Knocking from the Inside

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. We Catholics immediately know this Gospel passage, and we picture Jesus requesting entry into our lives, into our hearts.

This is a wonderful image, especially with Easter on our minds. But Pope Francis has shed a new light on it by turning it around and prompting us to think about it as New Evangelists. Sometimes, he says, Jesus may be knocking from inside and asking to go forth from the Church, from our hearts, into the world through us.

Now that’s an even more compelling image–to be pondered by the Church, by the professional writer, by the Catholic educator, by all Catholics with roles in the public square. We are called to accept the Lord into a close personal relationship, but we are also sent–in the closing words of every Mass. We must go forth to give glory to the Lord through our lives.In a sense, we must be releasing Christ’s love into the world wherever we go.

This is a key mission of the Catholic school and a reason why so many graduates of these schools have gone forth to make excellent contributions, through the values they’ve learned, to the lives of their families, their communities, their Church, and the world. Thus, Catholic schools are a beautiful tool of evangelization, including the New Evangelization to disengaged Catholics.

Likewise, someone entrusted with the mission of communicating to the world as a writer must help send forth the Good News to others through well-chosen words of faith, hope, and charity. Gifted writers are not given the gift so that they might hoard it. Powerful words can be the instruments through which the Lord’s message bursts forth from our hearts and lovingly breaks through the barriers set up by the disengaged and the disheartened.

On this Easter, when the tomb of Jesus is found empty, it’s exciting to think of our Risen Lord using our vocations (in education, in communications, and in many other fields) to become a “doorbuster” to enter hearts and bring hope.

PS — If you like the kind of judo-flip that Pope Francis does with the image of Jesus knocking, you’ll appreciate the eye-opening explanation that ACE’s Father Joe Corpora  gives to the parable of the unjust judge. See the great six-minute video. Remember the parable about the widow pleading ceaselessly to the unjust judge until he gives her what she wants? Father Joe explains that it’s helpful to see ourselves as the unjust judge. As with Jesus knocking, the kingdom of heaven is persistently requesting that we — as individuals and as a world hungry for love, holiness, and justice — pay attention and humbly receive the gifts of grace persistently offered to us, so that we might find true peace.


Why This Blog is Called “Word”

Since the exciting election of Pope Francis, lots of people have been quoting the guidance attributed to St. Francis: Preach always, when necessary use words. By saying this, St. Francis would not have been deeming words unimportant. To the contrary, according to Catholic wisdom, we sometimes fast from things to show how important they are, to show that they should be valued and respected, not wasted or taken for granted.

That point is the perfect segue into my explaining the name of this blog, “Word.” It’s one of my favorite words–a word not to be taken lightly because it represents something properly valued by people, and by the Church in particular. Words have been rich in meaning to me from my grammar school days, instruments of learning and fun, vessels of potential power and influence, the common currency for building relationships and exercising one’s reason and faith.

Thanks to my father, himself a wordsmith, and to my Catholic school teachers, who took words seriously, I wound up building a career (I hope it was also receiving  a vocation), as a writer, trying to demonstrate good stewardship in the world of words. All of this made me want to give this blog the simple title, “Word.”

It’s my privilege to have written a book that is scheduled to be published by the University of Notre Dame, with the title, Words of Life. This phrase draws upon the “Word of Life” mural that has become better known as “Touchdown Jesus.” This is the mural on the front of the Hesburgh Library, whose upcoming 50th anniversary is the motivation of the book. John the Evangelist liked the word “word” and used it to describe Jesus Christ—the utterance of God the Father from all eternity, the truth and wisdom of God, allowing Jesus to say, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”

This helps to make Christ the perfect teacher, and indeed the mural also symbolizes Notre Dame’s embrace of Christ the Teacher. It’s an embrace reflected in the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE), where I’m privileged to be on the communications staff.

“Word” has not lost its power of authority and validation. The Urban Dictionary tells us that the word can be used to say, “I’m telling the truth,” or “That’s the way it is,” or simply “Amen.” It can also mean confirmation or affirmation more generally, as in “Good idea,” or “That’s okay.” This “word” helps to build relationships of trust, and we need words like that. Such words refer to both the mind and heart—to faith and reason, you might say—and so they’re multi-dimensional just as people are. While precision is important in a communicator’s choices of words to convey a message, I’ve always thought that the Catholic Church encourages a dynamic and vibrant vocabulary—not just a legalistic, technical jargon like some institutions—because it likes evocative words.

There are times to unleash the power of words. The Church has made the decision that the Mass, in its new Roman Missal translation, is one place where an abundance of words and their elaborate nature generate a sense of overflowing love and praise and thanksgiving. I anticipate that Pope Francis will help to lead the way in showing people the other side of Church wisdom–seeing the need to leave some room for sparse language, indeed for silence, so that actions can speak louder and listening can take place. As with so many Catholic insights, in this case taken from an insight of the Hebrew Scriptures, to everything there is a season. Sometimes words should gush with excitement, and sometimes they are more authentic and powerful in small quantities. They are one of the key tools of the New Evangelization, and their effectiveness in telling truth and giving life will depend partly on our wise choices about their use.