Earlier this week, I spoke at the convocation of priests in the Diocese of Cleveland, and my keynote was entitled, “Reawakening our Pastoral Hearts by Rediscovering the Church’s Best-Kept Secret” — which isn’t really a secret at all.
It is, really, something hiding in plain sight — but a quality that is too often lacking in our ministries, our preaching, and most significantly, in our public presence on social media.
It is: joy.
As I noted in my talk:
The sainted Pope John XXIII used to quote Tielhard de Chardin, who said, “Joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God.”
If we want to live out our vocations fully and awaken our hearts and have any hope of persuading unbelievers that there is something WORTH believing, and SOMEONE worth believing in, and that this person is Jesus Christ … we need to have hearts animated by the grace of God with joy!
Yet: Sometimes, far too often, we are our own worst enemy.
The public face of the Catholic church today on social media is too often a face that is angry and combative. Charity and mercy are scarce.
A priest friend of mine likes to say, “See how these Christians SHOVE one another.”
I corrected him and said, it’s more like “See how these Christians CLUB one another.”
Some in the Church believe we need to be armed for battle, be militant, that we need to be not only defenders of the faith, but aggressors, attacking whatever and whoever we disagree with — even if it’s the pope.
And we forget: the world is watching.
I went on to say:
Just last month, the theologian Richard Gaillardetz, who is battling pancreatic cancer, sounded the alarm at what he called his “last lecture” in Boston.
In his talk, he decried the polarization and constant criticism in our culture that has infiltrated our Church:
“A church that cannot pray together,” he said, “is a church that has lost its very raison d’être,” its reason for being.
For my part, I suggested that we need to engage, not enrage, and quoted familiar words from scripture: “Put away the sword.”
We need, I said, to remember that we are people living a faith that began outside an empty tomb, with a moment of overwhelming joy.
Bishop Robert Barron made a similar point this week. He posted at the Word on Fire website four ideas for growing the Church, and concluded with this:
A fourth and final suggestion that I would make is simply this: be kind. Sherry Waddell, whose Forming Intentional Disciples has become a modern classic in the field of evangelization, says that a crucial first step in bringing someone to the faith is the establishment of trust. If someone thinks that you are a good and decent person, she is far more likely to listen to you speak about your faith. May I be blunt? Even the most casual glance at Catholic social media reveals a plethora of obnoxious behavior. Far, far too many seem intent upon trumpeting their own correctness, focusing on narrow issues that are unintelligible and irrelevant to most people, and tearing down their enemies. I fear that this reality on social media may be an amplification of attitudes in the Church outside of the digital space. These attitudes are inimical to evangelization. A colleague of mine has related that in his conversations with the alienated and unaffiliated that what keeps them away from the Church is their experience of what they describe as meanness from believers. So both online and in real life, be kind. No one will be interested in hearing about the faith life of obviously bitter and unhappy people.
Read his other ideas here.
Meantime: yes, be kind.
Want to evangelize? Spread the Gospel? Win hearts?
“Rejoice always,” Paul wrote. Live the faith, bear witness to it, with affirmation and hope. Live in joy!