Tuesday, February 24, 2009

On Using Words

Today I came across a website that claimed the popular quote, “Preach the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary,” made St. Francis sound like a wimp. I've lost that original site, but the site he links to showing that this is not an actual quotation of St. Francis can be seen here.

Still, I think that calling the quote "wimpy" is based on a misunderstanding. Sadly, I think this misunderstanding is common, and I think that many Catholics use it to justify an attitude of, "I can just go peacefully about my Catholic life, not bothering anyone about religion, and people will be converted by my good example."

The simple fact is that the average "good person" does not glow so radiantly with goodness that they preach their faith just by existing. If they did, we would certainly have many more people converting to the Catholic faith.

So then, how should we view the quote?

First, I think the quote may have come from people in a Catholic country, where leading by example might be more important than preaching.

Second, I think that it could be looked at more clearly if we invert it: Preaching the gospel with your words will have little effect if you are not living the gospel yourself. This is akin to Jesus saying to remove the beam from your own eye before going after the speck in the eye of another.

But I think it is best understood by looking at the lives of some of the saints.

Let's look at (the not-quite-canonized) Mother Teresa. She preached the gospel constantly in her care of the sick. She certainly used many words to preach it as well. But her words gained much more power by her actions.

So, I think the wrong way to apply the quote is, "Don't talk about religion unless forced to."

And the proper way is, "Live the gospel in every moment, and whenever the time is right, preach it."

No comments: