Wednesday 26 July 2023

Saying Something to Someone

Jean Guitton, the philosopher, records a conversation he had with the future Cardinal Bevilacqua, a Father of the Brescia Oratory, in which Bevilacqua was trying to define the Oratory and the work of St Philip:

He had no big plans, he had no other passion than his contact with people: in the inns, in the squares, in the markets, in the Roman festivals. He wanted to be with them in their anxieties but also in their rejoicing. In these meetings where everything is put in common, the thought and the song cease to be methodical and solitary. This will be the Oratory, which is different from the Exercise of Saint Ignatius. It was not about dialectics, even about preaching. Philip talked, he sang, he was. He did not preach: it was prayer and dialogue in its purest form. It was fire. It was the unpredictable, the Pentecost of love. It was music itself. I remember then interrupting the father to say to him: “I’m going to give a definition of eloquence which I once read, I don’t know where, but which has helped me a great deal in life. To be eloquent is to say something to someone” — “Oh!” he said, “how befitting Philip.”

To say something to someone… This certainly seems to have been the superabundant ability of St Philip — to be able truly to meet people and to speak to them — to speak to their heart cor ad cor loquitor — of the things of God, and thus inspire them in a most practical manner to embark, or embark again, on the journey towards holiness.

We can very often worry about what we are supposed to say to people when they ask us about God, our Faith, or one of those controversial topics that sets us apart from the thinking of the world at large. We worry we will say the wrong thing, misrepresent the teaching of the Church, or otherwise just make people angry or upset. Thankfully the Good Lord knows all too well our inadequacies and our failings, but remarkably he nonetheless wishes to make use of us, yes of us, to further the work of his love in this world. He reassures us “take no thought how or what to speak: for it shall be given you in that hour what to speak” (Matthew 10:19).

And speak we must. Having been sent out to preach the Good News we cannot very well deprive people of it by never speaking of God, of our Faith, of what really ought to be the love of our life. But to do so with gentleness and yet firmness in the truth, to do so with persuasion and yet compassion, all this requires the grace of God and a good deal of prudence, but so too does it require that we really do speak from a place of charity — for God whom we wish to convey to others, for others whom we wish to bring to him. We must always avoid the temptation to make speaking of our Faith a mere attempt to win an argument or to prove ourselves something to someone. In fact it can never be about ourselves, but in all things, in all our words, in all our encounters with others, ever to be pointing, and leading, to God.

To say something to someone… We have to make that real effort of course to avoid all those bad uses of our faculty to speak: gossip, judging others, putting others down, calumniating others, constant criticism, cursing…and all the other things which can come out of our mouth and make us unclean. There is a saying in Irish “Many’s the person missed the opportunity to say nothing and lost much because of it.” In order to say something, sometimes we have to know when to say nothing. Sometimes the opposite is also true — and God forbid we should ever be silent in the face of evil.

To say something to someone… When we think of the conversations we have had that day as we make our examination of conscience, it is always worth looking at how we speak, what we say, and how we say it. And do we speak of God ever? St Philip teaches us that God would have us say something to those whom he places into our life each day. To speak to their heart, to really say something to someone of the love of God. Every day God gives us the opportunity to do just that, to speak of him, to make him known, to allow his grace and his charity to be experienced by those we meet. And what is the something that this somebody is trying to say to you in this reflection? Speak of God to someone today.