Sunday, September 25, 2011



The title of my homily for this 27 Sunday in Ordinary Time A is, "Two Hands, Two Choices."
When we hear today's gospel story - Matthew 21: 33-43, we hear some terrible things:
  • people beating other people,
  • people hurting other people
  • people stoning other people,
  • and then people killing other people.


Whenever something terrible happens by one person against another person, people always ask the question: Why? Why do people do these things? Why do people do bad things to other people? Why?

 But people should also ask the opposite question: Why do people do good things to other people? Why? Why? Why?


And the answer at the bottom of all the wondering is that people have freedom of choice. We all have the power to do good or evil.


 We can help or hurt.

 We can construct or destruct.

 We can build or tear down.

We can love or hate.

We can praise or blame.

We can light a candle or curse the darkness.

We can do good or evil.

We have the power of choice.

We can gossip, curse, blame, ruin another’s reputation or we can praise another.


We can use a knife to cut bread or cut someone.

We can use words to say to another, “Hey that was a neat thing you did yesterday for Charlie?” Or we can say, “You were really showing off when you drove Charlie to the mall yesterday.”

Words can lift of knock down.

We can use sticks and stones to build a home or to break windows and hurt the inhabitants.


It’s like we have two rooms. The first room is filled with light and the other is filled with darkness.

We have the choice of whatever room we want to live in or dwell in most of the time.


There’s a Peanuts cartoon somewhere. Lucy draws a big heart on a fence. Then she draws a line down the middle of the heart to divide in two. She fills in one side with chalk and says, “This is the human heart. One heart is always fighting the other half.”


The Native Americans used to say we have two dogs within us. One is a good dog; the other is bad dog. And they are always fighting each other.


The choice is always ours.


Let me conclude with one of my poems. It’s called, “The Two Hands.”

                                 THE TWO HANDS

I am a fist,

                a sign of fear,

                a sign of anger,

                a sign of greed,

                a sign of tension.

                I can pound a desk,

                I can hoard money,

                I can try to scare you,

                I can punch you

                                   in the mouth.

                I am a fist.

                What do you think of me?

I am an open hand,

                 a sign of calm,

                 a sign of ease,

                 a sign of peace,

                 a sign of relaxation. 

                 I can dial a phone,

                 I can shake a hand,

                 I can change the diapers,

                 I can play cards,

                 I can break the bread,

                 I can heal the hurt,

                 I can write the poem.

                 I am an open hand.

                 What do you think of me?*
* page 107 in Listenings


The title of my homily for this 26th Sunday in Ordinary time is, “Yes and No.”


That’s a theme I take out of today’s gospel.

Jesus tells a story, a parable about two sons. One son says, “Yes!”; the other son says, “No.”

We know the scene. We know the story. We’ve been there a thousand times.

The one who says, “Yes,” doesn’t do what he said he would do.

The one who said, “No,” does what he said he wouldn’t do.

There’s a message there somewhere.

Jesus is talking to the chief priests and the elders of the people - the leaders - the big shots - those in charge - those who were looked up to. They are saying “Yes” to God with their mouth - but “No” to God with their lives. The tax collectors and prostitutes - two groups that were looked down on - are seen as saying, “No” to God, but they are entering the Kingdom of God - because they have changed their lives and are now doing the will of God - and saying, “Yes” with their changed behavior.

Matthew can say this, because he was a tax collector who followed Jesus.


How many times in a day do we say, “Yes” and how many times do we say, “No”?

I don’t know. Could we really count them?

How many times in a day do we say, “Yes” when we really want to say, “No!”

I don’t know.

Are some people more “Yes People” and some people more “No People”?

I don’t know.

Am I more “Yes” or more “No”?

I think we have to think about that one. I think it would be good to monitor ourselves about that one - or do we have the courage to ask those we live and work with - how they see us.

We all have heard the joke about husbands who say “yes” with a smile on their face and add “Anything you want honey. Anything.”

But underneath, how many times is the husband or the wife saying, “No”. “Oh no. I don’t want to do this. Not again. No not again.”

And at times, we say “No” - but as today’s gospel puts it, we have second thoughts afterwards and “change our minds” and do what is right - and do what is loving.

And sometimes we don’t have the choice to say, “Yes” or “No!”

We also find that in the gospel - especially in the story of the Centurion whom Jesus was very impressed with. He said, “I tell people to do this and they do it.” All of you with military background have examples of taking orders and giving orders.

We find that in Church. We have these changes in our liturgy coming this Advent. I hear some people grumbling about them. I take that as a “no” vote - but there is no vote. They are official.

