12th Sunday of the Year
Jeremiah 20:10–13; Romans 12:5–15; Matthew 10:26–33

Key to success and love
We hold the key to other people’s self-image; we hold the key to whether they will be able to love and succeed in life.

Years ago, Stanley Coopersmith of the University of California became curious about why some people succeed, while others with equal talents and opportunities fail.  To answer his question, he studied 1,700 students for six years,
following them through the key growth years.

Coopersmith’s findings are remarkable. They show that the most important factor contributing to success or failure is a person’s self-image.
A person with a positive self-image is apt to succeed.
A person with a negative self-image is apt to fail.

In other words, if we perceive ourselves to be valuable or lovable, we will probably succeed in what we do. But if
we do not perceive ourselves to be valuable or lovable,
we will probably fail.

But the effect of our self-image extends even beyond this.
Psychologists now tell us that our self-image holds the key
to our success not only as professional people but also as Christians.

How so?

Our success as Christians is measured by our ability to love God and our neighbor. Studies show that people with a positive self-image are far more capable of loving God
and neighbor than are people with a negative self-image.

Why is this true? It’s because love is a self-gift. Love is a gift of one’s self to another person.

And that’s where the rub comes in.

If we don’t think we are valuable or lovable, we won’t be able to give ourselves as a gift to another person.

No one gives junk to another person, especially to someone
he or she respects and admires. We don’t wrap ourselves up in cellophane, tie a red ribbon around us, and put ourselves on another’s doorstep, if we think we are garbage.

This raises an important question. How do we develop
our self-image? Where do we pick up the idea that we are valuable or lovable?

The answer to that question is frightening.

We pick up this idea from other people, especially those closest to us, like our family. If other people treat us as not being valuable or lovable, then that’s how we begin to see ourselves: as not being valuable or lovable.
On the other hand, if they treat us as being valuable and lovable, then that’s how we begin to see ourselves: as being valuable and lovable.

Frightening as it may seem, other people, especially those closest to us, hold the key to our self-image.

Commenting on this frightening fact, psychologist Bonaro Overstreet says, We are not only our brother’s keeper; we are also his shaper.

Commenting on the importance of other people in shaping our self-image, Robert Bierstedt of New York University says,
I’m not who I think I am. I’m not who you think I am.
But I am who I think you think I am.

In other words, if I think you think I’m garbage, then that’s the self-image I eventually develop.

This leads us to a practical conclusion.

As Christians we believe that God made us in his own image.
If anyone should have a positive self-image, we should.

And today’s gospel reemphasizes this fact. Jesus says that our heavenly Father knows even the number of hairs on our head.
In God’s eyes we have a worth and a value beyond counting.
He loves us with an infinite love. He loves us and values us so much that he sent his only Son to save us from sin.

It’s important, then, that we treat one another in the same way that our Father has treated us. It’s important that we convey to others the same message he has conveyed to us:
that we are valuable and lovable beyond all counting.

If we treat others in a way less than this, we convey to them a lie, a terrible lie. We tell them they are not valuable or lovable.
Not only do we lie to them, but we also destroy their ability to love as Scripture teaches them.

For if we give them the idea that they are worthless and unlovable, they will not be able to give themselves in love
to another.

Small wonder Paul writes to the Christians in Corinth:

I may be able to speak the languages of men and even of angels,
but if I have no love, my speech is no more than a noisy gong or a clanging bell.

I may have the gift of inspired preaching; I may have all knowledge and understand all secrets;
I may have all the faith needed to move mountains but if I have no love, I am nothing.

I may give away everything I have, and even give up my body to be burned but if I have no love, this does me no good.
I Corinthians 13:1–3

Today’s gospel speaks an important message to us. It says that we are valuable and lovable. God himself has told us so.

It is up to us to speak this same message of love to one another, especially the young. Their future well-being, not only in this world but also in the world to come, depends on it.

Let’s close with these words of Jesus:

I love you just as the Father loves me. . . .
I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. . . . This, then, is what I command you:
love one another. John 15:9, 11, 17

Series II
12th Sunday of the Year
Jeremiah 20:10–13; Romans 5:12–15; Matthew 10:26–33

Tom Brown
We can acknowledge or deny God in a variety of ways.
Tom Brown’s School Days was a famous British novel.
It was made into a movie that became a box-office hit.

