“Preach the gospel at all times. Use words when necessary”.
-Saint Francis of Assisi
Is it bad that I almost cringe when I hear this quote? Ok, probably. To be fair though, the very first time I ever heard it, I thought it was one of the coolest quotes ever. And that initial reaction probably has something to do with its effect on me now…
You see, when you tell a shy person that words are unnecessary, we tend to run with it. And run with it I did. Hey, so long as I’m living my own life as an example to others, I never really have to put myself on the line, right?
Clearly this is not at all what Saint Francis meant. He meant that we are to live for Christ in such a profound way that people cannot help but notice something different, and that is bound to lead to some words (and bound to make us shy people a little bit uncomfortable). But we will always find a way out of actually proclaiming the Gospel if we are looking for one…
Another common go-to for those of us who are often hesitant to actually share our beliefs has to do with parables. It’s the almighty one-liner that proudly asserts that Jesus himself often taught in parables rather than teaching a traveling Catechism class. Indeed, the power of a compelling story to convey a message is something valuable for anybody to understand, and can be effective for some aspects of evangelization. However, it is very possible to overstate the power of story when it comes to evangelization.
It would be a mistake for any person, just beginning to discover the power of the parable, to reduce all of evangelization simply to storytelling. Because while it is true that Jesus often taught in parables, he did not teach exclusively in parables. And it would be silly to argue that Jesus’ teaching was always more effective when he used stories, as the parables often left the disciples scratching their heads (and they at least actually had the opportunity to ask for clarification!).
It seems that Jesus often used stories not to clarify but, at least in a certain sense, to conceal a deeper meaning. In Matthew’s gospel, we see Jesus begin to speak in parables only after the Jewish leaders reject him—something important to take note of. The gospel is for everyone, though not everyone is for the gospel.
In his encyclical on evangelization in the modern world, Pope Paul VI tells us that “The Good News proclaimed by the witness of life sooner or later has to be proclaimed by the word of life.”
“There is no true evangelization if the name, the teaching, the life, the promises, the kingdom and the mystery of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God are not proclaimed”
It’s not that we should all be yelling about Jesus from the street corners. It’s just that we can’t fool ourselves into thinking we’re sharing Christ with others if we’re afraid to speak His name.