Sunday, December 18, 2011

When Necessary, Use Words

One of my favorite teachers, St. Francis of Assisi, is credited with the saying “preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary, use words.”  While he first uttered these words over 800 years ago, the truth contained in them is immortal regardless of whether or not you follow his Christian teachings.
I believe that if we were to boil the teachings of the gospels down to their basic element, they could be summed up through an answer Jesus delivered to the Pharisees when asked which was the greatest commandment in the law.  Jesus’ response was love - first for God, second for everyone else.  This is what St. Francis implores us to do.  Absent communicating the messages contained in the gospels with our mouths, our actions demonstrate exactly what is in our heart.
Too often, I find people straying from this ideal, particularly during the holidays.  For a season that is supposed to focus on joy and goodwill, many people succumb to the stress of holiday shopping, overwhelming crowds, and over spent budgets.  As we look forward to whatever vacation we have managed to plan, we end up loathing the time we spend at work.  Our stress causes us to sleep poorly and we turn into grouchy, unpleasant people.  Happy Holidays everyone!
Our unthought actions, typically reactions to how we are feeling on the inside, reflect where we are in relation to Jesus’ teaching.  The unhappy person who cuts us off in the mall parking lot deserves our love.  The screaming baby in the restaurant and the parents who appear to ignore the grating noise deserve our love.  The homeless man who approaches your window with the a bucket of water and a squeegee deserves our love.
Now, imagine yourself in any one of these situations as either of the participants.  No matter which one you are, you have the power to change the other person depending upon your response.  You can make their day better or you can make their day worse.  St. Francis would implore you to reflect on the gospel message and act through love, reflecting the teaching of Jesus.  Perhaps in any one of these situations, your love could infect the other person, helping to spread love through their interactions as well.
Or you could spread the opposite of love; it is just as infectious, and too often the easier, quicker choice.  
St. Francis’ message applies all year round, not just at Christmas time.  I understand how hard it is to stare down rudeness, selfishness, and even hate, and respond with the most truly loving (and not sarcastic) reactions.  We are usually so eager to protect our ego that we tend to sink to the level of our attacker instead of raising them up to our level of love.  But imagine how different this world would be if we could do that.  How many ego driven actions did we take today that could have easily been derived from love?  How differently would you feel right now had you chosen to respond with a smile instead of a grimace?
American culture is a paradox of sorts.  From an early age we see that being the best is rewarded the most.  We practice as much as we can, putting others down, creating victories where there is no competition just to say we are the best, generally acting without love.  But, America claims to be a Christian nation, espoused in Christian ideals.  If this were true, wouldn’t our first choice always be love instead of ego?
I think if Jesus or St. Francis were to see the America we have created, they would be severely disappointed in our efforts.  Instead of a nation built on the Christian ideal of love for others, we have built a nation focused on loving ourselves, which was not the answer Jesus provided to the Pharisees.  Well, not unless we have usurped the throne of God and placed ourselves upon it.
The beauty of this world is that we can change it.  We can use love to guide our every action, reflecting on the teachings of these wise men.  Our influence can spread beyond our own lives, beyond our own communities, spreading love everywhere.  So today, as you go about your business, reflect on your actions towards others.  Are you living up to the expectations set for you many centuries ago?  I hope so.

