Jenna McDonald — Grace Is Waiting 

We should never be afraid to say what we think

Voices June 15, 2017

St. Francis of Assisi, seen here in a close up of Bonaventura Berlinghieri’s 1235 work Saint Francis of Assisi and scenes of his life, is credited with saying, "Preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary use words." Jenna McDonald writes that in our modern world, using words has become necessary. (Wikimedia Commons)

There once was a time when certain things went without saying.

You got married once. If you went for Round 2, you certainly weren’t showy about it. It didn’t need to be reinforced verbally because it was the social norm.

Christians have mostly fond memories of those golden years of virtue and hard work. All that remains of that era is a mere vestige of a vague, duty-driven moral compass. Yet, many of us still operate as if everyone knows certain things to be true and worthy of pursuit.

Dr. Jordan Peterson took the country by storm months ago when he publicly decried Bill C-16, a federal bill to protect all self-selected gender identities from harassment.

Peterson, a clinical psychologist and professor at the University of Toronto, had a beef with the proposed legislation, but not for the reasons you would think. His problem with the “gender identity and gender expression” bill was intellectual and philosophical, not moral.

His main concern (among many) was that when a government tells its people what to say and how to say it – referring to individuals with newly created gender pronouns – it not only changes how people speak, but it also tampers with the way they think.

We’ve seen this tactic throughout history.

We’ve seen this tactic throughout history, and it never ends well.

Peterson believes a society-wide fear of plain speaking is growing with every passing day. Each time a new gender term (LGBTQIA and growing) is brought out into daylight there is mandatory widespread acceptance, rather than public discussion.

We don’t dare express any reticence or hesitation in the face of such bold, sweeping changes. The result is concern and critical thinking are regarded increasingly as hate speech, and so they happen less and less.

By not speaking up in times of intense public decision or social change, we have contributed to the dumbing-down of human thought. In a highly educated country like Canada, there should be room for careful, thorough assessment before making such decisions.

Ancient philosophies are still judged by their power to convince and argue a point to its conclusion. Increasingly, however, our thoughts, beliefs and public thinking process is forced to follow a narrative being manufactured by a few individuals in power and supported by a misguided, emotionally driven, attention-starved generation, rather than by reason – quickly becoming an out-dated term.

This is where people of faith have a great responsibility. It’s one thing to tell the truth but it’s a whole other ballgame to tell the truth with love.

Love is more than a tone in the voice. It is a life-long commitment: to listening sincerely, and being honest with oneself, with others, and with God, the author of truth. If we follow a trajectory toward radical relativism and subjectivism, there will be no end to the mental gymnastics and contortions we will be expected to accept quietly.

Spilling out our opinions in online comment sections is one thing, but having a raw and intellectually honest discussion in person, where there is difference of opinion, is rare and potent. Yes, we open ourselves up to criticism, but we also run the possibility of becoming articulate and convicted through practice as well as correction from our critics.

Many Catholics like to refer to a quote attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary use words.” The thing is, St. Francis never actually did say this. The words are nowhere to be found in any of his writings. Even if he had uttered something so uncharacteristically dualistic, he’d probably insist that the “if necessary” part applies to today. As in, right now.

It is perhaps too trite to say that we reap what we sow. If we go along all the time, putting up with things that are not only unreasonable but also unwise and ultimately detrimental, we are not ultimately loving our neighbour.

If we wait until we are safely around the family supper table to exhale and only there finally find the words to counter the nonsense heard at work, we are part of the problem.

It is bound to get messy but Jesus tells us to expect messiness. “In the world you will have trouble, but have courage, I have conquered the world.”

So when you encounter the narrative of the world, take a deep breath, pray to the Holy Spirit who bestows all of heaven’s wisdom, and speak with your baptized heart.

Full version of Bonaventura Berlinghieri’s 1235 work Saint Francis of Assisi and scenes of his life.