In his usual “on the mark” manner, Fr. Tom McKenna of the Eastern Province of the Congregation of the Mission, hits the target directly about not only preaching the Good News but also being Good News.
Testifying (Luke 9:1-2) (This reflection first appeared on FamVin.org)
Reading Luke’s account of the disciples being sent out, I put myself in the shoes of one of those 70 individuals directed to go forth and proclaim the Good News that in Jesus, God’s forgiving compassion is drawing near. How would I feel were I told to get up from my 21st Century recliner to go out on the street and announce this message? I’d have to say a bit awkward, a little too “evangelical,” like that person next to you on the plane who flat out asks, “Do you accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?” It seems too straightforward, too fundamentalist.
Recently I had some of that reticence ruffled when attending a talk by some groups who have come onto college campuses using this more direct approach. Not as bold-faced as the abrupt “Do you accept Jesus?,” their strategy was first to get to know the students by inviting them into a circle of friends. Then in the context of conversation about what really matters in life, they bring up what Jesus has meant to them personally in this search for meaning. Their approach made me question my own leaning toward the more indirect tactic, testifying more by the way I try to live than by direct talk about my religious convictions.
In that frame of mind, I came across two writings that pressed further against my hesitancies.
The first was from St. Vincent, “Let us give ourselves to God, Messieurs, to go throughout the world to carry his holy Gospel, and wherever He may lead us let us stand by our post and observe our practices until it is His good pleasure to withdraw us from it. (CCD:XI, 365).
The second was a recent article in the New York Times(10/14), “We Need to Talk about God.” The author cited a finding that the overwhelming majority Americans say they don’t feel comfortable talking about faith, and a mere seven percent report having regular conversations about things religious. A corroborating survey revealed that the use of spiritual words (like patience, gentleness, faithfulness, compassion) is noticeably on the wane, showing that more and more individuals have grown inarticulate about God’s presence in life.
Could thoughts like these be prompts to become less guarded and more upfront about who The Lord is in my life and how much His presence matters? Could the Spirit be asking me to power down on some of my reticence to speak about faith? Granted one would have to steer clear of the quick-fix tone of some TV preachers, but couldn’t religious witnessing be a little louder, a little more “out there” in an ordinary day. Granting also such talk would have to avoid the holier-than-thou vibe that believers can sometime give off, might I still take a small step across the embarrassment line to more explicit faith testimony?
The author of the Times article observes how starkly this reticence to speak stands against the history of Christianity which has always spread its message through sacred speech — and good deeds. With his repeated insistence, St. Vincent doubles down on this charge to proclaim the good news in both word and action. Done too glibly or mechanically, such proclaiming can come across as “cheap grace.” But when hardly announced at all, the Good News will continue to have its volume lowered and power lessened.