Somebody has to speak up …
42. Secondly, it is not superfluous to emphasize the importance and necessity of preaching. “And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without a preacher?… So faith comes from what is heard and what is heard comes by the preaching of Christ.”[Rom 10:14, 17] This law once laid down by the Apostle Paul maintains its full force today.
Preaching, the verbal proclamation of a message, is indeed always indispensable. We are well aware that modern man is sated by talk; he is obviously often tired of listening and, what is worse, impervious to words. We are also aware that many psychologists and sociologists express the view that modern man has passed beyond the civilization of the word, which is now ineffective and useless, and that today he lives in the civilization of the image. These facts should certainly impel us to employ, for the purpose of transmitting the Gospel message, the modern means which this civilization has produced. Very positive efforts have in fact already been made in this sphere. We cannot but praise them and encourage their further development. The fatigue produced these days by so much empty talk and the relevance of many other forms of communication must not however diminish the permanent power of the word, or cause a loss of confidence in it. The word remains ever relevant, especially when it is the bearer of the power of God.[Cf. 1 Cor 2:1-5] This is why St. Paul’s axiom, “Faith comes from what is heard,”[Rom 10:17] also retains its relevance: it is the Word that is heard which leads to belief.
I think I see where Pope Paul VI was going with this. I might take exception to a narrow view of history. In the illiterate West, the “civilization of the image” has long been a part of the Christian tradition. Architecture, iconography, and the art of glass, marble, wood, and illuminations have long been intertwined with the written or preached word. The written for those who could read. The oral tradition, of course, stretches back to the mists of prehistory.
The key to effective preaching was touched on in yesterday’s post on Evangelii Nuntiandi 41. The way to cut through the incessant noise of western culture is with a witness of sanctity. Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II were able to do that. In the generation prior, Fulton Sheen, to be sure. Today, we have many, many voices, especially on the internet. These many Catholic voices compete with one another for “ear” time among the faithful. The competition and the at-times questionable witness often dilutes the pure message of the Gospel. Today’s fatigue is still with us. And for Catholic preachers it is tied up with the selling of product, the globe-trotting bishops, and the slick use of video technology–things pervasive to the point where a person can pick and choose which celebrity, which Name, with which to align themselves.
Witnessing has never been more important.
Some of you know about the “small fire” at our parish center last week. The good news is that the cleaning company will get our basement classrooms ready for youth catechesis tomorrow, and staff will be back in our offices a week from tonight. Meanwhile, I’m sitting in a coffeehouse about a block from campus. A strong black coffee is steaming next to me. I’ve already gotten through my list of morning calls. Email replies are next. Lectio Divina rescheduled to the church next door. I needed to order a new shipment of hosts. Later I’ll assess if the altar bread in the sacristy is better off tossed, once we get back into the sacristy next week. We had significant soot deposits within our tabernacle–amazing how smoke penetrates everywhere.
In short, I can function as a parish liturgist pretty much anywhere I can get an internet connection and I have my laptop and cell. I feel much busier than usual: calls, texts, and emails coming and going all morning. If only I had a jet pack instead of a car, the feeling would be complete.
The bad news is that we’re out of our church until Christmas. Asbestos in a soot-stained ceiling will require extensive clean-up.
For Saturday Masses, we’ll merge with the other Catholic parish in town. The temporary site for worship on Sundays will be at a conference center on the edge of campus.
People at all the Masses laughed when this song was announced for entrance. It was wholly an accident of planning–chosen way back in August.
Show the faith–it’s a more important first step than teaching it:
41. Without repeating everything that we have already mentioned, it is appropriate first of all to emphasize the following point: for the Church, the first means of evangelization is the witness of an authentically Christian life, given over to God in a communion that nothing should destroy and at the same time given to one’s neighbor with limitless zeal. As we said recently to a group of lay people, “Modern (woman or) man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if (she or) he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.”[Pope Paul VI, Address to the Members of the Consilium de Laicis (2 October 1974): AAS 66 (1974), p. 568] St. Peter expressed this well when he held up the example of a reverent and chaste life that wins over even without a word those who refuse to obey the word.[Cf. 1 Pt 3:1] It is therefore primarily by her conduct and by her life that the Church will evangelize the world, in other words, by her living witness of fidelity to the Lord Jesus- the witness of poverty and detachment, of freedom in the face of the powers of this world, in short, the witness of sanctity.
This observation, which I believe to be even more accurate today, has always been true to a great degree. It’s been true among believers (What would be the proportion of those devoted to Pope John Paul II who admired the man for his public witness over his particular writings?) and non-believers alike. It’s the essence of the writer’s maxim: show don’t tell.
The importance of the witness of personal sanctity is something perhaps lost on many modern bishops. It is their way out of the collective shame and scandal in which they are buried. It is the only way people will listen.