Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary. – attributed to St. Francis of Assisi
It seems ironic that a great saint who is known for his constant preaching with words is given credit for the above quote. As you may know, there is no evidence that he ever wrote or said this. Preaching with words was certainly a necessity in a world where most people could not read or write. While it is true that our actions should match our words (whether verbal or written), actions alone are not nearly enough.
Think about someone or something you love. You probably speak often about your passions. Is it not the same with God? One way we express our love for Him is to talk about Him. Even Scripture tells us that while the disciples of Jesus were praising God with joy:
Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” He said in reply, “I tell you, if they keep silent, the stones will cry out!” (Luke 19: 39-40, NABRE).
In a homily several weeks ago, a priest referenced the recent scandals. He said the voices of the priests are being silenced because they are no longer trusted. Father stated that we, the laity, have to be the prophets now.
How do we bring people to God? To evangelize effectively, we need to allow His love to shine through. We do some of this through actions, of course, but even non-Christians often act with love. We need to share the story of where that love comes from, that “We love because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19, NABRE.)
It is through our relationship with God that we find the words to speak. According to Thomas of Celano, an early biographer of St. Francis, the saint offered this instruction:
The preacher must first draw from secret prayers what he will later pour out in holy sermons; he must first grow hot within before he speaks words that are in themselves cold.
To preach with passion and truth, we must draw on the source of passion and truth. We need to connect with God and allow Him to use us as His instruments. Jesus prayed before preaching; we would do well to follow His example.
To be His instruments requires a commitment. Rather like musicians, we must spend time every day in practice. This will help us keep centered on God, and to grow in love of Him.
In Verbum Domini (no. 93) Pope Benedict says “All of us recognize how much the light of Christ needs to illumine every area of human life: the family, schools, culture, work, leisure and the other aspects of social life.” He then adds this challenge:
It is not a matter of preaching a word of consolation, but rather a word which disrupts, which calls to conversion and which opens the way to an encounter with the one through whom a new humanity flowers.
In other words, preach God’s truths. Then your words can accomplish all of that.
It is important to not lead others astray. How can we know we have the words of truth? As Catholics, we do not have to guess. We have the Catechism, countless encyclicals, and other documents that assist is in separating truth from heresy. We will not always have immediate answers to questions that might arise, but there are countless sources to consult. In these times, we have access to the great wealth of knowledge the Church offers simply by typing questions into an internet search engine.
Some will argue, of course, that those documents are full of errors. I have discussed elsewhere why I trust Church teachings. This trust that God has given us a way to know the truth, that it does not just come down to an opinion, is the reason I am and will remain Catholic.
One of the beauties of Catholicism, of course, is that you can spend your entire life poring over Church documents and never finish plumbing the depths of beauty and wisdom you will find there. The more you learn, the more you can share with others.
One of the weaknesses of the Church is that we do not catechize well. Fr. Dwight Longenecker recently tweeted:
I asked a simple question: “How do you get to heaven?” Most Catholics gave some form of being nice or formal good works. Very few said, “Repent, believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and follow him.” We need some very, very basic evangelization!
We need to do better. Those not taught well still have the opportunity to learn. If your parish offers a good RCIA program (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults), that would one place to start. Another place would be any of the excellent books on Church teachings or a reliable website. Once you understand all that God offers through His church, it is time to pass it on. As St. John Chrysostom said in Homily on the Acts of the Apostles, “There is nothing colder than a Christian who does not seek to save others.”
Many Catholics also need to better understand the Mass. It is sad to think about the number of people who are there every week but missing what Mass is. This is not just another form of church service; it is fundamentally different from Protestant worship.
Mass is how the early Christians worshiped. In addition to the snippets of it that we see in scripture, we see the fundamentals of the Mass in The Didache: The Lord’s Teaching to the heathen by the Twelve Apostles, which is thought to be written in the first century.
We find Christians worshiping through the Mass in other early writings, too. One often quoted source is St. Justin Martyr’s First Apology, another one of many sources showing what the earliest Christians believed about Eucharist:
“This food we call the Eucharist, of which no one is allowed to partake except one who believes that the things we teach are true, and has received the washing for forgiveness of sins and for rebirth, and who lives as Christ handed down to us. For we do not receive these things as common bread or common drink; but as Jesus Christ our Savior being incarnate by God’s Word took flesh and blood for our salvation, so also we have been taught that the food consecrated by the Word of prayer which comes from him, from which our flesh and blood are nourished by transformation, is the flesh and blood of that incarnate Jesus.”
Mass has developed and changed over the centuries, yet the fundamentals remain the same. The roots of Mass come from the way the Jewish people worshiped, the same way Jesus worshiped. Jesus instituted the Mass on the evening of His Last Supper, and at each Mass, we do what He asked of us.
This is why I found it a bit disturbing when I became aware of some discussion about the liturgy at the Synod on Young People. According to Gloria TV:
Paolo Ruffini, chief of Vatican Media, says the Liturgy was discussed during yesterday General Congregation: “a Liturgy that is better suited to present times, so it can be more participatory, more understandable, otherwise the youth might consider it dull.”
Other sources, such as the National Catholic Register, have reported the same information. The National Catholic Register also added this:
Another suggested the Church “must learn from the Pentecostals about the kinds of worship music that attracts the young and kinds of homiletics that excite them.”
My difficulty with this kind of discussion is that it becomes more about how to attract young people to Mass than it is about God. Mass becomes one among several products to choose from, so to keep them coming, give them what they want. This puts us in danger of watering down God’s teachings. Instead, we should teach young people (and all Catholics) what is actually happening at Mass.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” He follows this with:
And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth, which the world cannot accept because it neither sees nor knows it. But you know it, because it remains with you, and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. (John 14:16-18, NABRE.)
Jesus tells us how to show our love, and in turn, shows His love for us. To follow Jesus, keep His commandments. Jesus will not leave us orphans; He will come to us. He DOES come to us in a very special way in every single Mass. There is a caveat, though: you need to know His commandments in order to keep them.
I attend daily Mass at a college parish. Quite a few students also worship each day. We do not sing at those Masses. The students are drawn there by their love of God, and by the truth and beauty that is the Mass.
I attended the SEEK 2017 convention. Thirteen thousand participants, mostly students, gave up some of their Christmas break to learn more about God and His church. I saw how vested they were in reverent worship. I am certain it is no coincidence that thousands of them humbled themselves to repent and confess their sins in the sacrament of confession.
These students were not concerned with changing the liturgy to somehow make it more exciting. They very clearly did not find it boring to worship God and actually receive Him in Eucharist.
The Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1324.) Mass is about recognizing this great gift. It is a time to give ourselves fully to God, not to make it about ourselves.
As my daughter, who is still a young person, said to me:
Plot twist: the actual way to participate in the Mass is to… pray.
Mass isn’t about being with each other. It’s about being with Christ in the Eucharist.
My daughter is right. The Catechism verifies that. In speaking of Liturgy (as with all of their issues) participants in the Synod need to keep Christ as their focus.