Sorry, St. Francis. I’m gonna dog on one of your most famous quotes.
I have heard the phrase, “Preach the Gospel always; if necessary, use words,” so many times in my life, I’ve definitely internalized its message. It’s telling us that, as St. Josemaria Escriva puts it, “Our virtue must not be loud.” We shouldn’t trumpet our good deeds but should let them speak for themselves, living a life of Christian witness that converts the hearts of those who see it.
However, too often I’ve used that same quote as a reason to keep my mouth shut.
There are several trivial moments in the recent past that haunt my conscience in a manner seemingly disproportionate to their importance. The most recent of such times came when I went to the dentist.
I was sitting in the chair as the dental hygienist chiseled away at my plaque, the delightful taste of latex gloves mixing with the blood courtesy of the first contact of floss-to-gums I’ve had this century. She knew I was a Catholic high school teacher and was talking about her experience with Catholic schools growing up. It was mostly a one sided conversation since her hands were alternately gagging and stabbing me, but a good one overall nonetheless. However, there was one part that really rubbed me the wrong way.
She described with incredulity how she was taught Natural Family Planning at her Catholic high school, ending with the joke, “You know what we called people who use NFP? Parents.”
I would like to say I kept my mouth shut, but in fact it was wide open and full of fingers. But I didn’t say a word.
By the time I was back in possession of my face, she had moved on in the conversation. I wanted to respond to what she had said but didn’t want to seem rude or pushy.
As I thought about the joke, there were a lot of things I wanted to say. Mostly, I just wanted to say, “Damn straight. Parents and loving it.”
I didn’t really want to try to convince her of the effectiveness of Natural Family Planning, though I think I could have done a good job. I didn’t really want to point out her insensitivity to my faith. I didn’t really want to challenge her obvious assumption that I felt the same as her with regards to NFP.
I just wanted to tell her I used it, it worked, I could not be happier to be a dad, and I can’t wait to do it again.
Two quick things I should say to you all (lest those that know me think I’m leaving stuff out) and probably could have said to her: One, while my wife and I weren’t necessarily “trying” when we got pregnant, it certainly happened exactly when our NFP chart said it would. Sometimes birthdays, the chart, and the life plan aren’t always completely in line. ‘Nuff said.
Two, I’m actually a little frustrated with how well NFP is working right now. While my wife and I both know it’s probably best to wait another six months or so before really getting down to business, part of me is always hoping for a little surprise.
But I didn’t say any of that to my hygienist, didn’t say anything at all, actually, because I didn’t want to be socially awkward.
There have been many little moments like that when I’ve kept my thoughts to myself to avoid an uncomfortable situation or because I don’t want to “force it”. It’s easy to convince myself it’s no big deal, but I can’t help thinking some moments are irreplaceable.
That was my moment to witness to her. Since I go to the dentist about once every three years, I might not get another.
That was my moment to share about one of the most joyful parts of my life as a Catholic. How I wish for more chances to praise my wife and daughter and the beauty of our little family.
That was my moment to perhaps be thought ill of or mocked for my beliefs. How little persecution I’ve ever experienced, though Christ promised it for those who follow Him. Perhaps it’s still to come; perhaps I just pass it up when I have the chance.
I won’t get that moment back. Nor will I get back the time in college when a guy was telling me about having sex with a random girl and I just laughed. I won’t get back the time someone asked me, “You don’t believe everything the Church teaches, do you?” and I just hemmed and hawed instead of saying a simple “Yes.” I won’t get back the moment when a friend joked about the Eucharist and I didn’t defend my Lord.
Certainly, St. Francis knows way more than I do about the faith and about converting others and the culture we live in. But if I’m not going to live a life of drastic, visually obvious separation from the culture like he did, perhaps it’s time I spoke up a little more.
I think using words might be necessary more often than we’d like.