The homily below, based on the Virtue of the Month, Honesty, was originally presented in middle and upper school daily worship.
Good morning friends. This is the first time I have had a chance to address all of you together. I hope the start of your year has been a good one. Most importantly, I hope that all of you returning veterans have gone out of your way to welcome our new students and faculty. We build thick and cohesive communities when all feel a sense of belonging. It must be at the core of our actions around here. If you have not had a chance to reach out, please do. New folks, I hope you are throwing yourself headlong into your ESD experience. The onus for you developing a sense of belonging is equal parts returning students reaching out and you diving into things. My sincere wish is that both are happening.
We are talking about honesty this month, and as a way to think about this virtue, I begin by describing to you what I did on my summer vacation. No boring pictures, I promise.
Among my personal habits is that to motivate myself to improve at something, I try to set goals. In my life, I have tried to run a five-minute mile, endeavored to be a more faithful Catholic by going to confession weekly, worked to become a better reader by underlining one sentence in every paragraph. Sometimes I have succeeded; sometimes I have failed. But regardless, I have found it beneficial to have a challenging marker out there to shoot for. About a year ago, I began my latest quest - to shoot a round of golf in under 80 strokes. Some of you right now might be thinking, “Oh gosh, Mr. Baad. The last thing I want to do this morning is hear some geezer like you talk about a glorious 8-iron he hit on the 18th hole.” Don’t worry folks. I am not going there. What I will say, though, is that the process I have undertaken in pursuit of my goal has been illustrative of perhaps a larger point that could be helpful to you, regardless of your interest in my golf game.
I have been fortunate enough to work with a very good coach over the last year. What has been so brilliant about his method of teaching is that he recognized early on that there were many aspects of my golf swing that were wrong. I didn’t keep my head still. My hips swayed too much in my backswing. I did not set my wrists at the proper angle. The list goes on and on. Instead of trying to show me at the beginning how much he knew about the swing by listing all the things I did wrong, he identified just one flaw, one mistake, had me correct it, and then moved on to the next. For instance, he knew that I had to create the first building block - balance - before I could move on to the next, wrist angle. This great coach knows that trying to fix all things at once is foolhardy; work on one thing at a time, practice swing by practice swing, so that the foundation is strong. His direction and my discipline to do this allowed me to eventually swing more freely and eventually score better. Discipline creating freedom and in turn improved results? Hmmm. That also applies to many things. Think about it - writing, playing a musical instrument, singing. All of these require the discipline of learning the fundamentals before you can be creative, excel. Some of you may remember I have talked about that before. Let’s hold that thought for a moment.
Today’s reading is from the Old Testament Book of Ezekiel. Some of you may be wondering how Ezekiel and golf fit together. The Book of Job may offer a better parallel you are thinking, given how hard it is to master golf. Well, let me try.
In today’s passage, Ezekiel quotes a proverb - popular in Israel in his day - about parents and children.
‘The parents eat sour grapes,
and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’
The meaning of this proverb to the ancient Israelites was that if parents do something wrong, their children will be impacted negatively - “pay the price for their sins,” if you will. For instance, if the parents lie, both they and their children will suffer - often this means to suffer God’s punishment.
Ezekiel goes on to say, though, that the Lord God believes that this is nonsense.
“As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, you will no longer quote this proverb in Israel.”
What God desires and teaches is that each generation stands on its own merits. No matter how a parent acts - either good or bad - it is up to the child to build their own lives. What you may not know is that for humans in 500 B.C, or so, when Ezekiel was writing, this was a radical thought. Moral codes dictated at the time that people were punished by clan or tribe for the sins of their elders. Imagine that. It would be as if my grandparent had speeding tickets, and as a result, I could never get a driver’s license. None of us now would think that is fair.
It was around this same time in Ancient Greece that the ruler Draco was also trying to shift the Athenian legal system away from being clan-based to being state-based. This was an important change in the way people thought about things because it emphasized the individual’s responsibility for their well-being, their reputation. No longer would someone be stained by the sins of their parents or even extended family. Instead, it was each person’s responsibility to form their own foundation of belief, their own moral structure of how to act.
God through Ezekiel goes on to say,
“For everyone belongs to me, the parent as well as the child—both alike belong to me. The one who sins is the one who will die.”
To wonder what God is saying to us here - perhaps it is that we don’t belong to our parents; we don’t belong to our clan, our tribe. Rather we belong to God. Therefore God requires us to stand on our own. God requires us to form our own moral structure. Piece by piece, building block by building block. Chaplain Kennedy asserted on Tuesday that perhaps the most important part of that structure is being honest. Father Nate reminded us yesterday that sometimes the first step is being willing to hear honesty - maybe, “Hey Dave, your golf swing stinks”, for instance.”
You see, every time we are put in a situation that requires a moral decision - should I tell the truth, should I be honest, am I willing to open my heart and ears to hear honesty - we are offered an opportunity to practice. Maybe it’s a little bit like my golf swing. I wasn’t balanced; let’s work on that first. I am struggling to be honest in my relationships; let’s work on that first. We should think today about what kind of moral framework we are building for ourselves - piece by piece, building block by building block. What are the parts of our moral golf swing that need the most attention right now?
We often talk about practicing our faith. It does take practice - intentional practice. Like my golf swing, though, we cannot do it alone. I told you I had a good golf coach available. You have coaches of another type here - Father Nate, Chaplain Kennedy first and foremost - but there are a whole lot of other adults in your life - your parents, of course, your teachers, maybe others - who can show you both through their actions and through their words - how you can build your moral framework. Remember, my golf coach knew that the first fundamental I had to master was balance. Without that, nothing else would work. I am guessing if you asked your moral coaches, they would tell you that being honest performs that same role in building a moral life. Without it, we struggle to live God’s will, loving God and loving each other - our two greatest commandments. I ask you now to think, maybe ask each other when you get to advisory, what in fact is the most important building block for us to become our best selves? Or maybe what is the building block I need to work on most right now?
I close by returning to this idea of discipline creating freedom - the freedom to love, create, and excel. When I disciplined myself to perform the fundamentals of the golf swing, it gave me the confidence to swing freely. When a musician or artist disciplines themselves to master the fundamentals of their craft, they are freed to create something beautiful. That same principle applies to honesty. The discipline of being honest, being lovingly truthful in your relationships, frees you. It frees you from the burden of guilt. It frees you from the burden of remembering which story you told to whom. It frees you from the fear of “being caught.” You become lighter. You become your best self. You become who God intended you to be.
My prayer this morning for all us in this community is that first, we find that coach; all of us need one. Second, we have the wisdom to listen to their advice and divine what our moral fundamental is that needs strengthening. And third, we find the lightness and the grace that comes from living a life of honesty and of truth.