Sunday, September 07, 2008

Is Silence Golden?

Jennifer O'Neill

(Twenty-third Sunday of the Year (A): This homily was given on September 7, 2008 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Ezekiel 33: 7-9; Romans 13: 8-10; Matthew 18: 15-20.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Twenty-third Sunday 2008]

“Silence is golden.”

You’ve heard that saying before; you’ve probably even used that saying from time to time in conversations with other people.

And I will admit that there may be some situations in life when it’s true—when silence is indeed desirable (did I hear someone say, “At homily time during Mass”?—I certainly hope not!); but it’s never desirable when sin and evil are involved.

Silence may sometimes be golden, but not in the face of evil and sin. In those situations silence is harmful, destructive—and sometimes it’s even deadly.

And this is something that almost everyone believes deep down inside—even atheists and materialists and others who oppose Jesus Christ and his gospel!

Case in point: the controversy surrounding the conduct of Pope Pius XII in World War II.

According to some contemporary historians, what was the most glaring fault of Pope Pius XII? What was he most guilty of?


Right? They claim that he was totally silent in the face of the Nazi Holocaust of the Jews during the Second World War.

Now the truth is that Pius XII was not silent. He spoke up and he spoke out many times—and for that he was praised after the war by prominent Jews like Albert Einstein, the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem and the Chief Rabbi of Rome (who eventually became a Catholic himself due to Pius’ example and influence).

But even though Pius’ accusers are wrong, the fact that they’re so upset does show that they believe exactly what we believe: that in the face of evil silence isn’t golden, it’s reprehensible!

On a separate subject, I read an interesting statistic the other day. According to the New York Times—whose editors are definitely pro-abortion—64 percent of Americans oppose the idea of abortion-on-demand.

64 percent!

So how come Roe v. Wade is still the law of the land?

Why might we elect a man for president this year who got a 100% positive rating from the abortion rights group NARAL; a man who voted against a law in his home state that would have mandated medical care for babies born alive in botched abortions?

How could these things be happening?

The simple answer is “Silence”: the deafening silence of at least 64 percent of our citizens—including many members of the clergy.

Thankfully some Americans have resolved to be “silent no more” on this crucial issue; and it’s interesting to see who many of them are: women who have had abortions! In fact, a number of them—like actress Jennifer O’Neill—have actually formed a group with the name “Silent No More.”

These are women who have suffered spiritual, emotional and even physical consequences from choosing to end their pregnancies, and who are now courageously coming forward to tell their stories to the world. As O’Neill said to a group of government officials in Washington back in 2002, "I had an abortion and paid for it all my life until I healed and am now able to help other women." May God bless these women of “Silent No More”! They’ll probably do a lot more to change the immoral abortion laws of this nation than most of our politicians will.

I encourage you to look up this organization online. And if you’ve been personally wounded by abortion, I encourage you to consider joining; it might do a great deal to help further your healing—which is certainly what God wants for you.

In today’s first reading from Ezekiel 33, God warns the prophet not to be silent concerning the sins of the people of Israel: “You, son of man, I have appointed watchman for the house of Israel; when you hear me say anything, you shall warn them for me (i.e., you shall NOT be silent!). If I tell the wicked, ‘O wicked one, you shall surely die,’ and you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked from his way, the wicked shall die for his guilt, but I will hold you responsible for his death. But if you warn the wicked, trying to turn him from his way, and he refuses to turn from his way, he shall die for his guilt, but you shall save yourself.”

Obviously this word has a special application to bishops, priests and deacons in the Church today. Please pray that we all will take it seriously—for our sakes as well as for yours!

Let me add that this is why it amazes me when people are critical of the pope—or their bishop—or their pastor—for preaching against sin.

What do they expect us to do? Do they want us to allow people to go to hell? Do they want us to condemn ourselves?

After he murdered his brother Abel in the book of Genesis, Cain asked the famous question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

Well, in today’s gospel reading from Matthew 18 Jesus gives Cain and us the answer: “Yes, you are—at least to a certain extent; at least to the extent that you are responsible for doing what you can to help him recognize and turn away from his sin!”

Bishops, priests and deacons are called to do this for the entire family of God here on earth by their preaching, teaching and personal witness—as Ezekiel was called to do it for God’s people in Old Testament Israel.

But fraternal correction is also a requirement for all of you! Notice that Jesus does NOT say here: “If your brother sins against you, be silent, because silence is golden”?

He says the exact opposite! He says, in effect, “If your brother sins against you, don’t be silent! First go and tell him his fault, but keep it between you and him alone.”

If that doesn’t work, Jesus says, go tell others and get them to help you; and if that doesn’t work, seek assistance from the Church. Finally, if that doesn’t work, treat him like a Gentile or a tax collector (which basically means to avoid his company for a time, lest you become an accomplice in his sin).

It does not mean to completely close the door on the relationship you have with the person! And how do we know that? We know it because Jesus himself never closed the door on anyone—including Gentiles and tax collectors! He didn’t participate in their sins; he didn’t condone their sins in any way; however he did always welcome them when they recognized their sins and repented.

Think of St. Matthew; think of Zacchaeus.

Is there anyone in your life right now that you’ve “closed the door on,” so to speak?

If there is, then I think the Lord would say that this is a good time to at least unlock the door to that person! They might keep it closed on you, but you must not keep it closed on them. Who knows?—you may be the one who eventually leads them to salvation in Christ!

Stranger things have happened.

So today our prayer should be for courage—for fortitude (which is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit): “O Holy Spirit, give me the courage to say what I need to say, what I should say, what you want me to say—in every situation. May I never, ever be guilty of the terrible sin of silence.”