Words and Deeds
6/1/2018Supreme Chaplain Archbishop William E. Lori
We are called to bear witness to the Gospel both by speaking about the faith and by living it with joy
MOST OF US are familiar with a saying attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach always, and when necessary, use words.” Some, including those who have carefully studied St. Francis’ life and writings, doubt that he actually said that.
This doesn’t mean that the saying is wrong. After all, one of the most effective ways to spread the faith is to live the faith with integrity and joy whether we are in public or in private. But good example, important as it is, is not enough. Words are almost always necessary — let me illustrate why this is so.
Most readers of this column are married. What if you complained that your spouse never said the words “I love you”? If your spouse responded, “I don’t have to — I show my love to you every day,” I’m going to guess you wouldn’t be satisfied with such an answer. Husbands and wives need to say “I love you.” Wouldn’t life at home be better if, every day, parents told their children of their love and vice versa? Just saying so makes a difference — especially on a day when nothing has gone right.
So too, when it comes to the Lord and the Gospel, we are sometimes tempted to use the words ascribed to St. Francis of Assisi as a cop-out.
NO MORE EXCUSES
We tell ourselves that if we lead good lives we’ve done our part to support the Church and its mission. No need to engage in discussions about religion, which can sometimes be heated. No need to challenge those who no longer practice the faith, including members of our own immediate family. “Why harangue them?” we ask ourselves. “It’ll do more harm than good.”
Well, let’s take haranguing off the table. Pestering and berating those who do not take their faith seriously is not likely to succeed. But we are called to speak about the faith to others with accuracy, confidence and joy. St. Paul puts it this way: “For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ But how can they call upon him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach?” (Rom 10:13-14).
Thinking about St. Paul’s words, one might say, “Great! I’m off the hook. I’m a layperson, not a priest. I don’t have to preach. Priests are supposed to do that.” My reply: “Not so fast!” Didn’t St. Peter exhort the whole Church, “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope”? (1 Pt 3:15). His words were not limited to priests and religious; they were addressed to every member of the Church.
Nevertheless, we may still be reluctant to speak about our faith to others. After all, fewer people these days identify themselves as believers. Some feel they can get through life just fine without God or at least without any form of organized religion. Others think that all institutions, especially large ones such as the Catholic Church, are corrupt and out of touch. So, we ask ourselves, “What can I possibly say to such people?” In a recent meeting, a colleague lamented how difficult it is to spread the Gospel in the current cultural climate. Another colleague agreed but added, “Spreading the Gospel in the pagan culture of the Roman Empire wasn’t exactly a picnic!”
MESSENGERS OF HOPE
Like those who went before us, we may experience ridicule and rejection when trying to share the Gospel. But let’s not forget two things. First, the Lord promised he’d never leave us (cf. Mt 28:20). In the power of the Holy Spirit, he walks with us and empowers us. Second, in spite of the hard veneer of our culture, people are desperately searching for meaning and trying to make sense of their lives. Let us be confident that the Lord and the Gospel have something critically important to say to such people. He really does want us to be his messengers of hope and joy. For in becoming one of us and in dying to save us from our sins, the Son of God has shown us the ultimate meaning and destiny of our lives.
Maybe we hesitate to speak of our faith to others because we feel unprepared. We may feel that our formation in the faith was inadequate, that there are “holes” in our religious education. Or we may feel that we are not sufficiently advanced in the spiritual life to invite others to consider, or reconsider, the faith. So, we’d rather leave spreading the Gospel “to the experts” — that is, to priests and religious.
The fact is, though, we all have to do our part. We need to equip ourselves for the work of spreading the Gospel. We don’t need a theology degree, but we do need to pray every day, read Scripture prayerfully, take part in the Mass attentively, go to confession regularly, and know and love our faith more deeply. As we speak about the faith, our deeds have to match our words; it’s no good to speak about the faith and not to live it. And if we are living the faith, we should be willing to speak of it.
The Knights of Columbus offers us a head start with tremendous resources for growing in prayer, our understanding of the faith, and charity. It also offers us a fraternal atmosphere, which encourages us to both live our faith and bear witness to it. In fact, this is one of the principal reasons why Father McGivney founded the Knights. Aided by his example and prayers, may we bear witness to Jesus in both word and deed!