Speak Softly and Carry a Big Stick


“A mild answer calms wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Proverbs 15:1

Recently, my husband and I had the great privilege of attending a reception with our Archbishop of Chicago, Cardinal Francis George.  It was an honor to say the least, and as we listened to his talk, I had a distinct feeling of relief, that our great city was being led by such an intelligent, capable leader as well as a humble one.   His job is tough, balancing the needs of so many, handling the business of a diocese, it’s priests, and it’s laity, while moving forward the Catholic causes we all hold so dear into secular society.

After the brief remarks, they opened up the mic for anyone who had questions for the Cardinal.  Seemingly innocent, I sat anxious to see what this group of sixty-ish influential Catholic men and women, would ask the Cardinal.  I, myself, was so struck at the humility of such a leader, I couldn’t muster a single question.  I just sat in awe.  Clearly deviating from the evening’s main topic, I was surprised that a few of the attendees, in no uncertain terms, land-blasted this holy man, our Archbishop.

The controversy surrounding the barrage of accusatory questions isn’t as important as the manner in which the Cardinal handled himself.  It was impressive.   He listened intently to each question, even as the same question had been asked several times.   He was calm.  Even in front of a Catholic crowd, he had to be on his toes, well versed in not only the politics of our great city, but the details of every single request made upon his office.  He was indeed prepared.   Upon giving his responses, he stayed calm.  He was honest, direct and firm in a way I don’t hear very often.  He gave painful truths to the questioners.  He was never defensive, or argumentative.  He knew his position; he knew his audience and he spoke with clarity of a wide vision and plan for our Archdiocese, which clearly this group of individuals never considered.

I watched him with great awe and respect.  He was demonstrating a true charity, authentic love for these people, even in the face of adversity.  As a Mom, I can relate.  So many times, I find myself in situations that require an honest, albeit painful response.   The hard truths of our current society are tough to translate to my children, especially the ones who are sensitive to injustice.

Cardinal George might have been verbally attacked a few nights ago, but his pastoral stance; his authentic charity spoke volumes to me in how to handle a questioning flock.  My children are young still, my oldest is only ten.  But I know my kids will grow, and their questions will get harder and more difficult to answer.  They’ll question or defy my authority.  They’ll probably never consider the wider vision that my husband and I hope for the family.   They’ll be teenagers.  Enough said.

But I tell you, I learned something extremely valuable from that reception.  You might not win every confrontation, especially if you are battling a vicious opponent.  However, the stance you take as a parent will speak louder than any words.  The listening ears will tell them “I hear you”.  The calm response will provide security and certainty.   The preparedness of a parent is necessary, be alert, pay attention, know your position at all times.  Being direct and honest, even if painful, will show them the level of respect and authentic love that you have for them.  Never be defensive.  Know your authority as a parent and uphold the dignity of your office.   Know your audience, know your children, expect frustration and handle it with peace and resolve because you, and sometimes only you, know the plan for the next five or ten years.

“Speak Softly and Carry a Big Stick.”  Yes, indeed, I understand how honey will gather more bees than vinegar, but I truly saw this old quote made famous by President Teddy Roosevelt, come to life in the past few days.  We must, as parents, keep our gentle yet firm speech, yet be armed, not with a forceful violence, but with the preparedness, confidence and peace that God gives us through the gift of our position.  The grace of God, the truth of our Faith is OUR Big Stick.

Copyright 2011 Sahmatwork


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