Homily Week: Don’t Leave Them Crying on the Field

July 21, 2018

I am on vacation this week, and am re-posting the top homilies (most-read homily posts) from the 5+ years of From the Deacon’s Desk. Thank you for following my blog!

This is a homily from November 2017:

I began my illustrious coaching career as a 19-year-old, coaching 5th and 6th grade CYO football here at St. Pius X. I learned a lot in those early experiences – about football and coaching strategies, but more importantly about people.

I remember one particular incident that occurred on the practice field. A young man made an error on a play we were attempting to run. I stopped the action on the field. I got eye-to-eye with my young 10-year-old running back, made it clear that an error had been made, and stressed how important it was that he correct that error. I had a moderate increase in the volume and intensity of my voice, but nothing alarming. I’m sure my face showed concern, but am fairly certain it did not show anger. I gave what I felt was a firm and appropriate response, doing my best to correct the error.

In coaching, you learn to watch the eyes for understanding; the eyes tell the story. This young man’s eyes came alive. He was encouraged and motivated by my words. He responded enthusiastically, “Yes, Coach! I can do that, Coach!” He then sprinted to the line of scrimmage to show me – to show everyone – that he could do it. He ran the play and executed it flawlessly.

Setting humility aside, I remember thinking, “I am a great coach, an outstanding motivator of young people!”

The next practice I had a nearly identical situation with a different player. Confident in my proven abilities, I handled the situation in the identical fashion. Eye-to-eye with the young man who had made the mistake, I repeated my performance from the prior day: pointed out the error with a moderate increase in the volume and intensity of my voice, showed a face of concern but not anger, offered an appropriate response to the situation.

Then I stood back and waited for the magic to happen once again. I watched the young man’s eyes to see the fire, to see them come to life.

The eyes did tell the story. His eyes immediately filled with tears. In moments he was sobbing uncontrollably. He took off his helmet and slumped to the ground in the middle of the field. The eyes of all of the young athletes and fellow coaches were on me, wondering what I had done to that poor child.

Same error, same technique used to correct the error, entirely different response.

I learned a valuable lesson that day – a lesson I have reflected upon often as a husband, father, educator, and deacon. Not everyone receives a message the same way. The word choice, volume, and tone used, regardless of content, can impact how different people receive the same message. What works for one person may not work for another.

Lesson learned: You may need to employ a variety of methods to get your point across. In education, we call it differentiated instruction.

Jesus knew that. That’s why at times he preached about the sanctity of the temple in words, and another time sent this same message by overturning the tables of the moneychangers. Same message, different tone and intensity.

This all came to mind as I prepared this week’s homily. I was struggling with the direction to take with these readings. I am not too proud to ask for help, so I asked one of our students, a young man discerning the priesthood, to look over the readings and let me know what stood out to him.

He was happy to do so. He sent me his notes the next day. What struck me most about his response was that it was not directed so much at the content of the readings – but more on the tone and intensity of the message.

In the first reading from Malachi, verbiage is direct and demanding: If you do not listen, if you do not lay it to heart, to give glory to my name, says the LORD of hosts, I will send a curse upon you and on your blessing I will make a curse.

 Direct and demanding – “Praise God or else.”

In St. Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, we heard a kinder, gentler approach: We were gentle among you, as a nursing mother cares for her children. With such affection for you, we were determined to share with you the gospel of God…for this reason we give thanks to God unceasingly.

Kinder and gentler – “Join me in praising God.”

Finally, the words of Jesus in the Gospel land somewhere in-between: You have but one teacher…you have but one Father in heaven…whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

 It’s a teaching moment – “Praise God because it is the right thing to do for your salvation.”

I have emphasized in the past that sacred scripture is the divinely inspired, personalized word of God. Scripture readings offer to each person an individualized message; each hears what he is intended to hear.

This week’s readings take that notion a step farther. Scripture readings also vary the delivery of that message so that it reaches the ears of all.

Why is that important to know?

As Christians, we are called not only to hear the message, but also to take that message out to the world – to deliver the message. We need to be sensitive to our audience and meet people where they are. If we are to be successful in our efforts, we can’t rely on only one method of delivery.

Some people need to be told: “Praise God.”

Some people need to be invited: “Join me in praising God.”

Some people need to be taught: “Praise God because it is the right thing to do for your salvation.”

If you are convinced there is only one way to deliver the message, and stubbornly lock in to that one method, your message will get through to some or even most people.

However, you will likely leave others with tears in their eyes, slumped over in the middle of the football field.

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