Some Catholic authors write as if they belong to a Church Beleaguered, not the Church Triumphant. Articles tend to be either defensive or angry attacks against adversaries. Many religious writers retreat, focusing only on like-minded souls, writing for a small, mutual admiration society. The rest are tempted to quit when it seems like the world is wearing a spiritual blindfold. In an online conversation with me, Victor S. E. Moubarak articulated the dilemma of Christian writers today:
Many Christian are busily writing their blogs daily wondering who is visiting them, or whether their efforts are having any effect on anyone. We all write for different reasons. Some genuinely want to put some positives out there in a negative and dark internet full of bile and cynicism. Others write for pure vanity. Whilst others wonder whether to bother to continue writing or whether they should just give it up. The latter would be a pity because it would turn off yet another of the little lights of hope that shine in a dark internet that mirrors today’s secular society. (To read Victor’s books and blog click here.)
Catholic writers have a Divine Mandate to share the Good News with our society. Jesus commanded us to, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). Yet, it is not just our duty to share the Gospel, it is our joy. How can we remain silent when we have been crucified with Christ and Christ lives in us (Galatians 2:19,20)? A new convert often grasps this truth immediately. A few years ago, a brilliant young friend called himself an atheist but he was searching for answers, for truth. When I asked what he had read on spirituality and Christianity he simply replied, “The library”. One day, while I was praying with others for a few moments before a meeting, my friend suddenly started to laugh. Our eyes popped open in surprise. This quiet, subdued fellow was beaming as he exclaimed,
God is real. He exists. I can’t believe it. Why did I not see something all around me, in my face? I feel this energy flowing between everyone in this room and connecting to me as well, like electrical currents, like invisible cords. I want to jump up and down and start yelling on the top of my voice that God exists and He is right here.
Only an authentic presence of God in that room could have revealed the truth of the Mystical Body of Christ to a young man. Catholic writers can also be instruments of spiritual transformation in their readers when the Holy Spirit permeates our words.
Communicate With Respect
Social media has taught us the power of words. One lie or the words of one bullying tweet can go viral, enraging or misleading thousands, if not millions of readers. Even truth, if expressed with arrogance can instigate similar chaos. Words matter. Tone matters. Our message can be lost when we are not prayerful disciples, writing with the heart of a servant.
Decades ago, I read an insight by Jean Vanier, the founder of L’Arche, which impacted me so strongly I have never forgotten it: “You can be right. You can be dead right and bring death to everyone around you.” Writers have the ability to destroy as well as the ability to educate, heal, and lift up. We must learn how to communicate and engage with our adversaries in a spirit of mutual respect because everyone is a child of God, whether they know it or not. It is God who converts and convicts; we are simply called to tell our stories and share our perspective. We must witness in love, without sinning against those who have yet to experience the joy of the Eucharist or a deep relationship with their Heavenly Mother.
Listen, and Then Write
If Catholic writers want to be effective agents of change, addressing large issues like world peace, abortion and the state of the Church with articles which will touch hearts and move secular mountains, we have to break out of our Church microcosm and listen to the rumblings in the world and in the wider Body of Christ. Most of all, we must become in sync with God and with what He wants to do in and through us. It is time to start writing like children of God, people who only write what their Heavenly Father tells them to write. Only then will our words be imbued with power, the kind of power which will actually affect hearts and stimulate action. David Torkington (a Catholic Stand columnist and the author of ‘Wisdom from the Christian Mystics – How to Pray the Christian Way’) states:
there is only one way forward for the serious searcher who wishes to be transformed into Christ in this life, and that is, in the words of St Teresa of Avila, “There is only one way to perfection and that is to pray. If anyone points in another direction then they are deceiving you.”
I would add there is only one way forward for the Catholic writer and that is to pray first and then write. But how can we listen and obey God?