Tom Brown was a popular boy who attended a boarding school in England. He lived with about a dozen other boys
in one of the school’s dormitories. Whatever Tom said or
did always had a big impact on what the other boys in the school said or did.

One day a new boy came to the school. When it came time for bed that night, the new boy innocently knelt down beside his bed to say his prayers.

A few of the boys began to snicker. A couple of others began to laugh and joke. One even threw a shoe at the kneeling boy.

That night Tom didn’t go to sleep right away. He lay awake,
thinking about what had happened to the newcomer.

He also began to think about his mother and the prayers
she taught him to say each night before bed prayers he had not said since coming to school.
The next night several of the boys in the dormitory were looking forward to poking fun at the new boy again.

When bedtime came, however, something totally unexpected happened. When the new boy knelt down to say his night prayers, Tom knelt down also.

When the other boys in the dormitory saw Tom kneeling and praying, they did not carry out their plans.

That simple little episode from Tom Brown’s School Days
illustrates in a dramatic and poignant way what Jesus had
in mind when he said in today’s gospel:

“Those who declare publicly that they belong to me, I will do the same for them before my Father in heaven. But those who reject me publicly, I will reject before my Father in heaven.”

It also illustrates one of the reasons that Jesus made this statement. It’s because bearing witness or not bearing
witness to our heavenly Father can have a profound impact on those around us.

Consider just one area where this is especially true, and that area is the home. The way parents witness or fail to witness to their heavenly Father has a profound effect on their children.

For instance, the example of Tom Brown’s mother and her witness to her faith was the determining factor that led Tom to bear witness to his faith in front of his peers.

Someone once said that every Christian occupies some kind of pulpit and preaches some kind of sermon every day. This is especially true when it comes to parents in the home.

In April 1987, the Catholic Digest carried an interview of a couple who had just celebrated their 25th year of marriage.

In the course of the interview, the couple revealed that they had prayed together every night since their wedding night.

At first they simply recited prayers like the Our Father or the Hail Mary.
As time went on, they read Scripture together and shared reflections on what they read.

Another way they prayed together was spontaneously from the heart. Sometimes this involved asking God’s help  for a problem that they were both having.

Each spouse admitted that praying this way was not easy at first. But they also admitted that this kind of honest prayer from the heart was a tremendous source of grace to them.

Commenting on this the husband said, “I’d sometimes not pray about something because I wouldn’t want to say it to Rita.” He said he eventually overcame his reluctance when
he realized  that this was being dishonest not only with Rita but also with God.

When he finally got over the reluctance, this form of prayer became a great help in getting them through some tough times,
especially in the first seven years of their marriage.

The couple explained that they got the idea of praying together from Rita’s parents. Rita said:

In my family, when I was growing up, we didn’t close doors much. I could hear my parents praying at night. It was a very comforting sound. Sometimes they’d invite us in, and we’d all go sit on their bed. They read from the Bible and from a book called The Upper Room.
This is the kind of witness, especially in the home, that Jesus is talking about in today’s gospel.
It is the kind of witness that, perhaps, we are not used to.

It is, however, the kind of witness that Jesus invites us
to make.

It is the kind of witness that, if we implement it, can change our family relationships and lives in a most remarkable way.

And what keeps us from this kind of witness?

Jesus himself alludes to it three times in the course of the Gospel. It is fear.

And three times Jesus says to his followers, “Do not be  afraid.” And that’s what he says to us here today: “Do not be afraid.”

This is the message contained in today’s Old Testament reading and, especially, in today’s gospel reading.

This is the good news that Jesus wants to share with us today,
just as he shared it with his followers in his lifetime.

This is the good news that could change not only the lives of our loved ones but also the people whose lives they touch.

Let us close with a prayer:

God our Father, give us the courage to bear witness to you in every area of life.

Help us realize that the most important area of witness is in the home.

If we bear witness in this area, our witness in the other areas of life will take care of itself. M.L.

Series III
12th Sunday of the Year
Jeremiah 20:10–13; Romans 12:5–15; Matthew 10:26–33

Public witness
Declaring I belong to Jesus by what I do and say.

