By Most Rev. Richard W. Smith, Archbishop of Edmonton

Monday, July 25, 2016

Lead By Example

Sharing and discussing faith with friends is a great joy. I learn a lot from them.

The other day, for example, i was speaking with a friend about the Gospel passage that was proclaimed at Mass on Sunday (cf. Luke: 11:1-13). It is the familiar account of Jesus teaching his disciples the “Our Father,” in response to their request that he teach them how to pray. My friend was drawn to that which prompted the disciples to make this request: they saw Jesus at prayer. Observing Jesus at prayer led them to ask how to do it. His example awakened in them the desire to know how to pray correctly.

This underscores the power of example to communicate and influence. It raises the question of our own example that we give to others. Christians are called to “give witness” before others. As Jesus himself taught us in the Sermon on the Mount: “You are the light of the world. …[Let] your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5: 14, 16) This happens most effectively when we demonstrate both by words and deeds that our lives have been touched and transformed by Jesus Christ. Among the most effective ways we can give witness to our faith is by the example of prayer. Because we believe, we pray.

Of course, we must be on guard that we do not give example in order that we be seen, i.e., in order to draw attention to ourselves. Vanity and pride can so easily creep in here. Indeed, Jesus himself warns agains this in the same Sermon: “And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6: 5-6). Going into one’s “room” does not mean here some space in our homes. The Lord is teaching that prayer arises from the secret depths of our hearts, is fully known only by the Father, and is undertaken not in order to be seen by others but so as to give glory to God. Understood this way, it is possible to “go into our rooms” even when we are seen praying “on the street corners”.

What example of prayer is given in the home? Do children see their Dad at prayer? Do the kids see Mum praying? Do they ever witness Mum and Dad praying together? Kids notice everything, of course, and the observation of parents at prayer will surely awaken in the children the desire to do the same and to know how to do it.

What example of prayer is given outside the home? One time I was chatting with another friend, who asked, “Have you noticed that Catholics don’t go out to eat at restaurants any more?” He saw my eyebrows shoot up at that remark, so he explained what he meant. “I go out to eat at restaurants quite often,” he said,” and I never see anyone blessing themselves with the Sign of the Cross before they eat their meal.” Hmmm. Very good point. This is an opportunity to give example, to “let our light shine,” and point by our prayer to the One in whom we believe.

Let’s not hesitate to lead by visible example, especially as regards our prayer, so that our Father in heaven may be glorified.