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.