Evangelism: Where Words Are Deeds
George Washington’s personal motto was "Deeds, not words." And this is sound advice, even two centuries later. But, in modern times, times where the West has lost its way, words have become deeds — deeds of courage and conviction, of clarity and certainty. At least if they are the right words, the true words, the noble, the good and the loving words.
And that is why these words commonly attributed to St. Francis have taken on a new and timely emphasis: "Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words." Well, in our time, it is frequently necessary — to a degree perhaps never seen before. As Pope Francis writes in Lumen Fidei (The Light of Faith), "Today, more than ever, we need to be reminded of this bond between faith and truth, given the crisis of truth in our age."
Like never before, we need words of reason and truth, words of morality and love and words of noble ideas and ennobled dedication, because our culture is no longer tied securely to the faith of our fathers and forebears.
And that is why words, the right words, the words of truth and love, are the new deeds of our time.
These words of truth and of love, of hopeful rebuke and loving confrontation, must ring out across our country. As faithful Catholics, we must make the most of every opportunity to teach and to confront, to persuade and to alarm, to console and to unsettle any and all misconceptions of morality that circumstance and conversation bring our way.
Because our culture has lost its moorings, we need to tell all who have ears to hear how to recover their bearings and return to the light of truth. Because the West has cast off the religious background of its culture and religion’s rightful place in public discourse as a wise and welcomed voice, we need to speak the truth about God and his morality whenever we can, linking these together, as such discussion allows.
In our time, religion is becoming increasingly reviled or dismissed, unwelcome and disregarded. And that is why words and ideas, thinking and speaking are the new and the true deeds. But what should we speak?
Well, we must preach the Gospel, and we must speak the truth. But, as always, we must be strategically wise and prudent in our approach. Our goal is to persuade and invite, not to harden and divide. But we must be willing to demonstrate the real choices every person confronts when he understands the basic content of the Gospel and its claims.
And it is here that most people of faith need some training. Now, in presenting the Good News, we must take into account three crucial things in order to truly and incisively present it to the modern world and to inform and to persuade the minds of modern men and women.
First, we must make the case for the existence of truth as a concept, an actual possibility. Sadly, in modern culture, the word "truth" commonly does not convey objective and factual reality, particularly regarding questions about God or morality. "Truth," in these areas in the modern world, is just another word for "opinion," because it is interpreted to mean "personal truth" or "personal opinion." That is all.
And this is obvious in the reaction most people reveal when you insist on truth. When I became a Catholic, many people asked me why I converted. I told them I became a Catholic because the Catholic Church was right. The Church has the fullness of truth. Well, they were either combative or incredulous, because insisting on actual and factual truth in matters of religion is an act of arrogance or ignorance in our modern world.
So it is critical to establish the foundational idea of truth’s existence for later use in discussing the truth about God or about morality. Fortunately, discussing this point is far less likely to ignite counterproductive passions because it does not inherently involve religious or moral content. And, when this is done right, this discussion naturally and inevitably leads to a consideration of how we can demonstrate the existence of actual and factual truth about anything, even about religion and morality.
This means we have to show how reason can get us to such truth, just as science gets us to truth about physical things. So the case must be made for reason and its ability and power to demonstrate the truth of truth’s actual existence. And reasoning is something anyone must use in any discussion or debate, even if it isn’t about religion or morality.
But, just like the modern view of "truth," reason faces similar, common distortions and misunderstandings in the typical modern mind. Most moderns recognize reason as mere rhetoric or as persuasion or a form of defense without any real power to prove anything. This is so because modern minds fall prey to the idea that unless something can be demonstrated physically in a scientific form and through empirical or practical experimentation, it cannot be known as an objective fact.
The problem, as any amateur scientist or philosopher can see with a mere moment of thought, is that science without reason isn’t actually science. Any scientist can manipulate the physical universe directly or with sophisticated instrumentation. But the analysis of the data and even the logic of the experimental process all depend directly on reason, from the experiment’s inception to its conclusions. Science is shot through with reason. And its use of reason tacitly acknowledges reason’s own objective reality, inherent power and application in uncovering and discovering truth about things in the physical realm.
