Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
We celebrate a series of witnesses this week. St. Justin Martyr gave witness to the Gospel by refusing to sacrifice to idols in 2nd century Rome. St. Charles Lwanga gave witness to the Gospel by refusing to comply with the king’s immoral sexual agenda in 19th century Uganda. St. Boniface gave witness by proclaiming the Gospel and knocking down pagan shrines in 8th century Germany.
These saints raise a question: What does it mean for us to give witness to the Gospel in 21st century Missouri?
Many people instinctively turn to the quote generally attributed to St. Francis: “Preach the Gospel always. If necessary, use words.” But I want to say, words are necessary if we’re going to give witness to the Gospel in our day.
Our lives are full of words. We live by e-mails, texts, blog posts and Google searches. Words are a central feature of every part of our lives. It’s absurd to take this one area — faith — and to suggest that we don’t need words there.
That’s not to say by any stretch that words are the first and last thing when it comes to proclaiming the Gospel. They’re not! Deeds need to come first and last. But if we stop for a moment and think about the relationship between words and deeds in our lives, we can see that both are needed.
Words without deeds are cheap. Words alone are a shallow witness to what we believe. Deeds provide depth to words of love, and likewise to words of faith. Deeds show that we really mean what we say.
But deeds without words are often unclear. Words explain why we do what we do. If deeds show that we really mean it, words show what it is that we mean. The words “I love you” and “I forgive you” and “I’m sorry” really matter. So do the words of faith.
In the Old Testament, God’s revelation always came to people in words and deeds. In the New Testament, Jesus always proclaimed the Gospel in words and deeds. That’s why the Catechism of the Catholic Church says: “The divine plan of Revelation is realized simultaneously by deeds and words which are intrinsically bound up with each other and shed light on each other.” (CCC, 53)
The great witnesses we celebrate this week proclaimed the Gospel in words and deeds. That’s our call as well.
In times when faith is all talk and little action, the St. Francis quote is a worthy challenge: don’t let your faith be words without deeds.
But in a time when people overlook the importance of words, we need a new challenge and a new motto: Preach the Gospel always, in word and in deed.