Three grammar lessons that will sanctify your family and your life: A homily for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time

It’s time for a grammar lesson. Sorry, it’s just what happens when you have an English major as a priest. Just hang with me. First, I want to mention something familiar to us all: the declarative sentence. A declarative statement is your normal sentence that states something. It declares to the world, this is the way it is. This is how things are. This is a fact. That is the rationale and point of a declarative sentence. For example: the dog is loud. That sentence tells the world the volume of the dog. In the first reading, we hear Joshua speaking a beautiful and forceful declarative sentence. The sentence is this: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua had taken over for Moses, who had given not only the commandments but a host of stuff in Leviticus also. There were lots of rules but folks were faltering left and right, going after the false gods. Joshua is fed up and gathers everyone together. Then he announces his declarative sentence: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” This sentence ought to be on the tongue of every Catholic. Our homes need to be Catholic. Are our homes holy places? Do we serve the Lord there?

The second grammar lesson I want to talk about is the subordinate clause. A subordinate clause is also called a dependent clause because it depends on the rest of the sentence to give it meaning. A subordinate clause cannot stand alone. Here is an example: “When the noon bell rings, the entire school prays the angelus.” Here, the first part of the sentence is a subordinate clause: “When the noon bell rings.” While this phrase has a subject and a verb, it cannot stand by itself as a complete sentence; it requires the rest of the sentence to give it meaning. St. Paul tells us that we are subordinate clauses. We cannot stand alone; we depend upon others to give us meaning and wholeness. For many, this is in marriage. That’s why, in the second reading, St. Paul says we must “be subordinate to one other.” We cannot stand alone; we are subordinate, that is, dependent, upon others. That is not something to be offended at; it is something to rejoice in. When St. Paul tells us to “be subordinate to one another,” he is saying that we ought to be able to depend upon others and that they ought to be able to depend upon us.

The third kind of phrase I want to discuss is what Jesus calls a “hard saying.” In John 6:66, the sign of the anti-Christ, John says, “many [of] his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.” They left him because of his hard sayings. A hard saying is something like: Do better. Be a man. Stand up for the Church. Live what the Church teaches. Love your spouse the right way. Accept your responsibilities gladly. Believe in the Eucharist, in the mysteries of the faith. Fight for them.

I was moved a great deal earlier this week by Kathie Lee Gifford’s tribute on the Today show to her husband Frank, who had been a huge NFL champion. She spoke about Frank’s childhood, a difficult childhood. They had nothing. And yet, she said, they had their faith. And that was enough. They invited the Lord into their lives, their home, and he never left. If ever you leave a legacy, she said, let it be this: that you taught your children friendship with God. It will remain with them forever, and it will endure whatever “hard sayings” might come our way.