September FGO by Bro. Jason Rhoad:
There is an old and familiar quote attributed to the great saint Francis of Assisi: "Evangelize always, and when necessary, use words." Whether or not he actually ever said that, the meaning is clear. We are to live our lives in a way that reflects Christ to others. Put another way, our actions should speak louder than our words. That way, when the time comes for us to use words, people will have a reason to listen to what it is we have to say.
Throughout the past 2000 years, missionaries have traveled all over the world doing just that. They didn’t just get off the boat in some foreign land and begin expounding upon the finer points of the Immaculate Conception. Rather, countless Jesuits, Franciscans, and Dominicans wanted to bring to those who had never heard it, the simple truth of the Gospel. That is, that God exists and He sent His son Jesus Christ to earth to die for our sins that we might spend eternity with Him in heaven. But in order to be able to deliver even that synthesis of the Gospel, first they had to win the right to be heard. How did they do it?
In many times and places, when strangers showed up it was usually not good news. Typically new people showed up to do things like take the resources from the place, to rape, pillage, and plunder, or to outright take over a new land. So you can imagine that often times, those attempting to spread the truth to new lands were not always met with open arms. Most of the religious order priests who would be part of the missionary contingent would have taken the traditional vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience. Why is that important? Because over time, it would help to calm the fears of the native population. Are they here for our women? Well no, they have taken vows of chastity. Are they here to take our resources? Well no, they have taken a vow of poverty. Are they here to take us over? No, these men have themselves vowed obedience to others, so they must not be interested in power. So why are they here? Over time, the missionaries won the right to be heard. They lived their lives in a way that eventually lead the natives to stop being threatened by their presence and then ultimately open to the message they had come to deliver. This was not easy of course. It often took many years and history is littered with examples of those who paid the ultimate price while trying to bring the Gospel to others. But ultimately their success is born out. People from all over the world have become Christians and joined the Catholic Church because of their witness. In fact, places like Africa and Asia are now increasingly repaying the favor to the west by sending us priests.
Essentially nothing has changed. If we want to bring others to Christ, we have to live our lives in a way that wins us the right to be heard. Even the best logic won’t stand up if we don’t imitate Christ in our daily lives. We may not have to travel to the ends of the earth anymore, but there are plenty of people on our own block (and indeed in our own homes) who need to light of Christ.
One modern day example is an incident involving Mother Teresa. She was invited to speak to a group of students and faculty at Harvard University. Harvard is not unlike many other institutions of higher learning these days in that it is not always friendly and open to certain traditional points of view concerning morality. But Mother Teresa spoke for over an hour, focusing largely on the evil and injustice of abortion and how a country as great as America could not remain so blind to this horrific scourge on society. At the end of her talk, she received a standing ovation. You see, her reputation preceded her. By the way she lived, she had won the right to be heard. And who knows, she may have even changed a few minds that day.
Now that may seem like an extreme example, but living a life of holiness is what we are all called to. With God’s grace, we can do it. And when He leads us to share our witness with others, to help them come home to Christ and His Church, the lives that we lead can win us the right to be heard as well. Evangelize always, and when necessary use words. When it is necessary to use words, those words will carry much more weight if the people we are talking to know that they aren’t just words, but are words backed by lives lived in the cooperation of God’s grace. This doesn’t mean that we have to be perfect before we can share our faith with others. Just that we humbly and joyfully try to be the people God calls us to be. If we genuinely do that, God will do the rest.