The Power of Our Words 2021-1-31 Fr. Roberto
Homily 4th Sunday – Year B
Fr. Roberto Corral, OP
St. Dominic Church, Los Angeles, CA
January 31, 2021
Title: The Power of Our Words
Theme: Our words, like Jesus’, can have God’s power and authority when we speak them for the good of others and when we back them up by our actions.
Readings: Deuteronomy 18:15-20; 1Corinthians 7:32-35; Mark 1:21-28
Mary Ann Bird was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1928. Unfortunately, she was born deaf in one ear and with a cleft palate and cleft lip which disfigured her face and made her speech difficult to understand. Nowadays, a cleft palate and lip can usually be corrected relatively easily through surgery, but when Mary Ann was born almost a hundred years ago, it was not so easy. So, as a child, Mary Ann suffered from her physical problems, but most painful was the emotional damage caused by other children who mercilessly teased her about her appearance and her speech. She felt ugly, unloved and unlovable.
As she began to attend school, one of the experiences Mary Ann most dreaded was the annual hearing test where the teacher would call each child to her desk in front of all the other children. The child would cover first one ear, and then the other while the teacher whispered a simple sentence to the child like “The sky is blue” or “Today we will learn something new.”
If the teacher’s whispered phrase was heard and repeated back correctly by the child, the child passed the test. Well, because she was deaf in one ear, Mary Ann did not want to be humiliated in front of the other children by failing the test. So she would always cheat on the test:
instead of covering her good ear, she would secretly cup her hand over it so that she still could hear what the teacher said.
In third grade, Mary Ann was in the class of Miss Leonard, one of the most beloved and popular teachers in the school. When the day came for the dreaded hearing test and it was Mary Ann’s turn to be tested, Miss Leonard called Mary Ann to come forward to her desk. As Mary Ann cupped her hand over her good ear, Miss Leonard leaned forward and whispered to her.
Mary Ann could not believe the words Miss Leonard whispered into her ear that day; they were seven words that changed Mary Ann’s life forever. Miss Leonard whispered to Mary Ann, “I wish you were my little girl.” “I wish you were my little girl” – seven simple, little words.
On the one hand, nothing really changed for Mary Ann that day. She remained disfigured, deaf in one ear and the object of painful ridicule by other children. On the other hand, everything changed for her. She began to see that her classmates’ insults were not the only words that described her, nor were they the most important words. Most importantly, she started to believe in herself as being loved and being lovable, and she began to dare to imagine a future not limited by her defects, but rather a future that could transcend them.
Those words that Miss Leonard spoke to Mary Ann that day, in some ways, were just as powerful as the words Jesus spoke in today’s Gospel to the demon that had tormented the poor man in the synagogue. And just as Jesus’ words cast out the demon from that man,
so Miss Leonard’s words cast out from Mary Ann the demons of fear, doubt and low self-esteem that had afflicted her for so long. What I want to say to you today is that all of us here have the potential to speak powerful words in our lives. The question is, do we speak powerful words that build others up, or powerful words that tear them down? Do the words we speak have God’s power and authority like Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel?
What is it that gave Jesus’ words such power and authority? There were many things, but I would like to focus on two of them. First of all, Jesus’ words were always were meant for the good of others, never to harm them. Even his angry words directed at the scribes and Pharisees at times were never meant to hurt or belittle them; they were words from a broken heart trying desperately to get them to open their eyes and see God’s presence in him and in all people.
Second, Jesus’ words had power and authority because he backed up his words by the way he lived his life. He didn’t just speak of God’s love for people, he acted out of love for others;
he backed up his words with powerful acts on behalf of those in need – especially sinners and those who were suffering.
In the same way, Jesus has given you and me the capacity to speak with God’s power and authority in our lives. But we can only do that when our words, too, are spoken for the good of others, not to harm them, and only when those words are backed up by our actions of faith, integrity and loving service. It is especially important for those of us in positions of authority to understand the impact our words can have on others. We who are parents, grandparents, teachers, coaches, clergy, employers and leaders need to speak words that bring encouragement, healing and inspiration to others, especially to children. I am sure we can all remember loving, healing and inspiring words spoken to us by someone when we were children that still bring joy to our hearts. And I am just as sure that we can also remember words spoken to us that were hurtful and damaging and perhaps remain so to this day.
My brothers and sisters, our words can have great impact on others for good or for ill whether those words are spoken, texted, emailed or tweeted. In my bulletin message today, and at the end of the Mass packets for those of you who are watching online, I have written about how the Internet can be misused to spread lies and slander about individuals or groups. SO I BEG YOU, PLEASE BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU BELIEVE ON THE INTERNET AND ESPECIALLY WHAT YOU POST ON SOCIAL MEDIA!
You and I can be like Jesus and speak or write words with power and authority that bring goodness to others. You and I can be like Miss Leonard, the teacher who spoke those seven words that changed Mary Ann’s life. So, today I challenge each of you to say powerful words of love, compassion, encouragement, forgiveness, thanks, healing and inspiration to those you love, and even to those you don’t.
There is a quote that was on a t-shirt worn by Christa McAuliffe, the school teacher who was killed in the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster in the 1980’s. It said, “I touch the future – I teach.” While that is certainly true for teachers, it can be said of all of us. We all have the power to touch the future by the words we speak today.
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