However, today my surprise was his quote. He was quoting St. Francis. Specifically Jim stated,
St. Francis of Assisi is well known for the admonition, "Preach the Gospel always and if necessary use words." In every case I am familiar with, words are necessary for people to know Jesus.Now I don’t disagree with Jim, I’m just surprised my Baptist friend was quoting St. Francis.
Now to be sure Jim was not using this as an excuse to pull a person’s jaws open and pour Jesus down their throat. Jim simply meant that the words that needed to be said are words that conveyed love, empathy, and compassion.
I love Francis but that quote drives me nuts. It is not what the saint said that drives me nuts but rather how I think folks use or misuse the statement. I hear it quoted so often that I think that sometimes it becomes an excuse for not sharing the Good News, for not being a witness. I can’t imagine anything further from Francis’ mind.
Francis meant that our words and our actions must be in accord, congruent. We read too often today of folks who talk peace or talk faith only to find out that lives lived tell a different story. We know that when a person’s verbal communication and body language are incongruent people believe the body language. I think Francis was saying don’t badger folks and don’t think talking takes the place of doing. He was not giving an excuse not to witness.
Francis was a man of many, many words. He was raised with music and the words of the Gospel. One of the more famous stories about his life is of the saint giving a sermon to a flock of birds. I don’t’ believe his sermon consisted of pantomime and the equivalent of sign language. He stood among the birds and he talked a joyful sermon, he used words.
Francis became a deacon so he could preach. If his preaching was to consist only of a life well lived he would still have been impressive because he certainly knew how to live a life. However, then he would not need to become a deacon. He became a deacon so he could preach on the streets using words.
Francis gave us the Canticle of Creatures, the first poem in the vernacular in Europe. It was the work of his adult life. It is beautiful, stirring, the WORDS touch us.
Francis sought out the Sultan during the Crusades. First his witnessing was real, he placed himself in danger and was beaten for it prior to receiving an audience with the Sultan. Then they meet, and they talked, and they talked and they talked. Both were impressed with the other. I have no doubt that the Sultan, a powerful, sophisticated man was impressed with the holiness and humility of Francis. I also have no doubt he was impressed with the words of this holy man.
Francis gave us the story of the Wolf of Gubbio. This is a story of real peace-making, not peace-wishing. I know this story because it was conveyed to me in words. Had it been conveyed to me in liturgical dance or hand shadows on the wall or some method other than words I suspect I would not get it.
Francis gave the world the gift of the tradition of the Living Nativity when he celebrated Christmas in Greccio as only he could celebrate it. Sure he used symbolism and movement but the Gospel was read, a Mass was said, worship occurred and words, so many words flowed from his lips.
I know he did not trust intellectual life, he feared it could get in the way of faith and spiritual growth. I know he wanted people to walk the walk and talk the talk, to be real. I know he recognized that his many brothers and sisters had different gifts and for some it was not the use of words. And yet he gave us some of the must beautiful words for our spiritual repertoire in the form of prayers, song and poetry.
So I agree, “Preach the Gospel always and if necessary use words.” And if your actions are not making your story clear to your audience, then it is necessary to use words so start talking.