February 25, 2022

Christ the Cornerstone

Our words and actions reveal who we are

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

“A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good, but an evil person out of a store of evil produces evil; for from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks” (Lk 6:45).

The Scripture readings for the Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time challenge us to speak plainly and to reflect in our actions the goodness that is in our hearts. Indeed, as Jesus tells us, we have no real alternative “for from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks” (Lk 6:45) and it reveals either good or evil depending on what is in our heart.

Our actions and our words reveal who we are. Much effort is expended trying to tell others what we think they want to hear, or to act in ways that do not align with our true feelings and beliefs. This is hypocrisy—speaking and acting falsely in order to project an image that is not real. Of all the behaviors that confront Jesus in the Gospels, hypocrisy is the most strongly and consistently condemned!

This Sunday’s first reading from the Book of Sirach makes this point clearly:

“When a sieve is shaken, the husks appear; so do one’s faults when one speaks. As the test of what the potter molds is in the furnace, so in tribulation is the test of the just. The fruit of a tree shows the care it has had; so too does one’s speech disclose the bent of one’s mind. Praise no one before he speaks, for it is then that people are tested” (Sir 27:4-7).

Our speech discloses the “bent” of our mind; it reveals what we hope will remain hidden, and it unveils what we would prefer stay covered. This is why children are told by their mothers, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”

The late Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein, who was a very popular counselor and spiritual director before he was ordained a bishop, used to say, “We always have to tell the truth, but we don’t always have to tell the truth.” What he meant was that there is a time for speaking and a time for maintaining a respectful and judicious silence.

Gossip, for example, frequently involves reporting (and embellishing) truths about other people. But when we gossip, we reveal more about ourselves—our jealousy, resentment and insecurity—than we do about the people who we are gossiping about. Jesus rejects this kind of behavior, saying:

“Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me remove that splinter in your eye,’ when you do not even notice the wooden beam in your own eye? You hypocrite! Remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter in your brother’s eye” (Lk 6:41-42).

Of course, there are times when we must speak out, especially to prevent or report abusive behavior and criminal activity. This is not gossiping or disclosing things that should remain hidden. It is speaking the truth with love in order to safeguard the vulnerable and protect human dignity.

In the second reading for this Sunday (1 Cor 15:54-58), St. Paul encourages the Christian community in Corinth to “be firm, steadfast, always fully devoted to the work of the Lord” because “in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Cor 15:58). Jesus has already “swallowed up death.” He has overcome the powers of sin and death on the cross. Nothing can change the fact that good has triumphed over evil and the truth has overpowered every lie.

What is in our heart is what is important. “A good tree does not bear rotten fruit, nor does a rotten tree bear good fruit,” Jesus tell us. “For every tree is known by its own fruit. For people do not pick figs from thorn bushes, nor do they gather grapes from brambles” (Lk 6:43-44). If we acknowledge the truth of the Gospel, and if we avoid spreading scandal or speaking ill of others, our hearts will be full of love and compassion, especially for those who are suffering from problems large or small (like the “wooden beams and splinters” in this Sunday’s Gospel story).

Lent begins next week with our celebration of Ash Wednesday on March 2. This is an opportune time to guard against idle gossip or hurtful speech. Let’s ask the Holy Spirit to give us the wisdom we need to know when to speak and when to be silent. And let’s pray for the grace to remember that “from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks” (Lk 6:45) †

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