomplishing the tasks that yet face me.

There’s another word that needs to be spoken, a word I didn’t find in the dictionary until I’d arrived late in life. It’s a word I should have spoken much more frequently in the past and that got me in a whole lot of trouble because I didn’t speak it. And that word is “NO!”

 

“You can do better than that” are likewise words you need to say to others. Take the case of Little Johnnie’s room. It looks like the city dump — dirty underwear and dirty socks strewn all over the place, a whole bunch of dirty clothes stuffed under the bed, and the place looks like a tornado has gone through it. Now you can enter the room, look down at Johnnie with scorn in your eyes and say: “Johnnie, you’re a filthy little pig!” And you know what’ll happen? He’ll go: “Oink, oink,” and start behaving like a pig. People will conform to our expectations more often than not. Down deep we’re all a bunch of conformists.

OR . . . you can enter Little Johnnie’s room, take a long, hard look at the mess, and then exclaim: “Johnnie, your room is a mess! Clean it up! You don’t have to live this way, and our house doesn’t have to look this way. You can do better!”

You see, in the first instance you have assaulted Johnnie as a person; you’ve made a judgement and attacked who he is. In the second instance you have assaulted the condition of Johnnie’s room, how he has acted, what he has not done. In the first instance your anger is directed at who he is, in the second your anger is directed at his behavior, or lack thereof. There is an enormous difference between the two.

Other words we need to speak have to do with God. Far too often we pray as if we’re giving God a grocery list of things we want Him to get for us. We give God job descriptions of what He is supposed to do for us. We inform God of how awful things are and then advise Him of what He’s supposed to do about it. And then we call that prayer! What we should do is come here into this church during the day when no one else is here, come here for a visit. We need to kneel down and then say: “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” God is LONGING to hear those words from you. He’s here all day long waiting for you to come in for a visit, to kneel down and ask Him what He wants to say to you. God has a Word for you, He has something He wants to say to you. They are words that need to be spoken.

There are also words that have to do with a son and his father, or a daughter being with her mother. . . and they say to their dad or mom: “Teach me how to do that.” Such moments are magic moments, sacred and precious moments when dads and moms share things with their kids that will be with them forever. We need to say those special words: “Dad, teach me how to do that.”

And then there are those words that were spoken at the end of the movie “Saving Private Ryan.” Now “Saving Private Ryan” is a tough, hard, terribly real movie that many have chosen not to see. But it’s a good movie, a needed movie that we should see, however hard it may be. And at the end of it, Private Ryan, now an old man and not too far away from the end of his life, realizing that he has gone through hell and that a lot of others have gone through hell and then died in order for him to still be alive, turns to his wife and pleads: “Tell me I’m a good man.” Those were words he desperately needed to hear. And they are words we all desperately need to hear, also.

In our lives we’ve all heard great speeches. Perhaps you had to memorize Abraham Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address.” I did, although I can’t remember it anymore. And then there was Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. We’ve all heard great speeches; perhaps we’ve even given some talks ourselves that other people liked a lot. But the greatest words you will ever speak, the words that cry out to heaven to be heard, are the words: “I love you.”

And you all should hear them from me, your pastor. In case you haven’t heard me say them recently, or have never heard me say them, you need to hear me say them to you now. For they come from the bottom of my heart — “You know dear friends, over all these years sometimes I’ve loved you so much that I could hardly keep from telling you. But I’m telling you now — I love you!”

About Charles Irvin

Fr. Charlie was ordained a priest June 3, 1967 and has served as pastor of St. Mary Student Chapel in Ann Arbor, founded Holy Spirit parish in Hamburg, MI, served as pastor of St. Francis of Assisi parish in Ann Arbor and was pastor of St. Mary parish in Manchester, MI when he entered Senior Priest status in 2001. In 1999 he was appointed Founding Editor of FAITH Magazine which has grown into Faith Catholic Publishing located in Lansing, MI. He is now very active in his “retirement.”