This op-ed, as evidenced by its title, is obviously of crucial importance. You can be certain of my strong (and correct) opinion because of the seriousness of the words I used in the title. And also alliteration—alliteration always makes something intrinsically more important. The only thing that could make my title (and consequently my argument) stronger would be to use a rhyme. Perhaps I should have gone with the title, "The Crass Malaise of the Catholic Catchphrase" to make it really roll off the tongue as seemingly substantial, while in truth only carrying a vague illusion of importance.
What have I just said? To be fair, I am not even sure what to make of my own first paragraph, but it sounds good, does it not? Furthermore I am a writer, and therefore you should trust my conclusions. I promise I do have a point, please read on.
I am not mocking the need to create intriguing and provocative titles for articles, news stories, or blog posts. As a writer I know the importance of a strong title. I also know well the self-satisfaction of leaning back in my chair and patting myself on the back for my impressive wit and creativity upon crafting an excellent title and pithy introduction.
I am beginning my fourth paragraph and I have yet to really say anything. What I have written sounds good, and may have even made you chuckle (Okay, I'm very witty and you have definitely LOL'ed, or at least laughed out loud in your mind to yourself [LOLIYMTY], if that's possible, but I digress). The lack of substance I have heretofore provided is precisely the point I want to make.
Using a catchy title, relying on pithy statements, and assuring you (dear reader) of my authority to speak on the subject, has provided you the appearance of an argument and a conclusion. However, I have not yet made an actual argument to defend my title (which is also conveniently my conclusion). My whole argument is summed up in the introduction and conclusion that there is a "Damning Deficit of Catchphrase Catholicism." But without actually making an argument, how convincing is the statement. It sounds nice, but means nothing. Too often we end our arguments in this way. We encounter people on the street, in a bar, at a party, or anywhere else, and we engage them with pithy, but ultimately empty statements.
If we try to evangelize by saying the Church is beautiful and beauty will save the world, but we do not elaborate on what beauty is and why it is necessary, then we really haven't said anything. When we talk about people's wounds, but we don't actually talk about what has wounded people, we do the same. When we praise or dismiss something as the "Francis Effect" we are not really talking about the movement of the Church during Pope Francis’ papacy in any substantial way. And please don't get me started on "modest is hottest." Evangelization through catch phrases doesn't convince anyone. Plus, preaching to the choir in pithy statements only understood by the choir is like joining a birthday party and eating only the frosting off the cake: We enjoy it in the moment, but it leaves our stomachs lacking and aching for more substance.
The catchphrases we use as Catholics are not inherently good or bad. I find them to have a hierarchy from better to worse; from poignant and effective to convoluted and confusing. While they may not be bad per se, I will claim that to rely on them alone to try to spread the Gospel or to use them to medicate our own doubts, fears, or uncertainties is not a good practice.
My argument can be summed up in this way:
1) Our God is indescribable, yet he has revealed himself to us.
2) His Church, mysteriously the Body of Christ, is equally mysterious and revealed through revelation.
3) While we can speak to the truths of God and his Church, anything we say will inevitably fall short.
4) Because our words will fall short, we should strive to be as accurate and descriptive as possible when we speak.
5) Because our words will fall short, we should strive to make our lives a living witness.
6) Catchy phrases and pithy statements can help aid memory and point to precise arguments.
7) Used alone, the catchphrase begins to lose the weight of the argument that backs it.
8) Prayer, and pondering the mysteries of our faith and life, fills our souls to the point of speaking with weight behind our words. The Dominicans are called the Order of Preachers; they prioritize prayer and meditation so that their prayer and meditation can overflow into and inform their preaching.
9) Often our actions and our presence when we encounter someone speak much deeper and more profoundly than our words could.
There is a deficit in our evangelization and in our own faith ponderings when we rely on catchphrases. The catchphrases themselves are often true, but if we do not carry a deeper pondering and understanding with them, they are of little substantive value to us or to whoever hears them. We need time to ponder ideas of mystery and we need time to encounter people. If we are in too great a hurry, our message lacking any more than a surface level will fall into the vast bin of the world’s ideas. There, the message of the Gospel, demoted to merely an unsubstantive "perspective" or “idea,” will stew with the two minute videos from Buzzfeed, Vox, NowThis, ViralThread, et al. Our message will be consumed easily, and dismissed and forgotten just as easily. This is the damning deficit of catchphrase Catholicism.
So my challenge to all of us is to read, pray, ponder, and sit in silence. Then we can go out, and like the Dominicans, let our prayer and meditation inform our preaching and our living. Having spent time in prayer encountering truth eternal, we will be ready to give a reason for the hope that is within is. The reason for our hope is not a convenient catchphrase. Instead, our hope is in the Lord, the eternal word, God who became man and payed our debt to sin, our savior, and our love!