Last March, on the Feast Day of Sts. Cyril and Mythodius, Pope Francis said at his daily Mass homily that we must preach the gospel with courage, prayer and humility.
The Word of God, he said, cannot be given as a proposal or suggestion. Rather, it must be a proclamation. Only when it is proclaimed “with this frankness, with this courage, is (it) capable of forming the people of God.”
The word “courage” jumped out at me, because it had come upon my horizon in a bold way just a few days before the pope’s Feb. 14 homily.
An old friend with whom I’ve kept in touch through Christmas letters but little else had reached out to me after years of quiet. To my surprise, she said she’d been keeping up with my writings, and they’d given her courage, “especially in these divisive times.”
“You have been my anchor, my dear, sweet, old friend,” she said. “You are so brave to embrace your views and not only speak about them but live them every day. I am so proud of you and so humbled by your courage!”
We arranged to talk by phone a couple days later, and in that conversation, she updated me on what she’s been experiencing in her corner of the world, the state of Washington, in recent months.
My friend is not Catholic, and I honestly had no idea where she was at spiritually. We met many years ago, while living in the Pacific Northwest, through a music group. We both loved to sing.
She also introduced me to motherhood, and was one of the first to show me the ropes as we welcomed our first child into the world.
But we had not talked in a long time, so learning she was struggling against the culture like many of us, and not swimming with it, brought a surge of joy to my heart.
It was especially sweet since the week prior, another dear, longtime friend had chosen to part ways due to our political differences. I saw my Washington friend’s re-emergence as God’s consolation to the sting of that loss.
“I have to be honest,” my Washington friend admitted, “when I first read about how you were praying at the abortion facility, I was surprised. I can only imagine how hard that might be. But more and more, I’ve seen how brave it is. And I’ve needed that example in my own life. It has made me want to be braver, too. Please pray for me.”
Through the course of our conversations, I shared with her how long it had taken me to get to the sidewalk – years really. It wasn’t something I jumped at right away. I dreaded it at first, and still do almost every Wednesday.
But the more time I have spent time there, the more important the mission has become.
Personally, as a writer, I have come to see how in these days of what I’ll call the War on Words, it’s clear that no matter how polished my essays, they’re limited in light of the clanging culture.
More than any book I might write, or column I might conceive, I’m finding my living witness, showing the face of Christ in person, may have the most effect of all.
As a writer, that’s a humbling revelation, and yet also inspiring. I can talk until I’m blue in the face, but until I show it, the world may never really notice.
If you think about it, Jesus worked this way, too. Sure, he said some incredibly poignant things. But when I think of Jesus’ impact, so much of it really comes in what he did in his 33 years of life. The same could be said of his rather quiet parents. Actions then, as now, speak even louder than his words, and we, as his followers, can learn from this.
Of course, his final act, in which few words came, is the most powerful statement of all.
In a world in which my words undoubtedly will be drowned out by other, louder ones – or at the very least, severely misunderstood – what do I have left? More and more, my prayers and presence on the sidewalk have seemed more impactful than anything I might utter.
I hope you will consider joining me, on the sidewalk or through fervent prayer. It’s as good a time as any to start.
[Note: I write about my experiences on the sidewalk Downtown Fargo on Wednesday, the day abortions happen at our state’s only abortion facility, for New Earth magazine — the official news publication of the Fargo Diocese. I hope you find “Sidewalk Stories” helpful in understanding the truth about abortion and how it plays out tragically each week here in Fargo, N.D. The preceding ran in New Earth’s March 2017 issue.]