I am sure you have heard the oft-quoted statement, which is attributed to St. Francis:
“Preach the Gospel always! When necessary, use words.”
Yet, he never said it. There is no documentation for hundreds of years after his death with any attribution of this quote to St. Francis. It is one that began to be attributed to him and the origins of it being attached to him have several theories (which we won’t explore).
The sentiment behind the quote is pointing out that Christians who don’t live as they ought to should work on this aspect first. This is true enough. All of us need to work on how we treat others, what we do with our time, how we live out the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, growing in virtue, etc. Everyone knows that hypocrisy sterilizes evangelization.
St. Francis would agreed, we all need this personal change and transformation of life through a conversion to Jesus. Francis decided he wanted to live a radical life of poverty and service to Jesus Christ. He started to cast off all the trappings of the world and lived for God alone. In the poverty of spirit, which he formed, he found a great call to help others grow closer to the love of Christ.
This love propelled him out into the world to preach Good News to others, while loving them with acts of service. His preaching was powerful, not only because he was a good orator, but because his love for God was reflected in his deeds.
Both his life and his words were a critical part of his mission as an evangelist.
St. Francis never said the phrase above and I don’t believe he ever would have, because it leaves out the heart of evangelization – helping others come to know Jesus – by proclaiming His name! Imagine if St. Francis never spoke about Jesus. Imagine if the 12 Apostles never spoke about Jesus. We wouldn’t be Christians today.
Others cannot know Jesus unless we talk about Him!
St. Francis knew (and so does the Church) that evangelization is NEVER complete, until the saving message of the Gospel is proclaimed. The Church repeats this over and over. Here are but a few statements (emphasis added):
“Jesus began to preach and say, ‘Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.’” Matt 4:17
“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,” – 1 Pet 3:15
“Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel” -1 Cor. 9:16
“Go into the whole world, preach the Gospel to every creature” -Matt 28:19
“For we do not preach ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord” – 2 Cor 4:5
“Those who have received the Good News and who have been gathered by it into the community of salvation can and must communicate and spread it.” -Paul VI, EN
“even the finest witness will prove ineffective in the long run if it is not explained, justified – what Peter called always having “your answer ready for people who ask you the reason for the hope that you all have” – and made explicit by a clear and unequivocal proclamation of the Lord Jesus. The Good News proclaimed by the witness of life sooner or later has to be proclaimed by the word of life. There is no true evangelization if the name, the teaching, the life, the promises, the kingdom and the mystery of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God are not proclaimed.” -Paul VI, EN
“a necessity lies upon the Church, and at the same time a sacred duty, to preach the Gospel. And hence missionary activity today as always retains its power and necessity.” -Vatican II, AG
“an apostolate of this kind does not consist only in the witness of one’s way of life; a true apostle looks for opportunities to announce Christ by words addressed either to non-believers with a view to leading them to faith, or to the faithful with a view to instructing, strengthening, and encouraging them to a more fervent life. “For the charity of Christ impels us” (2 Cor. 5:14).” -Vatican II, AA
We can see there is overwhelming evidence that evangelization is not effective or complete until the Good News of Jesus Christ is proclaimed.
St. Paul tells us that he was an “ambassador for Christ.” (2 Cor 5:20). An ambassador, in the time of Paul, was a person given the full authority of the leader they represented. Therefore, Paul was an emissary for Christ and carries the saving message of the Lord with him. He is commanded and empowered to share it to others. Yet, it is not only St. Paul and the other apostles who were given this charge, but all who are baptized into Christ.
We, who have been baptized/confirmed, are made part of the evangelical ministry of Christ to all souls on earth. Do we share the gospel with others when we have the opportunity through both our deeds and words? Let us pray that Christ will give us both the opportunities to witness to his truth in our every day lives and the grace to do share the saving message of Jesus with love.
St. Francis pray for us!
**Top 10 Ways NOT To Evangelize
**Intro to Evangelization
**Evangelization is Hard and Scary
**Ask A Catholic A Question: evangelization program
**The Do’s and Don’ts of Evangelization and Apologetics
**Evangelization of Tenderness
**Fr. Barron on Evangelizing the Culture
**How To Evangelize Without Being Triumphant
**Talk The Talk
Marcel is a husband and father of five, serves on the pastoral council at St. Mary’s and is the founder and Executive Director of Catholic Missionary Disciples.