The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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September 29, 2000 Issue
Bishop Morneau's Column
"Reflection on the Readings"

Bishop Robert Morneau
Bishop Robert Morneau

The power of a life changing sentence

Jesus used his teaching to bring about conversion of mind and heart

October 1, Twenty-sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time

By Bishop Robert Morneau

Questions for reflection:

1. What has power to change your life?

2. What role does scripture play in shaping your mind and heart?

3. Do you believe in the power and magic of words?

Is it possible for a single sentence to change one's life? During retreat this summer, our retreat director stated five times: "Here is a sentence that changed my life." Then he went on to quote St. Augustine ("Too late have I loved Thee, O Beauty, ever ancient ever new"), William Shakespeare ("Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds"), St. Paul ("Bear one another's burden and you fulfill the whole law of Christ"), Chaim Potok ("Go where the suffering is") and Shin'ichi Suzuki ("Where love is deep, much will be accomplished").

Words have power and, strung together in sentences, they can change our lives. Jesus used his preaching ministry to bring about conversion of mind and heart, that is, to draw us out of darkness into the light of God's grace. Reading and praying over the scriptures can be a revolutionary activity. Let's look at three sentences into today's readings that if, taken seriously, might further our individual and corporate conversion.

"Anyone who gives you a drink of water because you belong to Christ will not, I assure you, go without his reward." (Mark 9:41)

Giving someone a cup of water or a loaf of bread does not appear, on the surface, as a world-changing event. Yet, a single act of kindness can change the world. One of the characters in the autobiographical piece The Education of Henry Adams is described in these terms: "Milnes made it his business to be kind." Jesus warns against activities that are mean-spirited and that lead others astray. His concern is for the well being of all. Jesus calls us to be instruments of divine kindness in a very cruel and unjust world.

A second line that has the potential to change our lives: "Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets!" (Numbers 11:28)

Through baptism we participate in the mission and ministry of Jesus. One of those tasks is prophetic in nature. As Jim Wallis states: "The prophetic task was twofold: to name the idols and to call the people back to the Lord." The three big idols that need naming are power, possessions and prestige. While good in themselves, too easily they become ends instead of means. The prophet calls a spade a spade, an idol an idol. Though not popular, the truth spoken does tend to set us free.

And the prophet calls people back to God. Our Christian faith is grounded in the fact that we came from God and are destined back to God. We need constant reminders of this reality and the prophet is the one with a good memory. Sometimes the message seems harsh but when spoken in love it can be embraced and lived.

A third line with life-changing power: "You rich, weep and wail over your impending miseries." (James 5:1)

Recently I heard this petition raised up during the liturgy: "Lord, free all those who are caught in the web of wealth." In our more honest moments we know that we can easily be possessed by our possessions. Our riches and gifts and toys can hold us in bondage. While presuming freedom, we are captives. The call to share justly and charitably all the gifts that come our way. By so doing our lives are changed for the better.

One sentence can change our lives. A sentence like "This is my body given for you."

(Bp. Morneau is the auxiliary bishop of the Green Bay Diocese.)

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