Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Tuesday in the 1st Week of Lent
Speaking For Effect

Readings: Isaiah 55:10-11; Psalm 34:4-5, 6-7, 16-17, 18-19; Matthew 6:7-15

On a cable news program yesterday, a former candidate for presidential nomination in the US – he has since dropped out of the race – was described as something of a shape-shifter. By this was meant that he seems to change his message to suit his own purposes, which tends to raise doubts about the reliability of the words that come out of his mouth. Of course, some might say that this is a talent that every politician needs to have. How else is one to garner the necessary support to get things done? Even so, we might perhaps be forgiven for wondering at how effective someone’s words can be if they are essentially empty, only sound and fury signifying nothing, and containing nothing of the one who is speaking.

And, apparently, this kind of thing is not only to be found in the world of politics. Yesterday’s edition of the local newspapers, in a nation wherein divorce is not a legal possibility, carried a report to the effect that the rate of marital annulments was rising rapidly in the country. Again – even while we might try to appreciate the difficulties of married life – one wonders if this trend doesn’t point to a growing lack of effectiveness of the human word. Do we believe anymore in the value of saying what we mean and of meaning what we say? Did we ever?

In radical contrast to this apparent impotence of the human word, our first reading today emphasizes the effectiveness of the word that goes forth from the mouth of God. It shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it. And the scriptures testify further to this power. God has only to speak a creative word, and the whole cosmos comes into being. God has only to speak a liberating word and, with signs and wonders, the chosen people are freed from slavery in Egypt. Most impressive of all, God has only to speak a compassionate and saving word, and the divine becomes human, embraces all of human reality, even enters the depths of human suffering and death, and lifts it up to the heights of eternal life.

What is the secret behind the power of God’s word? Could it be that it effects God’s will precisely because it so perfectly expresses it? Could it be that God’s word always brings about God’s will, because God always knows exactly what God wants, God always says exactly what God means, and always means exactly what God says?

This is not something that comes easily to us. Nor is it always desirable. It is not always a virtue to speak the brutal truth without thought of the consequences. Sometimes a certain tact is necessary, as when a doctor has to inform a patient of his/ her terminal condition. But what is perhaps more of a problem for us is the fact that we often do not know what we really want. How can we express what is within us if we ourselves are not sure what it is?

Isn’t this why Jesus’ lesson on prayer in today’s gospel is so important? More than just a magical formula of words, perhaps the Our Father is primarily a lesson in getting in touch with what are the most basic and universal of human desires: the desire to experience good and to be delivered from evil, the desire for reconciliation with one another and with God, the desire to have our daily needs provided for, and, above all, the desire for God. Could this be the secret, not only to effective prayer, but also to our receiving from God the capacity to speak words of power, words that do not return to us void, but actually go some way towards achieving the end for which we send them?

If so, then perhaps Lent is a more privileged time than we at first imagined. For it is a time for us to reconnect with our deepest unmet desires and to express them to God. It is a time for speaking words that spring from contrition and so receive a hearing from the One who is close to the brokenhearted, who saves those whose spirit is crushed.

How are we being taught to speak more effectively today?

1 comment:

  1. In the course of my work, I attend seminars/conferences and deal with junior subordinates. I never fail to be baffled by seminar / conference speakers whose talks are "woolly" and "fluffy". Why can't they say what they mean and mean what they say, I ask myself. Junior colleagues often worm themselves out of a tight spot by some of the most amazing excuses I have ever come across. It doesn't take much to see through these empty words.

    Fr Chris' reflections of today's Scripture readings are as poignant as they are reforming. We are all wordsmiths, only some more proficient than others. The words we utter are sometimes for good, sometimes far from good. On the other hand, God's word is, in limited human understanding, an expression of His Will. That is why Verbun Dei is creative, liberating, nurturing, saving, all at the same time.

    May our human words always have their roots in Verbun Dei.