I like the voice of those who say it’s an opportunity for all of us to be jarred a bit and take a fresh look at our prayers - and our Mass.

Change. Any change is an opportunity for a fresh look on things - as well as to cause agita.

They have retranslated the priests’ prayers into a different English translation. The literature says the prayers will now have more depth. I know that translations are never satisfactory with everyone. So I said, “Yes” to the changes - without actually having a “No” voice. I’m going to pray them and listen to them for at least a year and see what my take and others’ take on them will be.

Hopefully all our prayers will be better.


The pitch and the push I would make in this homily would be to pause before we say, “Yes” or “No!” - that is, if we have a choice.

“Yes” and “No” are very short words.

For homework for this week, my stress would be to catch ourselves before giving a “Yes” or a “No” answer. Pause. Reflect. Think. Consider. Understand what we are saying “yes” or “no” to.

Could we do that this week? Would you do that this week?


Did you pause inwardly before saying, “Yes” or “No” in your mind - or are you somewhere else right now?

Did you say, “Yes” or “No” to this new question of whether you’re here or somewhere else right now?

I assume that most of the time most of us are somewhere else.

I know I am.

It’s so easy to say, “Yes” - but in reality, it’s often a throw away word or a word to throw another off our back or our schedule or convenience.

So I’m advertising that this week to pause before a “Yes” or a “No”.

I‘m challenging you this coming week to consider for a moment what we are being asked to say, “yes” or “no” to.

Could you do that?


Did you say, “Yes” or “No” to that?

Let me give a few quotes about the importance of reflecting upon saying, “Yes” or “No.”

Mahatma Gandhi said, “A ‘No’ uttered from the deepest conviction is better than a ‘Yes’ merely uttered to please, or worse, to avoid trouble.”

Eric Allenbaugh wrote, “Every choice moves us closer or farther away from something. Where are your choices taking your life? What do your behaviors demonstrate that you are saying yes or no to in life?”

Someone - it might have been the late Eric Bern - said the following - and this is one of my favorite quotes and I preached a sermon on this somewhere, sometime: “The secret of happiness is the ability to say three things: Yes, No and Wow – the secret of unhappiness is saying, “if only” and “maybe.”

Another secret of unhappiness can be seen in this comment by Dazai Osamu

A lot of people can’t say “no” to themselves, their kids, their spouse, borrowers, beggars, others. Then they talk angry words to themselves because they wished they would have said, “No!”

So that’s my pitch and push in this homily. I’m asking you during this coming week, to simply pause before saying, “Yes” or “No”.


Let me conclude with two examples where we are challenged to say, “Yes” or “No” every day.

First example: one's cell phone rings or plays a song during dinner. Do I really want to answer the phone every time it rings?

If you are like me - I say “No” to that - and don’t do it.

For the sake of transparency, it’s easy for me - because I don’t have a cell phone.

When I see people, priests, deacons, moms and dads, kids, at dinner answering cell phones, I think it’s crazy.

Seeing this increasing, I suspect I’m in a minority on this one.

I don’t know.

We ask folks to turn their phones off for Mass and movies and plays and this and that, why not for the dinner table - and other key moments in our lives together?

I found an interesting quote on this when looking for “Yes” and “No” quotes that goes like this: “Today the ringing of the telephone takes precedence over everything. It reaches a point of terrorism, particularly at dinnertime.” Niels Diffrient is quoted as saying that in the New York Times, October 16, 1986.

When did cell phones come into big time existence? They existed before 1986 - but it wasn’t till the 1990’s and now the 21st century that they have taken over - in the billions.

So if you have a cell phone, you have a real choice to say “Yes” or “No” with regards this. Think about it.

Second example: listening.

This has to do not with listening to cell phone calls per se. It has to do with listening in general.

Today’s second reading from Philippians talks about Jesus emptying himself of his Godness - then emptying himself of his humanness becoming a slave - then going even further, allowing himself to be killed on the cross.

Paul says have Christ’s attitude.

Paul says Christ’s attitude is that of emptying self.

As the mystics put it: ego must go - e - go!

Well one way of emptying oneself is listening. During the week we find ourselves in 100 conversations and in every conversation the other says something that triggers our stories and we stop listening to the other and as soon as they pause, we jump in with our story - our memory. We cut the other off. We then dominate the conversation till we take a breath and the other or some other cuts us off and on and on and.

This week, say, “No” to self and ego and “Yes” to listening to the other person and their story.

Empty barrels catch the most water.

Empty barrels catch the most words.