“Preach the Gospel at all times, if necessary use words.” Often attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, these words can be used to emphasize the importance of the silent witness, the implicit or wordless sharing of faith that Catholics can give to others by living Jesus’ love in everyday life. Church teaching affirms this aspect of sharing our faith: “Through this wordless witness these Christians stir up irresistible questions in the hearts of those who see how they live… Here we have an initial act of evangelization….” (Pope Paul VI, Evangelization in the Modern World, 21)
Unfortunately, some believers use this quote as an excuse for not talking about Jesus and the simple message of the Good News (Greek: kerygma - the preaching). Pope Paul VI disagrees, “Nevertheless this [wordless witness] always remains insufficient, because even the finest witness will prove ineffective in the long run if it is not explained, justified… and made explicit by a clear and unequivocal proclamation of the Lord Jesus. 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….” (EMW, 22)
In this way, we are called both to live out our radical love “AND” to speak of our personal encounters with Christ that make us his disciples. Isn’t this what the apostles did, Jesus’ earliest followers?
We can do this by sharing openly about how scripture and Catholic teaching connect with our life experiences at home, in the neighborhood, the workplace, the community, as well as in Church ministries, committee meetings, and small groups.
Pope Francis reminds us that , “All of us are called to offer others an explicit witness to the saving love of the Lord [Jesus Christ], who despite our imperfections offers us his closeness, his word and his strength, and gives meaning to our lives. In your heart you know that it is not the same to live without him; what you have come to realize, what has helped you to live and given you hope, is what you also need to communicate to others.” (The Gospel of Joy, 121)
Our popes echo what St. Catherine of Siena wrote, “Preach the truth as if we had a million voices, for it is silence that kills the world.”
(John J. Boucher is a Catholic evangelization consultant and trainer. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.)