Trying to Fall off the Deep End
The next time you need to speak about your faith get to the bottom of it.
by Brother John Antonio, LC | Source:
The battle for the White House has become a public speaking expo. Politicians are filling their sails with strong rhetoric and emotional discourses. Before you choose your boat, however, you may want to ask how deep the keel goes. It’s a revealing question, not only for the world of politics but also for evangelization —“Sounds good, but is there depth?” As we watch presidential candidates put their message on the market, it’s an occasion for us Catholics to rethink how well we do with the Gospel. In other words, do we evangelize at least as well as they campaign?
Evangelization isn’t about winning votes. It’s more; it’s about helping people decide who and what should govern their entire lives—not just the next four years. The message needs substance; a common cliché dressed up in a tuxedo won’t do. In our information-loaded culture a few deep truths are always more appreciated than a bushel of new facts. To do this we need to restore the practice of early evangelizers who came before us. From the first-century St. Paul to the modern John Paul II or Mother Teresa, they were all men and women of contemplation.
“Contemplate” has become an almost extremist verb, usually either preceded by “monks” or followed by “suicide”. When was the last time you told someone you were contemplating? If you do that and they look at you with a raised eyebrow, as if you’re boarding a rocket for the galaxy of existential questions. But it’s actually a lot simpler than that.
For many catechists or spiritual guides, other activities can tend to substitute contemplation. If you’re trying to think up a slogan or a flashy image for the youth group, you heat up the imagination and memory. You flip through your mental files searching for the right idea—in much the same way you’d rummage through the kitchen drawer looking for something skinny and sharp to break the seal on an old bottle of Elmer’s. You know what you need but you’re not exactly sure what it looks like. That’s called brainstorming. But contemplation isn’t about storming.
Or perhaps you need to speak at a parish pre-Cana course. You start web-surfing for the latest facts and analyzing Church documents (a must, by the way), because you know that the new couples would have a lot of pointed questions. Information pours into your head at such an alarming rate that, after forty-five minutes, you finish with a few pages of notes and a headache. That’s called study. But contemplation isn’t just about study.
To contemplate is to understand the ideas we already have before wandering off to look for new ones. I know a priest who spent twenty-five years firing up huge crowds in conference halls and convention centers. He practically always spoke on the same topics: love Christ, love the Church, and love souls! People never got tired of listening because he dared to speak with substance and everlasting meaning: “At the end of life, the only thing that matters is what we’ve done for Christ and for others.” His keel was in the water, his message ran deep. People couldn’t Google what he had to say, so they came to hear him say it.
The next time you need to speak about your faith get to the bottom of it. Think about what you’re going to say in an atmosphere of peaceful reflection and in the presence of Christ. Let the keyboard collect a little dust and just bring a pen and notebook to some quiet place. A chapel is always best, but your living room or even a tranquil park will do. Try to understand and appreciate the truths you need to communicate; better yet, the Person you need to communicate. Ask yourself, “What does this mean for me?” “How does this change my life?” The best and most effective spiritual talks, CCD classes, or group discussions are prepared with patience and prayer. Before you give it, you have got to get it. And the more you “get it”, the better you’ll give it. Only then will you find yourself saying things that your audience can’t help but remember. Things that outlast the emotional high of the average campaign rally. So take a deep breath, power down your computer, and fall off the deep end.
Brother John Antonio, of the Legionaries of Christ, studies for the priesthood in Rome.
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