Preach the Gospel. If necessary, use words.
That pithy quote, usually attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, typically is used in the context of actions speaking louder than words, that we should be living our faith by doing, rather than just talking about it. Twice in a recent 12-hour period, however, I’ve heard speakers critique this quote as a cop out, a way to live our lives in at least a nominally Christian way while avoiding talking about our faith.
Okay, God, you’ve got my attention.
As I recall, that phrase became popular several years ago as a reminder that our talk about our faith should be consistent with the actions in our lives, as actions speak louder than words. Somewhere along the way, the interpretation morphed to, “I can live my Christianity in my daily life, and I don’t have to talk about it.” This latest critique says that living the Gospel means acting on it in our daily lives and talking about it.
In essence, actions may speak louder than words, but words still matter. As someone who’s made a career of working with words, that’s comforting – but challenging.
Most Catholics I know aren’t comfortable talking about their faith. They don’t know enough, they’re afraid of offending someone by bringing up religion, they’re ashamed of the abuse scandals, they think it should be a private matter. Name the reason.
The reality is that we are called by our baptism to evangelize. Staying silent, either in word or deed, really isn’t an option, especially in light of Jesus’ words at the end of the Gospel of Matthew: “Go, therefore,and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
So how do we get comfortable talking about our faith? There may not be a way to get rid of our discomfort completely, but here are some small steps to take:
Start with your experience. What do you like most about the Catholic faith? What inspires you about your faith? What excites you? (If the answer to any of those questions is “Nothing,” take that to God in prayer and ask to be inspired.) These are potential topics for conversation.
Focus on simple interactions, not heavy theological discussions. Speaker and author Matthew Kelly, in his book The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic (one of which is evangelization), lists some simple steps we can take to evangelize, including: Offer to pray for someone who has told us about a situation in his or her life; give an acquaintance a Catholic book or CD; provide a Catholic perspective in a conversation; invite someone to a Catholic event; share an interesting statistic or fun fact about the Catholic Church. As simple as these steps are, they can really be door openers and conversation starters.
Leverage the power of social media. Believe it or not, social media can be a tool for evangelization. Many parishes, dioceses, local and national Catholic organizations, the U.S. bishops’ conference, have an online presence and regularly post material to social media that can easily be shared. In a few clicks or swipes, you can also pass along educational, inspirational, or devotional material, even this blog, to your friends online.
Ask the Holy Spirit for help. If you’re still too confused or too scared to discuss your faith, you’ve got a powerful Advocate ready to help: the Holy Spirit. Ask the Holy Spirit for the right situation and the right words. After all, Jesus promised: “…do not worry beforehand about what you are to say. But say whatever will be given to you at that hour. For it will not be you who are speaking but the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 13:11)
Be consistent. Whatever you do and whatever you say, make sure that your actions match your words.
Yes, preaching the Gospel – and we’re all called to preach the Gospel – involves taking action, walking the talk. But it also means talking the walk.