“…avoid clichés like the plague.” William Safire, How to Talk Good.
Communication is always a tricky business. There are two challenges: get the message across, and do it in an interesting and memorable way. Proclaiming the Gospel is one of the greatest challenges in communication. It’s an overpowering message we can have trouble putting into words, and it can defy description even on a metaphorical level. Living as best we can as Christians, as Pope Francis is showing us, is the best and most authentic Evangelization. However, there are times we must use words; what we say and how we say it make all the difference.
Words are fun things to play with. Savoring a well-turned phrase can be like rolling a fine wine around the tongue, diving into fine poetry like a refreshing dip in a mountain lake. Creating a beautiful thought, putting together a fine expression of something deeper is a joy beyond description. It’s tempting to get hung up with special words, special concepts, especially if we think they’re beautiful.
The dark side of catechesis is making carefully tuned concepts passwords for faith: unless you understand the magic words, you’re shut out of the message and to some extent the community. Theologians aren’t the only ones who fall into this trap: at times it seems membership in any number of movements or political parties relies on using the right jargon, with understanding optional. We can get so hung up in jargon we can refuse to listen to anyone with a different way of speaking.
Christ is at the center of our faith, and He used many different metaphors and images to share the Good News, making His journey from Death to Life the main presentation of His message. As we prepare to celebrate our anniversary next year, it’s good to remember that words are a means and not an end. Proclaiming with a thousand tongues the merits of the Precious Blood isn’t just about talking, it’s about doing and listening, connecting heart to heart.
As Missionaries, we need to communicate no matter how many different ways are needed. We can’t put all of our enthusiasm in one word or one image if the people who don’t get it are shut out. The message is always more important than the messenger. That is why the preaching never ends and the conversation goes on, because eventually the mirror clears and we can see ourselves, each other, and our God face-to-face.
Originally published in The New Wine Press, October 2014