In 1992, my husband and I told my parents we were expecting an addition to the family. They responded with excitement. Mom expressed how happy she was that I was going to experience the joy of being a mother. Her words revealed much about herself, and the joy in her heart. It was a beautiful way to say how much she loved my siblings and me.
We made a different announcement in 2001. My husband would be received into the Church at Easter Vigil. My mom responded, “My heart just leapt!” In those four words, she expressed her love of God and His church. She also revealed how much she cared for my husband in her desire for him to become Catholic.
As Melanie Jean Juneau said in an article on March 12, “Words matter.” Sometimes our words convey much more than we realize. We can affect people without even thinking about it, and reveal quite a bit about ourselves in the process.
There is a story I like to share about a woman who was in my life only briefly, but who I have not forgotten. It took place in the early 1990s when my husband (now a retired Army Colonel) attended drill in a city a few hours away from us. Marissa (our daughter) and I frequently traveled with him.
She and I were enjoying breakfast one morning at a beautiful buffet offered at our hotel. She was not school age yet. We were busy talking to each other until I got up to get us more food. Walking towards the buffet, a woman stopped me. She wanted me to know she could see even from her table how much Marissa and I enjoyed each other’s company.
This woman could have kept her thoughts to herself. It said something about her that she preferred to share them. By letting me know what was on her mind, she made a difference. I realized if she could see how much I love being with my daughter, Marissa had probably figured it out, too. This woman helped me understand that our conversations were more than just words; they helped forge a bond.
I will never know that woman’s name, but I try to follow her example. When I notice goodness in others, even strangers, I try to pass it on. Two decades later that stranger’s kindness still influences me.
All of this came to mind after my husband played music from an old Bee Gees concert. During that concert, they sang Words, an old favorite of mine. This time, though, I heard one line of it in a way I had never heard it before.
When BeeGees sang “It’s only words, and words are all I have to take your heart away,” I immediately thought of the Word of God. God gave us His Word to take our hearts away. John 1:1 (NABRE) came to mind: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The Word, in Jesus and the written word of Scripture, reveals God to us.
I doubt I will ever hear BeeGee’s Words again without thinking about God’s love and desire for His people. Our Creator and King, who is so far above us, actively tries to take our hearts away.
When I was growing up, I was not well liked. I would listen to songs like this, hear the lyrics and the emotion, and wonder if anybody would ever feel that way about me. It took me a long time to realize that God’s love is so much greater. God knows everything about me and still loves me in a way that is more desirable than any emotion expressed by writers of love songs.
While God’s love is constant, ours is not. God calls us to profound love. How do we respond?
Words are so essential that Scripture tells us God “said” and it happened. Words show people who we are, and can be influential in bringing others to God or scaring them away.
I think most people would agree we have a “word” problem in today’s society. We read comments sections for articles online and feel overwhelmed with the hateful things we see. Somehow we have become a society where disagreement is expressed by name calling and ugly sentiments. Many of us are careful about where we state our political or religious thoughts because of fear that it will generate personal attacks rather than discussion. Thoughtful conversation and true debate seem ever rarer.
We often find ourselves guilty of this behavior we hate so much. Even when we do not devolve into outright name-calling, it can be increasingly challenging to avoid anger when we disagree with others. Sometimes the thoughts in our heads echo the uncharitable words we have heard from others, and often we lack kindness towards those who think differently than us.
We can change, though. First, we need to desire to serve God and ask God to change our hearts. Second, it is helpful to become more aware of the kinds of thoughts or words that lead us to anger and unkindness.
Last month, in consultation with my daughter, I wrote about beauty. It occurs to me that beauty in words is also relevant. Beautiful words are words that express love for God and love of each other.
Since this is such a closely related topic, I asked my daughter for her thoughts again. We spoke primarily about two things: prayer and worship. Our prayer and our worship should lead us towards God and, as a result, to treat people better.
Prayer and worship can bond us to God like conversations bonded my daughter and me. Relationships do not just happen. They require communication.
In worship, musical lyrics affect us. Some parishes seem to mostly use songs about our relationship with Jesus or about following Jesus by doing good for others. There is nothing wrong with remembering both of those, but we also need to add songs that praise God for who He is. Here I am referring to pieces like Creator of the Stars at Night or All Creatures of Our God and King.
Christianity isn’t just about “me and Jesus,” or about treating Jesus as a bigger version of your best friend. If we miss the difference between God and our human companions, we miss how exceptional it is that God desires us to have a relationship with Him.
Mass is full of beautiful words, with references to Scripture throughout. Sometimes it can be tough to hear them, maybe because we are sleep deprived or distracted.
We also, of course, listen to readings directly from Scripture every week. I have frequently complained that one of my pet peeves is Catholics who leave the Church proclaiming they never heard Scripture at Mass. Of course, as beautiful and meaningful as the Word of God is, sometimes my mind wanders. This year, I purchased a worship tool called Every Sacred Sunday. It not only has the readings for each Mass, but it also offers space to take notes. This book helps me to pay attention on days when I otherwise might not.
Marissa was fortunate to have Father Robert McTeigue, SJ, as a teacher during her undergraduate years. In Cheating God and Our Children With Shoddy Worship, he quotes theologian and choirmaster Peter Kwasniewski:
“… the ancient liturgy, with its poignant symbols and innumerable subtleties, is a prolonged courtship of the soul, enticing and drawing it onwards, leading it along a path to the mystical marriage, the wedding feast of heaven.”
All of this would seem to be true of prayer as well. It is good to understand that prayer is more than just asking for what you want in the hopes that God grants our desires. Often the phrase “Prayer works” is used by people who have, indeed, found their requests granted by God. But our loving Father wants to be so much more to us than that.
Marissa explains prayer like this:
- God is God.
- We worship God because he is a good, loving, faithful, perfect God.
- We pray to become one with him.
- Through prayer, we learn what we are called to do — which more often than not means conforming to a truth we don’t like.
- We act.
Marissa said that ideally, steps 1-3 would be such a big part of our days that when action is required, we know what action to take. She tells me that in the ethics class he taught, Father McTeigue said his goal was “to make the students so in tune with ethics that they were like an archer ready to shoot. There is not always time to research the answer when ethics situations come up. If we have to stop and align our bows, we will miss the shot.”
Step 3 is the one that I find the most difficult. We know where following Jesus leads us in this earthly life. If we desire to become one with God, He will grant that, even if in ways that we would not choose. Following God will help us get past the habit of using or thinking ugly words towards others. We will recognize that God loves them with the same intimate love He has for us, and He wants us all to be one. To love God is to desire what He desires.
Despite all my talk about words, in prayer, sometimes the best prayer is no words at all. If we want to hear God, it can be necessary to quiet those words in our heads and be still. Remember that God whispers. Listen, and allow Him to take your heart away.