Frank Chambers


  1. I truly believe that there are many Americans that do practice the art of love and sacrifice. You have made a huge generalization by saying, "I think if Jesus or St. Francis were to see the America we have created, they would be severely disappointed in our efforts. Instead of a nation built on the Christian ideal of love for others, we have built a nation focused on loving ourselves, which was not the answer Jesus provided to the Pharisees." There is a huge movement of people that do what they can to help those in need. Thousands of people are dedicated to raising money for illness, natural disaster, human rights, etc. I am not saying that people just step up in a time of crisis. There are little stories of the lady that drives over and picks up a handicapped church member to take her to church when needed, or the person that dedicates an hour a day to sit in the chapel with the Eucharist during Adoration, or the teacher that talks with a teenager about drama and gives advice on how to deal with the situation, or the people that dedicated time and money to feeding the homeless, or the people that sit with a sick family member or friend in the hospital day in and day out, or the person that visits the prison even though they know no one there, or the person that watches a friends child for no money, or the Aunt or Grandma or Uncle or Sister or Brother or Grandpa that raises a child when the parent can't step up, or the parent that stays home with a disabled child and makes a lifetime promise to love and care a provide for that person through adulthood, or for the person that decides that abortion is not the answer, or for the person that decides that adoption is the better choice, or the child that has to go to work to help pay bills for the family, or the child that gets pregnant and forfeits his/her childhood with a loving heart for their own child............

    That is the America I know. I see Christ in every person that puts their own needs aside for the needs of another person.

    Those people should not be grouped into an overgeneralization by a guy that is writing a blog that forgets to think that he doesn't know everyone or every story. You should be more aware and more thankful for the people that do good. We are not prisoners of our ego.

    1. The stories you provide as anecdotal evidence for the goodness of America are touching, but in my experience in the world, they tend to be the exception instead of the rule. I do not deny that America has good people. I do not deny that America has good intentions. I question the frequency with which our population acts out those intentions. I question the attitude people live that says "me first."

      Since it appears you have been reading my blog consistently, I challenge you to put together a summary message of what you think my blog is designed to do. I think you will find that my efforts are aimed at people's hearts, urging them to chose the path that places them directly in the center of one of your stories.

    2. Truthfully, I think your blog is an extension of your own ego. That is not meant to be rude. Just the absolute truth. Your response sounds pessimistic. You seem to see the bitter side of the world where I chose to see the graciousness of people. I guess it just a outlook.

    3. You are absolutely correct, everything is outlook. Perhaps mine has been skewed towards skepticism for some reason I need to discover. Perhaps this is your first lesson for me - discover why the world appears so ego driven.

      My preliminary answer would be that we are egotistical beings. My blog, by extension is a product of my ego. My reactions to your comments and your reactions to my comments are driven by how our ego receives them. I attempt to advocate reducing how much ego drives us, so in essence, you could chart the path of my individual growth through my blog topics. How in charge is my ego when I write from week to week? Or how much have I removed my ego from my words? These are good questions both.

  2. One more thing..........I have read a few of your other blogs, and I noticed in one that you made the comment that you "dropped your wife off at church". This made me think, and I noticed that you blog every Wednesday and Sunday. I don't know claim to know your beliefs or situation, but for a person that looks up to Saints and ponders the opinion of Jesus you should be a believer. To preach of love is to know love and the greatest love is that of God. I hope with all my being that you are blessed by the love and peace of Christ. I would like you to know that even though your opinions are irritating to me, I don't hate you. You have your opinion and I have mine. That is that.

    God's peace.

    1. Good to know my words don't engender hate, as that would definitely be outside of my goals. You are very astute in your observations. I do not attend church, nor do I prescribe to any major religion, rather, I am a student of all wisdom pertaining to God, regardless of the source. I tend to reference Christian doctrine and allegory more frequently than anything because, frankly, it is the material with which my readers are the most familiar.

      I appreciate your challenging comments, and while we may not ever end up on the same side of the issues, the discussion and questioning that arises from the challenge is extremely stimulating for me.

      Pax Vobiscum.

    2. Is your purpose to teach or learn? I'm sure I have plenty to teach you.

    3. I am constantly doing both. In my life, I see everyone as both a teacher and a student. Though I rarely ever know the lessons I teach, I am constantly aware of the lessons I learn. The teachers I refer to in my blog are the people I encounter everyday in my life. Right now there are over 20 teachers sitting in this Starbucks with me. Perhaps one of them has a lesson to offer today.

      So, in response to your offer to teach, as I would with anyone I encounter, I happily accept.