Sunday, October 01, 2017

The Importance of Avoiding ‘Cheap Talk’

(Twenty-sixth Sunday of the Year (A): This homily was given on October 1, 2017 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Matthew 21: 28-32.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Twenty-sixth Sunday 2017]

Talk is cheap.

Many of us (probably most of us) have heard that saying before.  I don’t know its origin, but it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that it was first used many years ago after someone read the gospel passage we just heard—this text from Matthew 21.

Because this is certainly one of the messages we get from the parable Jesus tells us here about the man with two sons.  When the man told his first son to go and work in his vineyard, the boy responded negatively.  He said, “Forget it, Daddy-O, I’ve got better things to do with my time.”

But afterward he had second thoughts, and went.

Then the man asked his other son, who said, “Right away, Pops, anything for you.”

But he never went. 

His talk was cheap—very cheap.  In fact, his word was basically worth nothing.

And you can’t get any “cheaper” than that.

Which brings me to the controversy that’s going on right now in the National Football League, concerning players who are kneeling or sitting for the National Anthem at the beginning of games—ostensibly to protest the oppression that some African-Americans feel in this country from whites, and the mistreatment of some blacks by certain members of the law enforcement community.

Now I’m not sure where you stand on this issue.  There’s no official “Catholic position” on it; it’s one of those matters that good Catholics are free to disagree on.

Personally, I think it’s disrespectful.  But that’s just my opinion.  I’m always careful in my homily to distinguish between official Church teaching and my own personal views.  Personally, I think there are better ways to address this problem.  You might disagree, and that’s certainly your prerogative.

But, regardless of what side of the issue each of us falls on, there’s one question we should ALL have for these professional football players:

What are you DOING about it?  What are you doing, PERSONALLY, to improve race relations in this country?  What are you doing to make the relationship between black young people and the police better in the city where you are blessed to play professional football? 

You see, these players—by taking a knee or sitting down or not coming out on the field for the National Anthem—are actually speaking.  They’re speaking, they’re making a statement—a clear and definite statement of protest—with their bodies.

But, as we learn from this gospel parable, TALK IS CHEAP—even when it’s that type of talk!

It means nothing, unless it’s followed by action.

And the thing is, these players are in a great position to take action and make a positive impact in the area of race relations, since their popularity usually crosses racial and ethnic lines.  For example, Patriot fans don’t like Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski because they’re white; they don’t like Dont’a Hightower and Devin McCourty because they’re black.

They like those guys because they’re New England Patriots!

It doesn’t matter what the color of their skin is!

(Not to most people, anyway.)

These great athletes can make a difference—a very positive difference—if they choose to act in constructive ways off the football field and in their local communities.

Maybe Angela Tafone from our parish could help them.  Maybe Angela could meet with every team in the National Football League in the near future and explain to them the importance of action: the importance doing what you’re able to do to help other people in this life.

I thought of this after I received an email from Angela earlier this week.  She’s now a freshman at Rivier University in Nashua, New Hampshire.  Here’s what she wrote:

Hi, Father.
College is going well; you are in my daily prayers.  I joined the campus ministry club on campus.  A couple of Saturdays ago, we did a service day at the Ann Marie house, which is a home for families in poverty.  I got to play with the children, which was a great experience for me, being able to help others and help those families.  Afterwards, I felt rewarded that I had done the right thing, by putting a smile on the kids’ faces and being a good Christian—especially this one girl I was playing with.  She was happy even though she doesn't have a home.  Afterwards, I felt grateful that I helped these families by just making them happy and that we were there to help. I wanted to share my experience with you.  Figured you would like to hear this.  I'll be back in Westerly for Columbus Day weekend.

When it comes to Christian charity, young Angela Tafone is avoiding “cheap talk.”  In other words, she’s putting the words she speaks with her mouth about loving her neighbor as herself into action.  Consequently she’s making a positive difference in the lives of people in need in Nashua, New Hampshire.

God bless her!

May the Lord give us the grace to do that for the people he puts in our lives, and may he give those protesting NFL players the knowledge and desire they need to act in ways that will bring blacks and whites together in this country, and not tear them apart.