Simplicity in proclamation

1 Cor 2:1-10

Reading for the memorial of St. Dominic of Guzman

And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not in loftiness of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of Christ.  For I judged not myself to know anything among you, but Jesus Christ, and him crucified.  And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not in the persuasive words of human wisdom, but in shewing of the Spirit and power; That your faith might not stand on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God. Howbeit we speak wisdom among the perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, neither of the princes of this world that come to nought; But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, a wisdom which is hidden, which God ordained before the world, unto our glory: Which none of the princes of this world knew; for if they had known it, they would never have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written: That eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man, what things God hath prepared for them that love him. But to us God hath revealed them, by his Spirit. For the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.

After concluding the meditations on God the Father, we now return to our usual biblical reflections, and today we listen to the reading of the memorial of St. Dominic of Guzman. He was a saint who had great merits in evangelisation, and founded the Dominican Order, also called the “The Order of Preachers”. St. Dominic was a contemporary of St. Francis of Assisi.

St. Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, gives us again today a fundamental lesson on evangelisation. Without underestimating the value of good academic training and helpful knowledge, we must bear in mind that this is not where the decisive factor in preaching lies. It is a mistake to believe that people can be convinced primarily through eloquent speeches. In fact, it easily happens that people then admire the preacher and his ability to express himself, but they do not so much transcend the content itself nor do they encounter the wisdom of God.

St. Paul is aware of this, and limits himself to bringing the message of the Crucified One to people: this is the heart of the proclamation, for here the wisdom of God, who knows how to integrate even the iniquities of humanity into His plan of salvation, is made manifest! Neither the Devil nor those who follow him were able to annihilate the message of the Messiah by putting Jesus to death; but the Cross became the sign of Redemption; the sign of God’s love for us men; the sign of Jesus’ love for His Father and for us.

Moreover, St. Paul presented himself “weak, fearful and very trembling”; that is, limited in his natural powers, not to announce the message of salvation based on his own strength; but on the power of God.

When we have apparent “success” in evangelisation, it easily happens that we attribute it to ourselves. However, in this way we tarnish the truth and give ourselves the limelight; instead of basing ourselves primarily on the strength of Christ. It would be the same if, for example, in the Dominican Order, human and scientific formation were given more importance than spiritual formation.

St. Bernard of Clairvaux was another great preacher, capable of presenting the monastic life in such an attractive way that – it is said – mothers hid their sons and daughters, lest, persuaded by the words of this saint, they should immediately go and cloister themselves in a Cistercian monastery. It is said that, during one of his sermons, St. Bernard was tempted by the Devil to have vain thoughts, about how well he was preaching, about the eloquent words he was choosing, etc… When the saint identified this temptation, he said to the Devil, “You were not my motive for beginning to preach; so neither will you be my motive for ceasing to preach.” And he continued his preaching…

This story gives us an important indication of how to deal with vain thoughts and the different forms of presumption that may come upon us.

God’s good gifts, such as an awakened intellect, have been given to us to serve God and people, and not to build upon them our own person and our supposed greatness. That is why we should always cultivate gratitude, every time something goes well for us, every time we succeed in understanding something rightly or receive a light for a good preaching.

All gifts, both natural and supernatural, come from God, not from ourselves. God has given them to us and wants us to use them properly. So it is to the Giver of the gifts that we are primarily accountable; not to human beings. It is up to us to cultivate these “talents”, so that they do not wither or become buried.

If we live in awareness of this and remain in constant dialogue with God, the danger of pride is reduced. When vain thoughts come, whether they come from ourselves or are whispered to us by the devil, we will know how to face them in prayer, aware that all the good we discover in ourselves comes from God. This does not mean that we cannot rejoice when we have done something good, but it is about being aware of the full reality of the creature before God.

In every kind of evangelisation and mission this vigilance is absolutely indispensable. We must perceive whether we are talking too much about ourselves, whether we say too many irrelevant things, whether we talk too much, whether we lose sight of what is essential in the proclamation, etc…

The Apostle to the Gentiles, St. Paul, was aware of the great task he had, and, even more, of the great message that had been entrusted to him and that the Spirit had revealed to him. Precisely because of the greatness of the mission, it is essential that we carry it out with the right attitude, that we do not lose sight of the essentials, that we carefully examine the words we choose, so that, on the one hand, we do not become complicated, but, on the other hand, we do not trivialise the message either. In this way, people will be able to come into contact with the “things God hath prepared for them that love him” (1 Cor 2:9b).

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