Catholics, be awesome at what you do. I had a few experiences that bring a sense of urgency to this message, this stern ordinate to not suck. First was a column I read in a Catholic newspaper. The newspaper was a decent publication, I suppose, decent enough to still be in circulation in a time when so few read newspapers, so I was shocked (heehee, and appalled) to read the opening paragraph to this column which, for all practical purposes, was ridiculous. I can’t find the newspaper, so I can’t claim any direct quotes until I do, but it’s structure has been burned deep and painfully into my memory. It went:
Everyone is afraid of something. Whether it be dogs, airplanes, or whatever, these things can be scary. Some things scare us more than others…
And so it continued. I’ll let the depth of that sink in. Am I saying you have to be a good writer to write? No! Am I saying that God is only appreciative of well-written work? No! Am I saying that if you are writing for a Catholic publication you should realize that you are, in a very real sense, an ambassador for the Church, and that as such it your duty to excel in your craft, to make it the best that it can be so that the truth and beauty of Church’s teaching will be revealed through it, not hindered by it? Yes.
Then, and I believe this was the same day, or perhaps a day later, I was making fun of televangelists and “salvation infomercials” with my friends. (This is actually a glorious pastime. Get some at least slightly smug Catholics together, find an informercial, get a few snacks, and start loudly explaining the concept that “faith without works is dead” to your television. Hm, I have in mind a new Catholic drinking game – you take a shot whenever blatant heresy is proclaimed. “All you need to do is call now, receive the salvation prayer, and you WILL BE SAVED!” “Again? We’re gonna need more whiskey…”) Somewhere in the midst of this joy, we stumbled upon a Christian music station, but we didn’t understand that it was a Christian music station for a while. This was because the program consisted of prolonged “beauty shots”, which amounted to handheld pans of frankly uninspiring palm trees, and appearing and disappearing ’Hallmark’ bible verses, which clearly got their animation from Microsoft Powerpoint, all set to Casting Crowns. And the thought suddenly struck me, as we guessed where exactly amidst the palm trees the next bible verse would materialize, and whether or not it would be John 3:16, that I could very well be an unbeliever who had flicked through to this station. And if, as a practicing Catholic, it was difficult to see the beautiful message of the gospel through the palm trees, how much more difficult would it be for them?
Am I saying that you have to be good at filmmaking to film? No! Am I saying that there is no one out there who might be touched by this? No. Am I saying that if you are a ministry with the potential to reach tens of thousands of people across the world, you have the duty to hone and learn your craft to so that it reveals the truth and beauty of the Gospel message, and does not obscure it? Yes.
There’s a notion in ministry and spiritual work, and it goes something like this: “I’m just going to do whatever, and God will do with it what he wants.” To some extent it’s true, and I’ve heard it defended by by the verse in the Bible ”do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.” The work of our hands just ain’t much in the end, and if our movie, our band, our blog, our ministry, our writing, if any of these manage to have any effect on the world, all thanks is due to God. But to the larger extent, it’s a stupid notion.
God gave us our intellect, our rationality. God gave us our skills and talents, our gifts and abilities. To make a crappy piece of writing and say “God will work with it!” makes no sense, for our God works with it from the outset! He works with it by the very fact that our talent comes from Him! As a Christian, not bothering to learn and excel at your craft is to not invite God into it. To make banal music, flabby columns and church programs led by people “who don’t really get it, but have loving hearts” is dumb. That verse, Mark 13:11, actually says “Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say…” That’s a serious qualifier. So unless the talk you’re giving to your youth group is being held in federal court, or to a group of violent anti-Catholics, it should be prepared, and it should be fantastic.
That’s the real thing: The things we do should be fantastic. We’re not just anyone, we’re Catholics! What we do reflects our Church, and our Church is the only sane thing left in the world! Strive for excellence then, glorify God by using every drop of talent He’s given you, because I do believe that – now more than ever – our Church needs to reaffirm that we have brought the world the best literature, art, architecture, music and life it has. And that we still do.
I need this advice as much as anyone, to resist the urge – when I’m tired and lazy – to just say, “God will do whatever he wants with this post!” Please, everyone, go over your ministries, your music, your blog, your website, your art, whatever it is that you do for the Church, and make it awesome. I know you can. Because if our Church really is as great as we say it is, then our attempts to convey that, if they are authentic, will be great too.