Each of us has been a toddler

Readings: Ez. 33.7-9; Ps. 95; Rom. 138-10; Mt. 18.15-20

This past week, I was speaking with a young family. One toddler kept practicing one word; she repeated twenty times that word: "No." God has blessed this child with a very strong voice, and very clear speech: when she was saying "No," she meant "No." Her father interjected and asked her to stop. Her response was "No." I think it'll be a nice day, when this child learns how to say, "Yes."

We are all like this child. Each of us has been a toddler. Each of us retains some of the traits of toddlers. There is a streak in every person that likes to say, "No." We want things our way. I think God has created us this way. God has created us good; God cannot make anything bad. Every person on earth is naturally good, but we also possess an inclination to do evil. It seems to me that we are hard-wired this way. People comment at times about other people, "Why doesn't he/she grow up? Or, he/she has never gotten through their anti-authority teen years." It seems to me that we might rightly say of everybody: none of us has gotten completely beyond our toddler years. There remains within us a streak that likes to say: "No." Let's do our best to lead ourselves and other people to God's ways.

The first and third readings today advise religious leaders how to deal with recalcitrant/stubborn people. Today's Scriptural lesson has much wisdom in it. Any person in any position of authority, might find good advice in these readings. Today's message could benefit not only religious leaders, but also all moral leaders, e.g., parents, godparents, grandparents, and teachers. Generally speaking, we moral leaders can't force people to do things. We can't control people's behavior. All we can do is to teach, preach, explain, point out pro's and con's, exhort, and encourage. In the moral life, each person makes up his/her own mind and will as to what he/she will do, or will not do.

In the first reading, God says to the prophet Ezechiel: "When you hear me say something, you shall tell the people for me." In effect, God informs Ezechiel: Your job is to speak God's word. If someone refuses God's word, that is their responsibility. But if you do not speak God's word because you think the message or the messenger might be rejected, you are failing your responsibility. I abstract this lesson for us moral leaders: "focus on preaching/teaching/speaking God's good word. Don't focus on results. Don't focus on the effectiveness of your words." If someone disobeys you, that is their responsibility before God. You are not a bad parent, teacher, preacher, just because your word has been ineffective. Make sure you do your job of presenting God's word and God's ways. In reality, caring people care about how their words are received; I'd hate to go to lunch with the person who did not care. But realize that people of moral authority can't control how other people respond. Simply, do your job well, and then as I say, "kiss it up to God." Leave the results in God's hands.

In St. Matthew's gospel, Jesus advises his disciples, "If someone sins against you. Tell him his fault, and keep it between the two of you. If, however, he does not listen, take one or two others along with you. If he refuses to listen, tell the Church. If he refuses to listen even to the Church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector." In church history, the Catholic Church has excommunicated people. Among the Amish, the congregation shuns people. Today, in the Catholic Church, we are reluctant to excommunicate people. We try to win people back to the truth of the Church by praying sincerely, and speaking clearly and kindly. St. Paul advises us, "Speak the truth with love."

May I offer a couple of examples, please, of how to apply the message of today's readings: first, in this presidential campaign; and second, in ecumenical discussions with our good neighbors.

Regarding the presidential campaign: know the Church's teachings on abortion, family life, war, the economy, education, immigration, the environment, and many more issues. And know the candidates' positions on these issues. I've been shocked to hear the misinformation that people have about the Church's teachings, and about the candidates' positions. (As we get closer to November, the archdiocese will provide us with a chart summarizing key issues and the candidates' positions on those issues.) Right now, we have a responsibility to know, and to speak the truth. We recognize that there is no perfect candidate, and no perfect political party. But I exhort you, please know the Church's teachings on these issues, and speak the truth of the Church with love.

Regarding ecumenical issue: beginning this Wednesday evening, the Emmitsburg Council of Churches will hold six consecutive Wednesday evening presentations followed by discussions on topics like the sacraments, the Scriptures, and salvation. This forum provides us a wonderful opportunity to learn what the Catholic Church teaches, and what the other churches teach on these topics. It is good and important to appreciate how similar we are, and what differences we need to work on, as we pray and work for greater Christian unity. Please try to attend some of these sessions.

These next two months of the presidential campaign and local ecumenical dialogues will present us all an opportunity as Catholic moral leaders, at home, work, in our churches and in our neighborhoods, to speak kindly and clearly God's word and about God's ways. Our responsibility, like Ezechiel's responsibility, is to stand up, and speak up for what is good and true. Please don't have false expectations. It is not likely that we will convince a single person to vote as we vote, or to believe what we believe. That is not our goal. Our goal is to speak the truth with love. The results are up to other individuals, and up to God. Let's try our best to lead ourselves, family and friends to say "Yes" to God's truth, and "yes" to God's ways.

Read other homilies by Father O'Malley