By Msgr. Joseph P. Calise
Canadian born Art Linkletter was an American radio and TV personality whose shows “House Party” and “People Are Funny” delighted generations of viewers. One of the most enjoyable segments of “People Are Funny” was an interview with a panel of youngsters called “Kids Say the Darndest Things.” So funny were some of their responses that Linkletter was able to compile them into a series of books. I remember watching one day as he asked the question parents dreaded hearing. He asked the children, “When you were preparing to come on the show, what did Mommy tell you not to say?” To the chagrin of many a mother, their answers were honest and ranged from, “She told me not to tell about the time she dyed her hair blonde and it came out green,” to, “She said I shouldn’t talk about the time she answered the door in her underwear because she thought it was daddy but it was the mailman.” I can only imagine how many answers had to be edited out. Green hair or a scantily clad welcome to the mailman can cause a red face as the audience laughs but sometimes family secrets are not quite that innocent.
Growing up, we were often told that family business should stay within the house. We should not go around telling personal family business to people who didn’t have a right or need to know. Although every family, and every individual, has a right to privacy, there are some things that cannot remain unspoken. That secretive kind of thinking made children believe they were loyal because they would not speak of abuse they received or witnessed; It gave the appearance that right and wrong were not inherent in an action and one’s motives but depended upon their being found out.
Anonymous programs (such as Alcoholics Anonymous) are based on Twelve Steps. The first is, “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol, that our lives had become unmanageable.” Before the process of healing could begin, it was necessary that the secret be broken. All the good that the rest of the steps could work for an individual were contingent upon that heartfelt admission — if he kept his “secret”, a life of happiness, joy and freedom was unattainable. For many, that first step is the most difficult. It makes one vulnerable to the criticism and judgment of others. As a candidate progresses through the steps, he will be challenged to make a thorough and fearless moral inventory and then share that with another person. Again, the secrets need to be broken. As you can well imagine, the person chosen to hear this inventory is usually either a counselor or priest because we are bound by confidentiality or a very trusted friend. But imagine this: Suppose the person to whom you were speaking already knew the secret and loved you anyway?
In the Gospel passage, Jesus tells His apostles to “Fear no one. Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known. What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light.” Fear no one because no one is perfect and even one’s toughest accuser has his own story. There are no secrets from God. But, He doesn’t end there. Jesus goes on to tell them that the only one to fear is the “one who can destroy body and soul in Gehenna” but immediately adds that the same One has counted every hair on their heads in protection. It is not God’s desire to cast into Gehenna but to love and protect. All hearts, those of saints and sinners alike, are known and loved by God.
Before receiving communion, as the host is elevated and the priests invite us to, “Behold the Lamb of God,” we utter the simple prayer, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof. But only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” He knows our unworthiness, but we have to acknowledge it ourselves to appreciate the gift we are about to receive. He wishes to speak the healing word, but we have to acknowledge that He holds it. We have to trust, trust that He knows even our most frightening secrets and loves us anyway.
Readings for the Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Jeremiah 20: 10-13
Psalm 69: 8-10, 14, 17, 33-35
Romans 5: 12-15
Matthew 10: 26-33
Msgr. Calise is the pastor of Transfiguration-St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish, Maspeth.