Preaching with Words

Do you preach?

You might reply, “I just live my life and people can see that I’m Catholic. That’s enough. Actions speak louder than words, you know…”

Fair enough.  But what about when someone’s misrepresenting the Catholic faith? Or, asking a question that can’t be fully addressed without speaking of God? Or, when you’re presented with an ideal opportunity for you to testify to the truth of Christ in your life? – Do you speak up, do you preach?

Preaching is a loaded term. It has some negative cultural connotations—i.e. “don’t preach at me!” or “she’s preachy.” But it also has power. There’s something different about preaching as compared to just making a statement or giving a talk.

When we allow ourselves to preach, we’re allowing the Holy Spirit to place a claim on the words that flow from our mouths. Anyone who preaches Jesus Christ is implicitly declaring, “Yes, I’ve encountered the living God, and have a relationship with God that compels me to speak.”

And maybe that’s why we often shy away from preaching with words.

The saying “preach the Gospel at all times, only use words when necessary” arose, not from the writings of St. Francis of Assisi, but as a popular proverb of the 20th century. The widespread popularity of this maxim reveals two things:

  1. We take comfort in therapeutically convincing our selves it’s okay to rarely use words to testify to our faith, and
  2. There is a connection between preaching with words and preaching with deeds.

Though our collective shyness about preaching with words might seem new, the Venerable Pope Paul VI addressed our confusion over words and deeds back in 1975. He wrote to the Church, “the first means of evangelization is the witness of an authentically Christian life” (Evangelii Nuntiandi, no. 41).

Great—so it’s clear that we ought to have a solid foundation of witness, before we start opening our mouths to preach. And this makes sense—nobody likes a hypocrite.

Here’s what he says next, “preaching, the verbal proclamation of a message, is indeed always indispensable.”

Now we might think, “but he’s writing for a different era, when people were more receptive.”

Not the case. Paul VI went on to observe, “the fatigue produced these days by so much empty talk and the relevance of many other forms of communication [sounds like our modern situation, doesn’t it?] must not however diminish the permanent power of the word, or cause a loss of confidence in it. The word remains ever relevant, especially when it is the bearer of the power of God” (Evangelii Nuntiandi, no. 42).

Each of us who are baptized is called to preach in our modern world. Our preaching is built upon authentic witness, but cannot be limited to this alone.

We must be ready to speak, ready to preach with words. Not so that our words speak louder than our actions, but so that all know the true meaning and source of our actions.

Copyright © 2013, Colleen Vermeulen

Colleen Vermeulen

Colleen Vermeulen

Colleen Reiss Vermeulen, M.Div., M.N.A., blogs, ministers in parish life and lay/deacon formation, and serves as a U.S. Army Reserve officer. She and her husband, Luke, have been married since 2011 and live in Ypsilanti, MI with their two young sons.

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