I came to you in weakness and fear and much trembling, and my message and my proclamation were not with persuasive words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of Spirit and power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.
Saint Paul, educated as he was, knew all the oratorical tricks of the trade. He knew the clever arguments, the powerful puns and the suggestive allusions. In a world with neither electric amplification nor instant communication, public speakers had only their own voices to broadcast their messages.
Saint Paul knew the art of persuading crowds. Arriving in Athens he tried it in the service of the Gospel; and Saint Luke described his humiliation when the elite snickered at him and walked away:
When they heard about resurrection of the dead, some began to scoff, but others said, “We should like to hear you on this some other time." And so Paul left them.Arriving in Corinth, the Apostle spoke without artifice of Jesus' crucifixion, death and resurrection. As outrageous as the story was, he would let it speak for itself.
Catholic apologists today face the same dilemma. We can talk about the Incarnation and Trinity, Baptism and Eucharist. We can show how these mysteries are not unreasonable; but we have to let the Holy Spirit do the persuading. We never know when someone might be ready to hear the Gospel; nor can we say with any assurance, "They're not yet ready." We can only preach in season and out of season.
Our preaching, as Saint Francis (never) said, is better without words. Rather, we should be like salt, yeast and light.
We make a difference because we are different. This is a hard lesson to learn. Human beings are social animals with an instinct for conformity. The way of the crowd is the safe way. We tell our children as they leave home and set out into the public, "There's safety in numbers."
But as Catholics and Christians we must choose our conformity. Do I conform to the common wisdom of the dominant society, or do I prefer the sacred wisdom of the Church? Which god will I worship?
The dominant society offers entertainment, excitement, convenience, security, abortion, drugs, guns and so forth. They assure us, "You can always divorce if your marriage doesn't work out. You can always abort if your pregnancy is inconvenient." All the while they entertain themselves with the myth of individualism. "I did it my way!" they sing in four-part harmony.
The Way of Christ is a narrower path. It requires continual attention because it is so easily lost amid the confusing off-roads.
Like a true Jesuit, Pope Francis has encouraged us to pray for the gift of discernment. We must daily ask the Lord to align our likes and dislikes, our hopes and desires to His. What I want is not nearly as important as what God wants, and I willing defer to God. I do not have God's vision or God's wisdom; I cannot see beyond my own horizon. I should be ready on every occasion to offer my services, to share my wisdom and to apologize for my foolishness. I am ready to invest my energies in God's way, and far less ready to invest in my own ideas.
The Prophet Isaiah assures us,
The Lord will give you bread in adversity and water in affliction. No longer will your Teacher hide himself, but with your own eyes you shall see your Teacher.
And your ears shall hear a word behind you: “This is the way; walk in it,” when you would turn to the right or the left.