Those who declare publicly that they belong to me, I will do the same for them before my Father in heaven. Matthew 10:32

Someone asked an old tribal chief why he talked so much about Jesus. The chief didn’t respond with words, but with actions.

He collected some dry grass and twigs and put them into a circle about the circumference of a bushel basket.

Next, he caught a caterpillar feeding on a clump of weeds,
and placed it inside the circle.

Then he took a match, struck it, and set fire to the dry grass and the twigs.

As the fire blazed up, the caterpillar began searching frantically for an escape.

At this point the old chief took his cane and set it down in  front of the caterpillar. Instantly, the caterpillar began to climb up it to safety. The old chief said:

That’s what Jesus did for me. I was like the caterpillar,
confused, frightened, and without hope. I didn’t know
where to turn or what to do. Then Jesus rescued me.

How can I not talk about Jesus?
How can I not thank my Savior for what he has done for me?
How can I not praise him for his love and mercy?

Let’s focus on the witness that Jesus talks about in today’s Gospel. He says: Those who declare publicly that they belong to me, I will do the same for them before my Father in heaven.

There are two ways of “declaring publicly” that we belong to Jesus: by word, as the old tribal chief did, and by work. That is in action or deed. Consider an example of witness
by work.

Tip O’Neill of Massachusetts served 34 years in Congress.
Ten of those years were as speaker of the House, the longest consecutive term of any speaker in history.

After retiring in October 1986, he wrote his political memoirs,
which were published under the title Man of the House.

One story in his book is a good example of witnessing by deed.
It occurred in the 1960 presidential campaign and involved John F. Kennedy.

O’Neill was riding in an open car with Kennedy in a city in Missouri. He writes:

[Someone in the car had just] mentioned that in the  neighborhood we were driving through there was a
good deal of concern over the Catholic issue.

Then we passed a Catholic school, with all the nuns standing outside, holding their Kennedy signs.

“Stop the car,” said Jack. He got out and shook hands with all
the sisters, and I loved him for it.

I like that line: “And I loved him for it.”

The prudent thing for Kennedy to do in that situation would have been to simply wave to them. But Kennedy wasn’t built that way.

He made a public declaration of his faith and his respect for Catholic Sisters and what they were doing for their country
and their Church.

And so there are two ways to declare publicly that we belong to Jesus: by word,as the old chief did,and by deed,as Kennedy did.

Think back now to ourselves and our witness to Jesus.

By our Baptism and Confirmation we are called to bear witness to Jesus not only as a community on Sunday, as we are doing right now, but also as an individual during the week.

A mistake many Christians make is to split their world into two parts: a sacred part and a secular part. Commenting on this, someone observed:

We have fenced off a nice little area of life and labeled it religion. That is not enough. We must take Christ into our factories, schools . . . homes, everywhere.

And of these places, the most important is to take Jesus into our home. For, if we don’t take him there, we probably won’t take him, convincingly, anywhere else. Consider an example of home witness:

On Father’s Day, 1993, the Chicago Tribune carried
a full-color, front-page photo of a man with tears in his eyes and his arms around a ten-year-old boy. The caption reads:

“Earl Young cries as his stepson, Christopher Shelton, is honored for his Father’s Day essay.”

The story behind the photo then followed. It opened with an excerpt from Christopher’s prize-winning essay. Let me share it with you:

The man I call dad is really my stepdad. My real dad died when I was very young. My stepdad is very large. When he stands in the door he blocks the sunlight.

One day he said, “I climbed a mountain when I was in the army
in Europe and I saw God.”

I don’t think that he really saw God. I think he felt God there
and found peace in the mountains, because he told me that he found out what was really important in life and what was not. . . .

When I say my prayers, sometimes I see my real father smile
 at me. I do not really see him, but I can feel him smile. He’s smiling because my stepdad is making me become the gentleman that my father would want me to be.

This leaves each one of us with a question. How can we better declare publicly especially in our own homes that
we belong to Jesus?

And how can we do so, especially by our example, as Earl Young did?

This is the challenge that today’s readings set before each one of us. In the light of that challenge, let me suggest one thing
that we might do this morning.

After receiving Jesus in Communion, ask him to help you
witness to him in your home, as Earl Young did to his stepson.

If we do, we can be confident he will help us. Then when we stand before God in judgment on the last day, Jesus will declare publicly that we belong to him.