ColumnsNaming Grace

For they preach, but they do not practice

Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time

Rubbing the sleep from his eyes, 4-year-old Freddy announced, “I want ice cream for breakfast.” His mother calmly explained the importance of starting the day with nutritious foods. “Hmm,” Freddy responded. “But Mimi has Fudgsicles for breakfast.” Laura gently, yet firmly, responded: “Well, Freddy, maybe Mimi has ice cream, but you’re a growing boy, and you need a good, healthy breakfast.” Though his mother managed to convince Freddy to eat cereal, I seriously doubt I could have made the case. You can’t preach what you don’t practice.

In this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus warns of the scribes and Pharisees, “For they preach, but they do not practice.” The scribes and Pharisees preached the law, but not the heart of the commandments. They laid heavy burdens on the people, while loving their own ease, honors and salutations. They preached, but they did not practice.

According to the church document “Lumen Gentium,” parents “should, by their word and example, be the first preachers of the faith to their children.” As the single greatest influence in their children’s religious formation, parents preach through actions as well as words. Parents “preach” the moment they comfort their crying baby, kiss a skinned knee or smile at their cooing infant. Conversely, parents “preach” when they react with anger, harshness or indifference. When children experience unconditional love, especially from a parent, they recognize God as a loving parent rather than a harsh judge. Children listen to our every word and watch our every move. You must practice what you preach.

Parents preach effectively when approaching their children with loving affection and tenderness. As St. Paul wrote, “We were gentle among you, as a nursing mother cares for her children.” All preaching should be “as a mother speaks to her child, knowing that what she is teaching is for his or her benefit.” We must be convinced a relationship with Jesus benefits our children now and for eternity. Over and over, through what we say and what we do, we proclaim the Gospel message: “Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you.” Preach Jesus and practice love.

According to Pope Francis, the homily is a mediation of grace—a naming of God’s wonderful works. Parents as first preachers name grace by identifying and naming God’s presence –peace, love, forgiveness, healing and joy—in the ordinary and extraordinary moments of family life. The more we preach by naming grace, the more abundant God’s love reigns in our homes. Preaching increases practice.

Preach the beauty of the Mass and faithfully honor the Lord’s Day. Preach compassion and volunteer as a family. Preach forgiveness and readily say, “I am sorry” or “I forgive you.” Preach love and commit to daily acts of kindness. Preach humility and allow others to go before you. Preach grace and witness God’s presence flourish in your home. Preach and practice your faith.

People, especially children, “thirst for authenticity.” I highly doubt Freddy would listen to me preach about the need for a healthy breakfast. On the other hand, I pray Freddy will respond to conversations we have about God’s goodness and sweetness: grace over law, life over death, and—every now and then—a little ice cream over cereal. Now, that’s the good news! Preach and practice with your life!

How consistent is your practice with your preaching?

What steps will you take to name grace in your home?

All quotes from “The Joy of the Gospel” by Pope Francis.