As such, once reason is resurrected and its power restored, it leads naturally to an investigation of life’s most important questions and a real list of possible answers. With the establishment of the existence of objective truth and the restoration of reason’s ability and power, the truth of religious and moral beliefs becomes open to real and substantial scrutiny and explanation.
Then, with that critical foundation established, we have a chance to really wade into the substance of religion and morality with some hope of success, with some hope of at least stimulating thought in those we seek to persuade.
Let’s use a simple example to make this three-part process clear. We’ll start with the question of the existence of God. Either God exists or he doesn’t exist. No matter what his form or nature, God must either be or not be, as the philosophers say. Well, this means that we can establish truth when it comes to this most basic question. And we know that because there are only two real possibilities that are mutually exclusive. We cannot wed them, blend them or synthesize them. Something is. Or it is not.
We can know this to be true because reason tells us so, actually and objectively. Completely irrespective of scientific experimentation, we can know absolutely and irrefutably that one answer is right and the other wrong. This realization subsequently leads us in another direction away from confrontation and debate to a search for evidence and right reasoning — and, ultimately, to the truth.
Now, we have to look at the scientific evidence: the origin of the universe in the Big Bang and the order of the universe in its remarkably fine tuning. Was all this intentional or accidental?
Then we must examine the reasoned evidence that forces us all to choose from a limited list of possible answers that are mutually exclusive, as the above example of God’s existence shows us. And, now, we must decide if time and space must be caused by an intangible Being of immense power outside of the physical universe, just as St. Thomas Aquinas said centuries ago in his reasoned proofs.
Also, we must look at our human nature and consciousness and decide, based on evidence, whether we are mere biochemical machines generating neural illusions we call our consciousness and our many faculties. Or are we really an integrated blend of the tangible and intangible, the body and the soul? We must decide.
We must examine the evidence found in morality and in love, because in the many things we all know to be right and good, we find reflections of perfection. And our innate sense of perfection defies an evolutionary or biochemical explanation, for perfection can only be explained by an appeal to the Divine, to God. For God is and must be the author and embodiment of perfection in all of its many forms.
By establishing the reality of truth, the power of reason and the importance the actual content of truth claims, all other more typical evangelistic approaches may be taken as they are, not filtered through the clutter and error of our modern bias.
Because we have first established a means to look at the crucial questions about God and morality in a way that allows for real discussion and real choices, we can bring someone to deal with this directly and objectively, rather than to have it filter through the modern distortions of science, reason or relativism.
Consequently, we discuss the very idea of truth by confronting critical core distinctions rather than argue about the latest hot issue. And, by doing so, we indirectly enhance reason’s power and utility and make discussions about crucial truth more possible.
So, while the West continues its cultural collapse and its once-vibrant Christian heritage fades in the distance, let us take on the task of evangelism, realizing we must step back first and fight this more fundamental battle — the battle of truth and reason and truth’s actual substance. Once that battle is won, then we will be in a better position to win new followers of Christ or to invigorate old ones or lost ones.
Let us see the great opportunity this state of affairs gives us to build new disciples of Christ. And let us reach out to those who have simply followed the momentum of our Catholic culture or blindly kept the traditions of the Church without any form of deep reflection or sophisticated understanding.
Let us live and be the Gospel. But, more than ever, let us use words to establish the objective reality of truth, to demonstrate reason’s power to reveal the truth about God and help us to encounter him, and to show the importance and necessity of the truths of our Catholic faith.
We must first learn these three core approaches and then, lovingly, patiently and persistently, share with those who are lost the veracity and reality of the evidence and bring them home to their Father.
Francis X. Cronin writes
from eastern Connecticut.
He has a master’s degree
in theology from Regent University.
His post-master’s studies include Harvard,
Columbia and Holy Apostles College and Seminary.
- Feb. 23-March 8, 2014