This particular quote is usually attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, founder of the Franciscan Order. (Some scholars insist he never said it. But regardless of its origin, it's thought-provoking.) It suggests that proclaiming the gospel by example may be more virtuous than proclaiming it with our voices. But I for one believe this is an unwarranted dichotomy between speech and action. To some, it might even suggest that those who "practice" the gospel are somehow more faithful to the faith than those who preach it.
I believe it's important to do both. Certainly our loving Father in Heaven expects us to live lives of gratitude and service. And his son, our Savior, expects us to exemplify our faith in and allegiance to him by way of observable action. Part of our Christian covenant is to be inconvenienced in the service of a cause bigger than ourselves. That includes no-strings-attached service to others.
As a behavioral scientist might put it: action without passion will not endure, nor will passion without action. People must find meaning in the work they do and the service they render.
We continue to stand amazed at the young missionaries who serve with us. At this stage in their lives, they have many other options: school, employment, marriage, other adventures. But they set it all aside for a season of selfless Christian service. Inconvenience at their own expense. And they love it!
On a related note, I was recently reading about Thomas Jefferson. Our third U.S. president was a fascinating man, a facile practitioner of science, agriculture, mechanics, and architecture. He was equally brilliant in religion, philosophy, and politics. He was conversant in multiple languages. And of course he was the principal author of the Declaration of Independence.
It's in the Declaration that we read one of Jefferson's most memorable lines: "... all men are created equal ... endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights ... among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." Interestingly, as any good history student knows, Jefferson lived a life of contradiction. He wrote that all men are created equal, yet he was a slave owner.
Jefferson's contradictions aside, those lines from the Declaration of Independence have clear linkage to the gospel that we're teaching on our mission. A key part in the Plan of Salvation is the opportunity of mortality. Every person on earth is a literal spiritual child of God. Each was sent to earth for the purpose of making choices. In that sense, all are indeed created equal. Of course there are obvious differences of social, economic and other factors in the mix. But each of us still has the opportunity to make choices. Even under the worst of circumstances, we have choice. In his book Man's Search for Meaning, we read Austrian psychiatrist Viktor Frankl's story of survival in a Nazi concentration camp. How did he do it? In the midst of his horrific surroundings he imagined a future filled with hope.
Of course the attraction of the gospel is that it offers a hoped-filled future. In the meantime, it provides a wonderful recipe for happiness in the here and now.
That good news is worthy of proclamation by both words and action.