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To Effectively Communicate the Gospel, Look Inward

Planting God’s word with gentle fidelity and firm resolve requires growth in the interior life

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Day after day, priests sow the seeds of God’s word in the rich soil of their earthly consent to draw souls to God, motivated not by self-gain but by charity and compassion. They see as infinitely precious every word God asks them to plant in the fields of evangelization, which they tend with gentle fidelity and firm resolve.

There are three traits in the life of Jesus every priest wants to emulate: his hiddenness, his powerlessness and his self-emptying.

Priests seldom, if ever, boast about their accomplishments. They follow the scriptural imperative: “But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you” (Mt 6:3-4). Their lives may more often than not be hidden from public view, but the fruits of who they are and what they do have a staying power that conveys the truth of the Faith they uphold.

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Sense of humor

Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection, a 16th-century Carmelite friar, did not enjoy the blessing of robust health. Although he suffered from severe gout, he was known for his unfailing sense of humor. He did each of his kitchen tasks with such dedication that simply beholding him at work edified others. Soon his reputation for holiness spread beyond the walls of the monastery. So faithfully did he persevere in this style of effortless effort that he became “another Christ” avidly sought by all who longed to see the guidance of God in the givens of their situation.

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The second trait reveals that human weakness, far from being a hindrance to spreading God’s word, manifests God’s glory. Thanks to the grace God bestows, even powerlessness reaches perfection. As St. Paul says, “I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:10).

Rather than clinging to his equality with God, the Lord chose the condition of a servant, devoid of any semblance of personal importance. In imitation of his kenotic love, priests seek to relinquish every semblance of grandiosity and witness to the efficacy of trusting God totally. In emptying themselves, priests become for all to see imperfect, finite persons chosen to witness to the infinite wonder of the Word. They show compassionate concern for each parishioner’s welfare, radiate the joy of servanthood, and say with Jesus the poorest words human pride can utter: “Not my will but yours be done.”

Abide, Bear Fruit, Receive

Complementing these three directives of discipleship, Jesus offers three more relational commandments pertaining to how to follow him, not merely outwardly, but also in the context of knowing him that emerges from true intimacy. He says: “Remain in me, as I remain in you” (Jn 15:4); “bear much fruit and become my disciples” (Jn 15:8); “ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete” (Jn 16:24).

Abide, bear fruit, receive — these are not only commandments to follow but promises upon which priests must rely if they are to sow the seeds of God’s word. Paraphrasing Colossians 3:12-17, they must:

• Clothe themselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience.
• Bear with one another and forgive any complaint issued against them.
• Bind all things together in perfect harmony.
• Let the peace of Christ rule in their hearts.
• Be thankful always and in all ways.
• Allow the commandments of the Lord to dwell richly in them.
• Teach and admonish others with wisdom and prudence.
• Sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs to God.
• Do what needs to be done in the name of the Lord, giving thanks to the Father for binding together what no force can wrest asunder.

The first and most challenging duty priests have is to live what they preach in their thoughts, words and actions. To speak the truth with conviction means that they never resort to unwise accommodation. In Paul’s words, they both rebuke and encourage (cf. 2 Tm 4:2-5), knowing when to admonish unacceptable behavior and when to promote wise ways of witnessing to Christ’s word.

Being sowers that they are, priests must become as realistic as any tender of soil, remaining steady and strong in good and bad weather. This means they must avoid becoming pessimistic and choose to be optimistic. They must appreciate the fact that Christ prepares them in every Eucharistic celebration to identify with the cross and to reject ways of living that lead to self-indulgence. They aim not to achieve success in the worldly sense but to be faithful to our Lord. They want to do the work assigned to them with such fidelity that they can claim, as did St. Paul: “I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith” (2 Tm 4:7).

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Prayer for Fidelity

Father, Son, and Spirit, aid me in my quest for fidelity.
Help me to escape the clutch of my own ego control
and to find the peace I so ardently seek.

You gave me the words of eternal life.
You taught me how to pray, “Hallowed be thy name.”
May thy kingdom on earth reign in me now
as it shall in the life to come.

Sustain me with the Eucharistic bread and wine of life.
Unworthy as I am to ask your forgiveness for the wrongdoing I have done,
I thank you for it and I promise to do my best to extend this
grace to every soul in need.

Most of all, Father, guide me along the path of salvation
and deliver me from all that blocks my fidelity to you.

Guided by your light, I promise to convey a
message of joy, not of sorrow, of thanksgiving, not of regret
to the wounded ones you have deigned to entrust to my care.
Amen.

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Patience and Perseverance

The two virtues that most facilitate this heartfelt teaching are patience and perseverance. When their best-laid plans go astray — as they often do — patience helps priests to absorb the disappointment they feel when what they longed to achieve does not come to pass, at least not on their present timetable. Patience helps them to calm even the righteous anger they feel and exercise more trust in divine providence. They learn from experience that progress does not happen under pressure or constraint but from the wisdom that comes with the experience of coping with the limits that arise in every situation.

Perseverance curbs deceptive exaltation of what priests could do if only such and such would happen. It helps them to keep a steady eye on what must be done now. They seek a happy mean, between careless procrastination and pushing themselves too hard, as if everything they need to do must be done now. This virtue inspires priests to follow the ebb and flow of firmness and gentleness, being stalwart to the end, but also taking time to rest and refill their reservoir. To persevere means to accept problems as challenges and await their fulfillment without losing hope and lightheartedness.

A Blessed Demand

To be sowers of God’s word is a great privilege, as well as a burdensome but blessed demand, because priests must tend the vineyard of their call in faith, hope and charity. Other-centered love, freed from the trap of self-centeredness, is the mark of discipleship and priestly ministry.

Most of all, priests need to grow in their life of prayer, detached from every expression of selfish sensuality and heeding the Lord’s invitation to remove whatever obstacles stand in the way of fulfilling their ministry. Slowly but surely, their life becomes a kind of Eucharist of everydayness, an offering of sacrificial love to the Father through Jesus in the Spirit.

Passively, priests witness to the cross by enduring trials with joy. Actively they obey the commission Jesus gave them to go and make disciples of all nations (cf. Mt 28:19). Priests go into the desert with Jesus to purify their hearts, knowing all the while that the test of their vocation happens in the hills and valleys where Jesus wants them to be his disciples and evangelize the world. Healing, they realize, is impossible without growth in holiness. Their meeting with Jesus in silence marks their lifelong commitment to seed in every place on earth the Good News he has etched in their hearts.

SUSAN MUTO, Ph.D., is dean of the Epiphany Academy of Formative Spirituality in Pittsburgh and author of “Gratefulness: The Habit of a Grace-Filled Life” (Ave Maria Press, $15.95).

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QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION

How can I grow more sensitive to what Christ asks of me on a day-to-day basis and place this listening at the forefront of my call to discipleship?

• Am I still and quiet enough to hear the Holy Spirit speaking in my heart in the midst of my ordinary circumstances and apostolic endeavors?
• What causes me to resist the Spirit’s commands?
• What most helps me to cooperate with them?

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