The Power of Words

   On July 12, the permanent deacons of the diocese and their wives met for a summer workshop at Le Moyne College. Much of the day centered on the deacon’s role as Minister of the Word. The homily which I preached on that occasion, based on the Scripture readings for the 15th Sunday of the Year, is printed below.

“Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never harm me.” You perhaps recall this phrase. Most likely you have experienced that it does not always reflect reality. Words can indeed “harm”; they can hurt but, conversely, they can soothe and heal.

   When I was thinking about these readings this morning, I remembered another saying that I had not thought of in years. It came from one of the sisters who taught me in grammar school: “Keep watch on your words, they are sweet as the bee’s fresh honey; like the bees they can have terrible stings.” 

   Words have the power to evoke strong sentiments and bold initiatives. The Old Testament writers knew this. They understood that words have power or, perhaps better, energy behind them. This power of the word was derived from the one who spoke it. The king’s word was especially powerful; the words of the prophet offered robust challenges to conversion. The Word of God, as the first reading told us, is uniquely powerful.

   When God speaks His word it goes forth from Him to accomplish His will. It does not return to Him until it accomplishes its purpose. Just as snow and rain come down from heaven and do not return until they have watered the earth and made it fertile, God’s Word has the power to produce its effect.

   The Word of God in the Old Testament finds its fulfillment in Jesus, the Word made flesh. God descends into our world through the Incarnation of the Son who is the word of life and truth, mercy and salvation. The Word made flesh does not return to the Father until our salvation is accomplished.

   When the Word of God is received in faith it has the power to save us. Yes, the Word of God calls for our response. Jesus came among us as the eternal Word of God and His words and deeds invite us to respond to Him. We may not remain indifferent toward Him. He tells us, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters” (Mt 12:30).

   In the Gospel for today, Jesus spoke about a sower, seeds and soil. The sower randomly scatters seeds which fall on a variety of soils, the place where seeds should grow and mature. When the disciples ask for an explanation of the parable Jesus compares the soil to a variety of people who have “ears and hear” the word. Some hear the word without understanding it; some hear and receive the word with joy but soon abandon the word when difficulty and persecution appear; some hear the word for a time but turn away when other interests attract their attention. And some hear the Word of God, understand it and bear abundant fruit.

   We learn from the Gospel that the seed, the word, which has the potential to bear fruit, depends not only on the sower scattering the seed but also on the soil where the seed lands. The word needs favorable conditions and assiduous care if it is to bear fruit. So, we might ask ourselves, what soil do we provide? How do we hear the word? Do we receive the word on the fringes of our mind and heart, offering a surface commitment without depth? Are we enthusiasts of the moment with a quick response but soon losing interest when the demands of the word are too difficult? Do we welcome the word but then abandon it when self-seeking concerns are more attractive? Are we good soil for the seed, welcoming it, living it, witnessing to it and sharing it?
   All of us are called to be receptive to the word, to cherish it, to live it and share it. As deacons you have a special responsibility to dedicate yourselves tirelessly to the Ministry of Word. You cannot give to others what you do not have. You must love God’s Word and cherish it before you can authentically proclaim it to others.

   Pope Francis reminds us, “The best incentive for sharing the Gospel comes from contemplating it with love, lingering over its pages and reading it with the heart. If we approach it in this way, its beauty will amaze and constantly excite us. . . . We have been entrusted with a treasure. There is nothing more precious that we can give to others” (The Joy of the Gospel, 264).

   If we want the Word to bear fruit in our lives, we must spend time daily with God’s Word, listen to it attentively and hold it in our hearts. Then the power of His word will unleash grace in our lives that will make us faith-filled disciples and attractive witnesses to our faith. “Today . . . every day, but today in a particular way, Jesus is sowing the seed. When we accept the Word of God, then we are the Field of Faith! Please, let Christ and his word enter your life; let the seed of the Word of God enter, let it blossom, and let it grow” (Pope Francis, World Youth Day, July 27, 2013).

   If you have a prayer intention you would like me to consider during the weeks ahead, please mail it to my attention at 240 E. Onondaga St., Syracuse, N.Y. 13202.

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