A young priest decided that a visual demonstration would add emphasis to his Sunday sermon.
Four worms were placed into four separate jars.
The first worm was put into a container of alcohol.
The second worm was put into a container of cigarette smoke.
The third worm was put into a container of chocolate syrup.
The fourth worm was put into a container of good clean soil.
At the conclusion of the sermon, the Priest reported the following results:
The first worm in alcohol - Dead.
The second worm in cigarette smoke - Dead.
Third worm in chocolate syrup - Dead.
Fourth worm in good clean soil - Alive!
So the Minister asked the congregation - What can you learn from this demonstration?
All was quiet until a little old woman in the back slowly raised her hand and said,
“I guess as long as you drink, smoke and eat chocolate, you won't have worms!” Now, put yourself into the Priest’s shoe – what would you tell the woman? May be you will say: “buzz, wrong answer” Or if you want to be nicer you would say “That is right, but not the answer I look for!” or if you are having a bad day, you would say “You don’t get it, do you?”
Believe it or not, we might be laughing at the 3rd answer. However, in reality, it is the one we hear more often than we want to. And probably, it is because we want to show others that we are better than them. Or at least we are “smarter”.
Jesus shows us the “how” to correct others in today’s gospel! “If another member of the church sins (against you), go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one” (Matthew 18:15). You see my dear friends, it is not about us - individually. What is at stake is how to bring an erring member back into the fold, to full reconciliation and communion with God and with us. The motivation for this kind of Christian action is to "regain" your brother or sister, to restore the broken relationship, not primarily to denounce or find out who is right or wrong.
The passage recommends a procedure in three stages: (1) Approach the defaulting brother or sister person-to-person. (2) Go a second time accompanied by one or two trusted companions. (3) Bring the case before the local church. This may sound like a daunting procedure, but the good news is that in nine cases out of ten, we may never need to go beyond the first stage. An erring member approached in a personal and courteous manner is happy to come back without much argument.
An unknown author wrote: “Kindness is a language that the dumb can speak and the deaf understand. Correction does much. Encouragement does much more. It is sun to the soul. One word of praise can speak volumes. The smallest word of encouragement today is better than the largest intention to compliment tomorrow. Encouragement is oxygen for the soul. People who say something is unforgivable should get out of the way of people who forgive.”
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, I am not say that you always have to “praise” people even when they do wrong, but you do not have to “smash” them. Putting others down should be but a portion of the punishment. For us - Christian, the dressing down should be accompanied with forgiveness and, as Abraham Lincoln advised, the offer to help the other start again.
Now let take a quick test! Count the number of people who encourage you. Don't worry. It won't take long. Then count the number of people you encourage. That won't take long either. We tell people to have a nice day, but we are reluctant to make it a nice day for them by paying a compliment or encouraging them. Why is that? I do not know the answer. May be, just might be we are too “good” to do some thing for someone? I do not know! In any case, the message on the couch pillow correctly reads, "Praise loudly and blame softly."
After daily mass, I stop by the “drive way” where parents drop of their children! As they “run out” of the cars, I always tell them, “I do not hear you say ‘I love you mom’!” they turn around and said “I love you mom!” then I complement them “That is very good! That is what father Martino wants to hear! And now you need to go to class and make your mommy proud!”
My dear friends, I know there are times we cannot allow ourselves to complement others, or correct them kindly. Because we always “blame” on them for what they had done! In other words, we are pointing our finger at them! Remember, when you point one finger that them, you are pointing other 3 at you! So stop the pointing – especially in your family, but being counting your blessings. I read in a counseling book “that in every argument, the woman has to say the last words. If the man says anything after that, it starts a new argument!”
Let us thank God for the clear and practical message of today's readings. As good hearers of God's word, the next step is for us to now go and put it into practice.
Fr. Martino Nguyen Ba-Thong