November 5, 2017 Click on the left end of the black bar to play/pause
November 5, 2017
Matthew 23: 1-12
Fr. George Smiga
Brittany Darras teaches English at a high school in Colorado. At a teacher-parents conference, a parent came up to her to explain her daughter’s long absence from class. Ms. Darras was not prepared for what she heard. The parent explained that her daughter had tried to commit suicide. The police had thwarted her efforts, and she was now recovering in a nearby hospital. Ms. Darras was shocked. The girl in question was an intelligent, friendly, beautiful young woman. No one had any idea that something was wrong. Ms. Darras decided to write to the girl. She sent a handwritten note affirming how much she admired her academic excellence, her personality, and the many friends that were a part of her life. She said that she and the class missed her deeply and waited for her return. Ms. Darras’ letter became a turning point in this young girl’s recovery. She told her mother, “I can’t believe that someone said so many nice things about me. I always imagined that no one would remember anything, if I was gone.”
The letter also became an epiphany for Ms. Darras. She began to think how many more students in her tenth and eleventh grade classes were carrying a similar sadness. Of course, there was no way of knowing. So Ms. Darras decided she would write to all of them. Over the next few months, she hand-wrote 130 letters telling each student the goodness she saw in him or her. Now, of course, finding goodness in some students was easier than in others. But she found something of genuine value in each one of the students and expressed it. Some of the students never responded to her letters. But many did, expressing their thankfulness. A few students told her that they would keep the letter she sent forever. When she was asked how she could write so many letters, Ms. Darras responded, “Once I realized the difference that even a simple act of affirmation could make, I found plenty of time to write.”
There are people around us carrying heavy burdens. Some of them we see, and some of them we do not. But the message of Jesus in today’s gospel is that we are called to ease the burdens of others. The criticism that Jesus directs to the Pharisees is actually addressed to us, because there are times when we do not even lift a finger to ease the burden that someone is carrying. Now, of course, there are some burdens we cannot budge. We cannot heal a person of cancer. We probably do not have the resources to make whole someone who is experiencing financial collapse. But, there are simple things, easy things, we can do. And they can make a difference. As the experience of Ms. Darras shows us, such things can be as simple as an act of affirmation.
What does it cost us to tell another person the goodness we see in him or her? It is our failure to do that simple action that Jesus criticizes in today’s gospel. He asks, ‘When was the last time you told your son or daughter how good she or he is at a particular task or ability? When was the last time you told your spouse why you love him or her? If it has been awhile, what are you waiting for? Is there someone at work for whom you are thankful? Why not let them know it. Do you have friends who are true blessings for you? Why not tell them what they mean to you.
Now, of course, when we give affirmation, some people will take our comments in stride, thank us, and move on. But, others may be hungering to be reminded of the goodness that is theirs. They may be carrying burdens we are unable to see. That is why Jesus asks us to love freely and to affirm others generously. Because, being his disciple is not only a matter of doing difficult things—like changing a person’s heart or moving a mountain. Sometimes doing his will is simple—as easy as lifting a finger.