Friday, May 9, 2014

Proclaiming the Word with our Life

One early Saturday morning I drove out to Drew University in New Jersey for a presentation entitled, “Speaking about Faith: How to create and deliver inspiring spiritual presentations.” As I listened to directions from the GPS (and the familiar “calculating”), my mind wandered to people I had recently met during my brief presentations at parish book and media fairs in New York and New Jersey. One woman told me that when children ask her what she is doing as she prays the rosary she says “I am texting God.” A grandmother relayed that after she had told the Christmas story to her grandchildren she overheard one of them ask their mother, “Was grandma there when Jesus was born?”

Someone else had shared a story with me about a father and son with whom he rides the bus every day to and from work.  In the afternoon, the father is always on the bus before his son hops on at the school stop. Each day the father asks the son the same questions: “What are you grateful for today?” “Did you hold the door for anyone?” “What kind words did you say?” After his son answers each question the father reciprocates by telling his son what he is thankful for, and the kind deeds, and words he brought to his day at work.

There was something about these stories that led me to want to take a fresh look at how I evangelize. In each of these stories, evangelization was happening, but particularly in the last example there was a simple but marvelous exchange of mutual assistance in spiritual and human growth. This might be a working definition for evangelization in life. As the Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini states: the Holy Spirit invites us to share in Christ’s own mission and to share the word with our entire life. “It is the word itself which impels us towards our brothers and sisters: it is the word which illuminates, purifies, converts; we are only its servants” (Verbum Domini, 93).


How can we proclaim the word with our entire life? What are some components of proclamation that a teacher or parent can deepen as they proclaim the faith? Here is what I learned at the presentation on Speaking about Faith.



Content is a mighty big component considering the message we are proclaiming! Begin with prayer invoking the Holy Spirit (even silently if you are proclaiming the Word outside of a planned setting).
Encounter. We first encounter Christ in our own lives. Those to whom the proclamation is addressed have also had an experience of encounter. What is it? Ask them. In the book Why Preach: Encounter Christ in God’s Word, Dominican Father Peter John Cameron tells us that there are verifying signs for encounter. An encounter with God and with another person is unexpected and surprising. Never losing its attraction for us, it enables us to come away with a new way of looking at things. Our hearts perceive the exceptional meaning offered to us through the encounter. We are imbued with self-knowledge and receive grace that strengthens us. An authentic encounter launches us toward a new relationship. “The word of God reaches men and women ‘through an encounter with witnesses who make it present and alive’ In a particular way, young people need to be introduced to the word of God ‘through encounter and authentic witness by adults, through the positive influence of friends and the great company of the ecclesial community’” (Verbum Domini, 97).
Competence. Competence is the ability to do something successfully or efficiently. We don’t have to be theologians. But we ought to prepare ourselves to share the message by deepening our love and understanding of the message through prayerful study of sacred scripture, sacred tradition, and church teaching. 
Confidence.  Even if we feel we are not yet “competent,” we can have confidence in delivering the Word of God because of our baptismal call to proclaim the gospel. “We are confident because of our great trust in God through Christ,” says St. Paul (2 Cor. 3:4). I often say the affirmation “I am enough, God provides all I need,” as part of my prayer before a presentation. “By myself I can do nothing and with God I can do everything,” is another way of expressing my reliance on God’s Spirit. I also begin with this prayer:  “Help me to say what I need to say, to hear what I need to hear. Help those to whom I speak to hear what they need to hear and say what they need to say. Be with us God.” As the Post Synod Apostolic Exhortation on the Word of God reaffirms: “Since the entire People of God is a people which has been ‘sent’… the mission of proclaiming the word of God is the task of all of the disciples of Jesus Christ based on their Baptism” (Verbum Domini, 94).
Culture. Know the people to whom you deliver the message. Identify the things you know about them and then find out what you don’t know: What is their culture? What are their struggles? Where do they hang out? How do they communicate? What forms their conscience? What are their priorities? Where do they spend their time and money? Why are they here? What excites them? What do they already know?  What are they learning? What experiences inform their thoughts? What are their motivations and desires? What gets them out of bed in the morning? What do they need to hear?  You have their best interest at heart when you make the effort to know who they are. Ask them to share with you so that you learn and leave room for the Holy Spirit. “The Lord offers salvation to men and women in every age. All of us recognize how much the light of Christ needs to illumine every area of human life: the family, schools, culture, work, leisure and the other aspects of social life” (Verbum Domini, 93).
Communication. In our world of technology there are many ways to deliver the message of salvation. When proclaiming the message, remember the way Jesus proclaimed it in stories. How will you communicate the message? What setting are you going to communicate the message in? What “language” does your audience speak? Challenge, provoke, use metaphors, be authentic (you are also the message), use familiar references, check out the surroundings and use these as an icon of the message (is it too hot, too cold, outside, at a party, in a retreat house, are there props?). What are your time constraints? How to you model prayer or a prayerful atmosphere? How will you inspire (through music, movie or activity?). What are the mechanics of your own voice? And what about gestures, clarity, volume, pace, eye contact, etc? “Saint John’s proclamation that the Word became flesh reveals the inseparable bond between God’s word and the human words by which he communicates with us. In this context the Synod Fathers considered the relationship between the word of God and culture. God does not reveal himself in the abstract, but by using languages, imagery and expressions that are bound to different cultures” (Verbum Domini, 9).

No comments: