I first became aware of the need for renewed translations of the faith when I began teaching religion in a Catholic high school in 2002. I was pretty naive. I had been ordained three years, serving in a pretty sheltered and loving parish. I was still in earnest seminarian mode, luxuriating in the fruits of the robust intellectual life I had so cultivated and delighted in during my years of theological study. All of this changed when I crashed head-on into the crude realities of early 2000s teenage culture.
Don’t get me wrong. The kids were great and I really loved them. But this was a new generation, a different world. Alongside the usual human goodness and fun youthful energy, this world had its dark side – a world of eating disorders, depression, cutting, sex and internet porn, binge drinking, drugs, and all the rest. I quickly learned that the truths I so cherished meant little to my young flock; at least not in the way I had learned them and was accustomed to expressing them.
I realized that if I was to be effective and bear fruit, I would have to adapt. Quickly. Charity demanded the hard work of translating the message into language that reached their hearts. How to change the style, while keeping the substance? This was the tension, this was the challenge. It was not easy... but I sure learned a lot.
“We need a new language, a new way of saying things,” says Pope Francis. Yes! He has certainly been leading the way here. Under his example, I offer four strategies for more effective gospel communication. I’ll call them the “Four A’s:”
Creatively employing Analogy, Actions, Authority, and Art, let’s ask the Holy Spirit to make us master translators, as He did to the Apostles at Pentecost, so the life-saving message of the gospel bears fruit, profits souls, and advances the Kingdom. In this way, we can keep the gospel from being lost in translation while becoming the saints capable renewing the language and singing a new song.