Father Donald Senior, CP

Feb. 27: Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Christian conduct

Sir 27:4-7; Ps 92:2-3, 13-14, 15-16; 1 Cor 15:54-58; Lk 6:39-45

Recently a publisher sent me a copy of a manuscript written by a friend of mine, Richard Mouw, and asked me to consider writing a few words of endorsement. Richard Mouw is a highly respected evangelical theologian, and he chose a hot topic, especially now for evangelical Christians in the United States: “How to Be a Patriotic Christian.”

Some leading evangelicals are concerned that their members have become too immersed in partisan politics.

One of the things that struck me about the book was its tone, coming to grips with a sensitive issue yet in a very graceful and forthright way and challenging excessive “my country right or wrong” type of patriotism, endorsing thoughtful love of one’s country and reaffirming the Christian call to embrace all peoples, races and nations in the spirit of the Gospel.

Throughout his reflections, he notes that Christian discourse should be heartfelt and truthful but respectful, never cruel or abusive. This is something his own thoughtful manner of engaging this question has exemplified.

That’s where our readings for this Sunday come in. Our Gospel selection continues to offer key segments of Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain from Luke’s account. “Every disciple,” Jesus says, “will be like his teacher.” So, for example, such a disciples will not “notice the splinter in your brother or sister’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own!”

“A good person out of the store of goodness in one’s heart,” Jesus says, “produces good but an evil person produces evil.” And here comes the conclusion: “for from the fullness of the heart, the mouth speaks.”

The other readings for today also touch on this theme of proper speech. The Book of Sirach is a collection of pithy sayings, many referring to the way we speak to each other, as for example in the wise saying we hear today: “The fruit of a tree shows the care it has had; so too does one’s speech disclose the best of one’s mind.”

The response Psalm 92 rejoices in our ability to use our voices to praise God: “It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praise to your name, Most High. To proclaim your kindness at dawn and your faithfulness throughout the night.”

Some years ago, I was invited to give a presentation at a parish Lenten series that was considering various examples of “Christian conduct.” I was assigned the topic of Christian speech. In combing through the New Testament, I was surprised to see how much attention the apostolic writers give to the quality and care of the way we speak with each other.

One of the most insistent New Testament voices about proper Christian speech is the Letter of James, which marvels at the power for good or evil of the human tongue. At one point James laments “With [the tongue] we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings who are made in the likeness of God!”

In our current sharply divided public theater, we hear political leaders routinely using abusive and hostile language to describe their opponents. Commentators at Thanksgiving and Christmas warn us about disruptive family dinner table quarrels over politics, especially in the tension caused by the pandemic. We hear about people speaking abusively on airplanes and arguing with personnel at restaurants. 

Jesus’ teaching about not calling our brother or sister a “fool” and being aware that “out of the heart the mouth speaks” is not a matter of quaint manners but an integral part of the Christian responsibility to refuse violence and seek peace.

Obviously setting the right tone in the way we speak to each other is not just an evangelical problem but a Catholic one, too. We can view each other warily across political fault lines and for some there is even tension about the way we should celebrate the Eucharist. 

Seeking to speak with each other in a Christian manner does not mean avoiding all debate or masking honest differences. It does mean treating even those with whom we disagree with respect and care.


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