The answer to our dilemma is the opposite of what you might think. Relax. Give up striving. Surrender to His love and let it saturate every cell of your body, soul, and mind. Then allow His love to flow through you as you write. It ends up being a long journey to such carefree lifestyle because pride and ego get in the way. Yet the process is so simple it seems complicated to our adult, logical minds. No wonder Jesus says,
“Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3)
A relationship with the living God is child’s play and is not dependent on striving. Listen to this exchange between my young children:
One afternoon, I was making dinner, standing at the counter with my back to our three youngest children. Grace and Daniel were lounging around the kitchen table, with three-year-old Rebecca perched like a little elf on a high stool, happily swinging her legs.
Simply making conversation, Grace who was eight, asked Rebecca,“ Who’s your favorite, mum or dad?”
Rebecca replied, “Both!”
Still facing the counter, I looked over my shoulder and intruded on their conversation, I commented, “Smart answer, Rebecca.”
Rebecca was not done, though. “But she’s not my real mum, Mary is.”
Grace rolled her eyes, slapped her forehead with the palm of her hand and said incredulously, “Where does she get this stuff?”
I tried to explain as simply as I could, “Well, the Holy Spirit is in her heart and she listens to His voice.”
Rebecca jumped right back into the discussion and chanted in a sing-song, lilting voice, “That’s right. God the Father in my heart. Baby Jesus in my heart. Holy Spirit in my heart. Mother Mary in my heart but I still like mum and dad the best!”
Grace rolled her eyes and plunked her head down on the table with a loud sigh, “Where does she get this stuff?”
This three-year-old received this stuff right from the heart of God. If adults received this sort of “stuff” in prayer, they would consider it a rare gift, profound revelation. Yet this child of three simply received infused contemplative insights with ease, right from the source of all truth because she was open and relaxed in the presence of God. If a mere child can listen to God, there is hope for Catholic writers who pray, humble themselves before the Father and truly listen, expecting their Heavenly Father to give them the Bread of Life, the words of life, not stones.
Initially, when I first stepped outside of my little blog to write for other sites, I wrote for secular and Protestant sites and felt I had to hide my Catholicism. When I finally wrote about my Catholic faith, I was immediately grilled and interrogated by shocked readers and co-authors. Yet God had His own agenda and through the moderator, a process of forgiveness and unity began. Of course, the site decided to simply ignore my Catholicism and centre on my love of God.
When I discovered Catholic sites and was accepted as a writer, I was thrilled to finally be free to write about my faith without filters. I felt as if I was defending my faith in my territory, surrounded and protected by other Catholic writers.
Protestant vs. Catholic Articles
Sometimes Catholics view other Christians as their adversaries, rather than their separated brethren. Part of this divide is rooted in how we express ourselves. Sometimes we get lazy and slip into Church lingo, writing in a foreign language which other Christians, never mind unbelievers, do not understand. The challenge is to witness to the validity of our Catholic spirituality with a mature love, without ridiculing our Protestant brothers and sisters, using universal terms when possible.
To complicate the difficulty of reaching across the divide, Protestants insist the Bible alone is the inspired Word of God, demanding every spiritual opinion and conclusion be backed by biblical authority. In an attempt to purify the Church during the Reformation, Protestants discarded thousands of years of teaching, wisdom, and revelations. They are closed to Catholic references to tradition in their writing. However, since the definitive books of the Bible were not decided until after 300 AD, Catholics understand the Holy Spirit taught man through tradition, as well as Holy Scripture. Even scripture tells us to uphold tradition:
Therefore, brothers, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught, either by an oral statement or by a letter of ours. (2 Thessalonians 2:15)
I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold fast to the traditions, just as I handed them on to you. (1 Corinthians 11:2)
But these verses quoted arrogantly in arguments based on sophistry only served to strengthen my protestant position before I converted to Catholicism. My heart and mind were only transformed by a combination of Holy Spirit inspired books and the direct intervention of God, not by man’s mental gymnastics.
Protestants and the secular world desperately need to hear the perspective of Catholics on pressing issues, especially on the sanctity of human life. However, most religious authors write in a small niche, read mainly by fellow Catholics and perhaps a few other critics we would secretly love to block. However, it is Lent, a time to repent, to make a 180-degree turnaround and to start writing in sync with our Lord Jesus Christ. It is time to fulfill our Divine Mandate with joy.