What’s Going on with this Blog?
After I published a few posts, I had a conversation with my mom about the blog. She knows me as a writer who has spent a good portion of his career doing PR and marketing work. In short: someone who writes persuasively, hopefully with personality and passion. Upon reading my posts, her response was something along the lines of “It just doesn’t seem like you. You could give people more examples from your life, or more ideas about incorporating Christ’s message into their lives.”
It was a good conversation. We agreed that my approach was more academic (for lack of a better word) and that the writing was a bit dense and not particularly flashy. Or even inspiring. She didn’t understand why I would choose to write this way, and I explained that these posts are simply my contemplations on the readings of the day, and will naturally reflect the stage of my own faith formation. I’ve been reading a lot of Church Fathers, writings on the liturgy, writings of past popes and other thinkers in the Church. I am particularly interested in delving into the layers of meaning found within the Word of God. Perhaps it’s my training in English Departments and years of close textual analysis.
But as we spoke I realized there was more. We are also a product of certain biases about how things are done and how they’re most effective. I must admit that I’ve done a 180° turn in my approach to faith matters compared to my day job in marketing and PR. Much of this is due to the influence of a particularly smart and biased Polish Dominican priest named Jacek Buda. Thanks to years of tutelage — his recommended readings, long discussions over good vodka, and time spent in prayer together — I realize that I’ve taken on some of his more fundamental beliefs about the nature of evangelization.
The primary nugget I’ve gleaned from my time with Fr. Jacek: our practice of faith must point to God, not to us. He’s likely the best homilist I’ve known, and not because he makes us laugh, is terribly witty, or tells us fascinating stories. He’s not a commanding, loud presence at the ambo; quite the opposite, despite his large frame and ample belly, he speaks softly (almost inaudibly at times!) so that his listeners lean forward, straining to hear. He simply uses his homily as that time during the Mass was meant to be used: to draw us more deeply into the Word of God by uncovering the levels of meaning therein. “What’s more interesting and captivating than the Word of God?” he asks. And as I’ve examined that question in the light of taking my faith seriously, the answer is that nothing is more interesting, enlightening, or important. Christ, the Word, is “the way, the truth, and the life” (Jn 14:6). If I believe this, which I do, then the Word is much more incredibly powerful and interesting than we give it credit. Inexhaustibly interesting as many important writers have stated.
our practice of faith must point to God, not to us.
How do we know when our practice of the faith points to God and not to us? It’s really quite simple. Are members of the congregation using time before Mass to chat with one another instead of preparing for the holy liturgy? Then it’s more about them in that moment. Is a preacher talking about himself more than God? Is he developing a cult of personality around himself? Then it’s more about him than God in those moments. Do we constantly ask how to put Christ’s words into practice in daily life, turning our faith into a perpetual self-improvement strategy (or society improvement strategy)? Then it’s becoming more about us than God.
I don’t want to be misunderstood as an extremist here. It can be very instructive to hear a priest share a personal story as a way to better understand a gospel reading. The Church as the Body of Christ is communal, with friendship in its heart (perhaps not effusively in the chapel around the time of the liturgy, however, to harp on a personal pet peeve). And social justice and personal sanctity are important parts of our life as Christians. But I’d rather err on the side of pointing to, praising, and reflecting God with all my heart and being than reveling in the worldly and the human.
The true meaning of the universe exists without us doing anything. And the amazing thing: that truth is fully present during the liturgy. As Catholics in the United States, we’ve taken on some unfortunate aspects of worship from our Protestant brothers and sisters. I have no ax to grind here, and I respect them as much as anyone, but they do not believe that Christ is really and truly present in the Eucharist at Mass, sanctifying them and giving them true communion with God here and now. So, of course they look for other things to make their services more interesting, palatable, and entertaining. But we do believe in the presence of Christ in the Mass. As such, we should not be tempted by a path of entertainment and easy palatability that simply detracts from the deep realities of the mysteries of our faith.
So back to the question of this not-so-flashy blog. That aspect of entertainment, persuasion, even manipulation is something that we’ve come to expect in every aspect of our lives. I fundamentally don’t believe it belongs or is necessary when it comes to our faith. It’s not important that I convince you of something. What’s important is that every person seek God — yearn for God, learn about God — on his or her own. The Word of God is in the scriptures, waiting to instruct us and dwell with us. This blog, like Fr. Jacek’s homilies, is hopefully simply pointing to God in the scriptures and allowing Him to do the work that He naturally does in our lives.
Here, we might apply the old adage, “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” The type of writing typified by advertising and marketing wants to hand us fish on a platter, better yet, as many fish as we can eat, buy one get one free! Notice how this type of exciting, persuasive writing in fact gnaws away at our freedom to choose. So often the marketing promise contains an implicit “you’d be ridiculous to choose any other option,” it cajoles and promises what it can’t deliver, and in this way is manipulative. God does not operate this way. He maintains our freedom to choose light or dark and stands behind his promises. If we want to “point to God” in our actions and evangelization, we must also provide people a way to meet God as their complete selves and discover for themselves the wonders he provides.
A last word of thanks to my mom. I’m glad you weren’t afraid to have that conversation with me, be honest about your thoughts, and hear my response. With God’s grace we can avoid hurting feelings when we’re truthful and act in love!