Sisters and brothers. There is a saying attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach always and if necessary, use words.” Scholars debate whether Francis actually uttered those words, and most will tell you that it is most likely a later saying based on what we know of the life of Francis and his actions. The origin likely is traced back to the story of Francis traveling with one of his early followers, a novice learning the way of life with Francis.
According to the story, Francis and this novice were walking through a city. They walked from one end to the other and did not stop and preach. The novice commented to Francis that he thought they were going out to preach. Francis replied that simply walking through the city was preaching.
Francis developed a bit of local fame and had a reputation as a holy man. One can imagine that when he made an appearance people would see him and be reminded of who he was and his call for repentance and conversion. Today, maybe, a friar or a priest traveling in habit or dressed in clerical garb may remind some people of their Christian duties and life. In our post-scandal culture, however, it has been my experience and one shared by many friars and priest friends, that often, the reaction one gets from walking about in habit or clerics is the opposite; it is more likely to be a cause of ridicule and chastisement, and perhaps, even a public cry to call the Church back to a life of holiness. The call of Christ to Francis to rebuild the Church, which was falling into ruin, 800 years ago echoes in our ears today.
In the culture of western civilization today, Christians are constantly being told by the media and society that our faith is acceptable, so long as we keep it within the confines of the walls in our Church buildings. As followers of Christ, just living a good moral life and wearing a cross is not recognized by society at large as a means of preaching the Gospel. Christianity is a missionary enterprise, one of outreach. Christ did not found a Church to be hidden under a basket (Mt 5:15) but one to go into the whole world, making disciples of every nation. (Mt 28:19)
Today, more than ever, we need Christians who will go out and speak words. It is necessary that we use words. The Church grew initially by preaching and speaking. The Church existed before any line of the New Testament was written down on paper. Jesus did not command his apostles to go out and distribute books, but to go out and make disciples. They did this by speaking. Yes, they had to live the life they spoke about or else the words would have no substance, but nonetheless, they went out to the people and preached with words.
Christians today need to reclaim their voice in the public square. We need to speak out and then live authentically Christian lives. St. Francis attracted thousands of followers because he lived his live authentically. There was no duplicity in Francis; what you saw is what you got. We do not need to be scholars to speak the good news of Jesus. Many are afraid to speak about the Faith because they may be challenged and may not know how to respond. What argument can we offer to refute the challenge? What scripture can we quote? I may be ridiculed for my faith.
I had that fear and admittedly still do. I learned a great lesson on evangelization from my spiritual director years ago, the late Fr. Dan Havron, OFM, a Franciscan friar. I shared with him one day my frustration regarding one of my work colleagues. He was an ex-Catholic and very anti-Catholic. He gave me a book call “Understanding Roman Catholicism” with the suggestion that I read it, and after I did, I would run far from the Catholic Church. Over a period of many months, he and I would go to lunch and debate the issues raised in the book. He would have several Bible verses to support his position and I would have several to support my position. I expressed my frustration to Fr. Dan. “I don’t think I’ll ever convert him.” Fr. Dan looked at me and called me a horse’s back side. “What makes you think you can convert anyone?” I was taken aback. “What do you mean? Isn’t that what it’s all about.” Fr. Dan then explained to me that only the Holy Spirit can convert. Our job is to plant seeds. Explain what we believe and why “I” believe it. “Stop hitting him over the head with your Bible” he told me. Let the Holy Spirit work through me, as the Spirit will give me the words to use. (Lk 12;12) We may never know in this life the fruits of our conversations and seed planting, just trust that the Spirit will be at work.
I must admit, those words of wisdom from Fr. Dan took a lot of the fear and burden of evangelization off my shoulders.
To that end, sisters and brothers, I have taken on a new venture and ministry: Tau Ministries. After many years of speaking and leading retreats, I have been encouraged to make a more formal effort to get out and speak the Word. The mission is to help those seeking to deepen their life with God by means of prayer, spirituality and living a Gospel life. This deepened relationship with God will equip us all to use the words necessary in our culture today. My mission is to get out and speak the word. I would ask for your prayer and assistance for the success of this ministry. Please visit www.tauministries.com
Subscribe to the website for updates. Forward to your faith communities with the suggestion that perhaps I can bring a message to you. Go to the “About” page on the website where you will find a link to the “Franciscan Dave” YouTube channel, which has just launched with a few inaugural videos, as well as the link to this website, Catholic Journal.
Thank you to Deacon Kurt for his support of Tau Ministries, and as Blessed Solanus Casey, would say, Thank God in advance for his blessings and answers to our prayers, and so I thank all of you in advance for your support and prayers.