We live in an era when it is easier than ever to self-promote, due in large part to immediate forms of communication like Facebook and Twitter. Without even realizing it, some people have gotten into the habit of advertising almost everything that they do, including their good works. What is a Christian to do? On the one hand, we want to witness to the world that we are “practicing what we preach,” namely, carrying out Jesus’ commands to serve the needy and defend the vulnerable. After all, if we do not tell people about how we are living out our faith, how will they know? And what about encouraging other people (by our example) to go and serve in their own capacity?
On the other hand, we know that Jesus has instructed us to serve in secret: But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing (Matthew 6:3). It seems that Jesus is warning us not only against advertising our good works to others, but even against remembering these works ourselves. We are called to serve to the best of our ability, but to do so with ultimate humility. Is there a middle ground here?
Here are some thoughts from my parish priest on the topic:
“I almost laughed out loud recently when reading through the comments section on an item on the internet. The writer criticized the Catholic Church for “not preaching what they practice.” Yes, you read that correctly, “not preaching what they practice!” Here is the real funny part – it was in response to the ways that the Catholic Church serves those in need! The writer was criticizing the Church for not speaking up more about all of the things we do for the poor, needy and suffering. The result being that because we don’t brag too much and blow our own trumpet at all of the things we do, then we must not be doing much. Wow! Guilty as charged. It is not that we don’t serve those in need, we just do not go around telling everything that we do. In truth, the Catholic Church is guilty of this failure. In fact, we are not just guilty, we are grossly negligent and pitifully poor at proclaiming all the “good things” we do. The reason being of course is not that we don’t have a very good PR firm, but that pride, hubris and such bragging is wrong and sinful. Secondly, it is not about us, it is about God working through us. The Church is not a social welfare agency. We are not merely a bunch of “do good” humanitarians or socially conscious philanthropists. We are disciples of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Our works of charity are part of our love and worship of the true God. We serve our sisters and brothers in need, not just because they need our assistance, but out of our love for them and our love of God. We believe that we cannot truly love God without loving and caring for our neighbor.”
I must say that I agree with my parish priest on this topic. I also believe that there is a difference between bragging about the good works that we do, and sharing our experiences appropriately for the purpose of encouraging others to live lives of service themselves. For example, I think that there is great value in talking to our children about the service that we do, and using these conversations as teaching moments about gratitude, humility, and generosity. We may also feel that it is appropriate to invite others to serve alongside us in a particular ministry, and this would involve sharing our own experiences for the purpose of informing and inspiring others. I also think that a parish can and should share with its parishioners about the works of mercy (both corporal and spiritual) that it participates in. Our parish publishes all of this information, and I think that everyone appreciates this transparency. As our parish priest said, “While we have our Social Services Ministries here at [our parish], all of our parish ministries and organizations share in the mission of serving those in need…Our whole parish is dedicated to sharing the love of God.” In other words, serving God and His people is not merely the task of the Social Ministries department at our church, but rather it is a calling for all of us as baptized Catholics!
What are your thoughts on this subject?
May God bless you and your family this week. Mary, Queen of Saints, pray for us!