Wednesday, June 19, 2013
Blessed John Henry Newman on Preaching and Words
I am sure you have heard the statement often attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: "Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary." As this blog notes, it can be cited with a certain edge and even a semi-political tone:
It is always attributed to St. Francis of Assisi---founder of the Franciscan Order---and is intended to say that proclaiming the Gospel by example is more virtuous than actually proclaiming with voice. It is a quote that has often rankled me because it seems to create a useless dichotomy between speech and action. Besides, the spirit behind it can be a little arrogant, intimating that those who "practice the Gospel" are more faithful to the faith than those who preach it.
And, of course, St. Francis never said it. But in using the book compiled by Father Benedict Groeschel, Praying to Our Lord Jesus Christ, particularly during my weekly hour of adoration of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, I re-read (re-prayed?) this prayer by Blessed John Henry Newman, in which the English saint goes even further in contrasting actions and words in preaching, in the circumstances of everyday life:
"Make me preach you without preaching-not by words, but by my example and by the catching force, the sympathetic influence, of what I do - by my visible resemblance to your saints, and the evident fullness of the love which my heart bears to you."
Without over-analyzing the prayer, I would comment that this is an emblem of Newman's motto as Cardinal, "Cor ad cor loquitor"--"Heart Speaks to Heart", a motto he borrowed from St. Francis de Sales. Recalling that Blessed John Henry Newman, particularly because of the Parochial and Plain Sermons collected from his years as an Anglican, is known as a great preacher, means that Newman meant that this is true: he should preach without preaching at all. Knowing that he also did preach by preaching means that formal preaching and teaching is required, but this personal, heart-to-heart example and influence is essential.
The entire prayer, "Jesus the Light of the Soul" from Meditations and Devotions:
Stay with me, and then I shall begin to shine as you shine: so to shine as to be a light to others. The light, O Jesus, will be all from you. None of it will be mine. No merit to me. It will be you who shines through me upon others. O let me thus praise you, in the way which you do love best, by shining on all those around me. Give light to them as well as to me; light them with me, through me. Teach me to show forth your praise, your truth, your will. Make me preach you without preaching-not by words, but by my example and by the catching force, the sympathetic influence, of what I do - by my visible resemblance to your saints, and the evident fullness of the love which my heart bears to you.
Father Groeschel's collection of prayers from the early Church to the twentieth century, from the martyrs to Blessed John Paul II, from the Fathers of the Church through the saints of the Middle Ages and each age of Church, is not really a book to be read through, since it's a book of prayers to inspire prayer and meditation. I am, however, reading the introductions to the sections as an excellent survey of the history of spirituality.