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In the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), there are two sons: the younger son, who runs away from home to an alien country, and the older son, who stays home to do his duty. The younger son dissipates himself with alcohol and sex; the older son alienates himself by working hard and dutifully fulfilling all his obligations. Both are lost. Their father grieves over both, because with neither of them does he experience the intimacy he desires.
Both lust and cold obedience can prevent us from being true children of God. Whether we are like the younger son or the older son, we have to come home to the place where we can rest in the embrace of God’s unconditional love.
Jesus says: “If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him … take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). He does not say: “Make a cross” or “Look for a cross.” Each of us has a cross to carry. There is no need to make one or look for one. The cross we have is hard enough for us! But are we willing to take it up, to accept it as our cross?
Maybe we can’t study, maybe we are handicapped, maybe we suffer from depression, maybe we experience conflict in our families, maybe we are victims of violence or abuse. We didn’t choose any of it, but these things are our crosses. We can ignore them, reject them, refuse them or hate them. But we can also take up these crosses and follow Jesus with them.
Courage is connected with taking risks. Jumping the Grand Canyon on a motorbike, coming over Niagara Falls in a barrel, or crossing the ocean in a rowboat are called courageous acts because people risk their lives by doing these things. But none of these daredevil acts comes from the centre of our being. They all come from the desire to test our physical limits and to become famous and popular.
Spiritual courage is something completely different. It is following the deepest desires of our hearts at the risk of losing fame and popularity. It asks of us the willingness to lose our temporal lives in order to gain eternal life.
The word is always a word for others. Words need to be heard. When we give words to what we are living, these words need to be received and responded to. A speaker needs a listener. A writer needs a reader.
When the flesh – the lived human experience – becomes word, community can develop. When we say, “Let me tell you what we saw. Come and listen to what we did. Sit down and let me explain to you what happened to us. Wait until you hear whom we met,” we call people together and make our lives into lives for others. The word brings us together and calls us into community. When the flesh becomes word, our bodies become part of a body of people.
The word must become flesh, but the flesh also must become word. It is not enough for us, as human beings, just to live. We also must give words to what we are living. If we do not speak what we are living, our lives lose their vitality and creativity. When we see a beautiful view, we search for words to express what we are seeing. When we meet a caring person, we want to speak about that meeting. When we are sorrowful or in great pain, we need to talk about it. When we are surprised by joy, we want to announce it!
Through the word, we appropriate and internalize what we are living. The word makes our experience truly human.
Words that do not become flesh in us remain “just words.” They have no power to affect our lives. If someone says, “I love you,” without any deep emotion, the words do more harm than good. But if these same words are spoken from the heart, they can create new life.
It is important that we keep in touch with the source of our words. Our great temptation is to become “pleasers,” people who say the right words to please others but whose words have no roots in their interior lives. We have to keep making sure our words are rooted in our hearts. The best way to do that is in prayerful silence.
Words are important. Without them our actions lose meaning. And without meaning we cannot live. Words can offer perspective, insight, understanding, and vision. Words can bring consolation, comfort, encouragement and hope. Words can take away fear, isolation, shame, and guilt. Words can reconcile, unite, forgive, and heal. Words can bring peace and joy, inner freedom and deep gratitude. Words, in short, can carry love on their wings. A word of love can be the greatest act of love. That is because when our words become flesh in our own lives and the lives of others, we can change the world.
Jesus is the word made flesh. In him speaking and acting were one.
Can we only speak when we are fully living what we are saying? If all our words had to cover all our actions, we would be doomed to permanent silence! Sometimes we are called to proclaim God’s love even when we are not yet fully able to live it. Does that mean we are hypocrites? Only when our own words no longer call us to conversion. Nobody completely lives up to his or her own ideals and visions. But by proclaiming our ideals and visions with great conviction and great humility, we may gradually grow into the truth we speak. As long as we know that our lives always will speak louder than our words, we can trust that our words will remain humble.
To be a witness for God is to be a living sign of God’s presence in the world. What we live is more important than what we say, because the right way of living always leads to the right way of speaking. When we forgive our neighbours from our hearts, our hearts will speak forgiving words. When we are grateful, we will speak grateful words, and when we are hopeful and joyful, we will speak hopeful and joyful words.
When our words come too soon and we are not yet living what we are saying, we easily give double messages. Giving double messages – one with our words and another with our actions – makes us hypocrites. May our lives give us the right words and may our words lead us to the right life.
My comment: It seems, timing is everything, as far as Christian living is concerned. Our actions must come before our words.
“There is only one true flight from the world; it is not an escape from conflict, anguish and suffering, but the flight from disunity and separation, to unity and peace in the love of other men.”
Thomas Merton. New Seeds of Contemplation. (New York: New Directions Books 1961) p. 78