Thursday, October 04, 2007

Feast of St. Francis: Talking about Jesus

Over at Intentional Disciples, a post that explores the saying attributed to St. Francis -- "preach the Gospel, use words if necessary."
No matter how pure our lives or charitable our deeds (and we should brutally honest in examining ourselves in this regard), without the proclamation of the Gospel, without speaking and writing about the Good News, people will not be evangelized. Charitable works and works of power performed in Jesus' name have a place in evangelization. Such works can prepare people's hearts to receive the good news of the Gospel and they can powerfully confirm the message of that Gospel. What they cannot do is replace the proclamation of the Gospel message. St. Francis knew this. He preached this message at all times, even when his life was at stake. Let us ask his intercession today, that we too may be evangelizers in word and deed.
As always, that Catholic both/and rather than an either/or. Too often, I feel, we Catholics hide behind "evangelization of witness" because we are too uncomfortable in talking about our faith, fear being lumped as nut-jobs, or whatever. (More at ID on the "Spiral of Silence.")

Contra: -- well not exactly contrary, more like a reaction to the other extreme, where evangelization becomes mere marketing, the ever-thoughtful Mark Galli at Christianity Today wonders whether Jesus asked us to market. The fundamental problem is the idea of witness being replaced by the idea of marketing, especially with the market as a place where there takes place an exchange of goods and services.
But I wonder if soft-pedaling the Good News is intrinsic to the message. Jesus spoke in parables, he said, not to reveal the Good News but to hide it: "For those outside everything is in parables, so that they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand" (Mark 4:11). Elsewhere, he specifically tells his disciples not to cast gospel-pearls before swine. Make something as cheap as slop, and people will treat it like slop.

Jump ahead 20 centuries, and we find a church that doesn't think twice about treating the gospel like slop, like fast food. About 30 years ago, the church-growth movement exploded onto the scene; churches became enamored with the efficiency of businesses like Disney and McDonald's, and they began fashioning their life together to meet people's needs in the same sorts of ways—except that their product was the gospel. So churches became places where thousands could be served efficiently. And where the message was served in McSermons that could be easily digested and applied.

And where "marketing" became part of the church's vocabulary.
Of course, he's writing in an evangelical Christian magazine, and in response to the emergent church movement, megachurches and so on. This stuff has hardly influenced the Catholic Church -- but we're at the other extreme. We soft-pedal way too much, perhaps.

1 comment:

St. Elizabeth of Cayce said...

Awake from your slumber
Arise from your sleep
The homily's over
It wasn't too deep.

Thoughtful article -- thanks for sharing.