The new puppy in our house was driving me crazy! I mean, I love her when shes cute and cuddly. Its fun when she leaps on my bed in the morning to lick my nose. But, how do I stop her from leaping all over everybody who comes into the house? And, how do I teach her that there are certain things she must do outside, not inside?
Im a little out of practice I havent had a dog around in years. I bought a book. I bought another. I tried to follow the instructions about how to teach her what to do. Nothing! No results at all! Dumb dog? Or dumb me?
A friend of mine who is a dog trainer came to give the puppy some lessons. They were really lessons for both of us. In fact, they were mostly lessons for me! He had to teach me how to teach the dog.
It was like magic. Somehow, he told her what to do and in just a few minutes she was doing it! He really knew how to communicate with her in a way she could understand.
It took him longer to tell me what to do. Besides needing more time, he certainly needed more words!
What Ive learned from my puppy is this: If I think Im telling her what to do and she doesnt do it, then its probably not her fault its probably mine for not knowing how to communicate effectively with her.
I guess we all do similar things far more often than we realize. We think were explaining something very clearly or telling someone what to do, and were disappointed when they dont seem to understand or seem not to follow our instructions.
That dog trainer and my puppy may be helping me to become a better priest too. If Im trying to teach or preach the word of God and it doesnt seem to come across well, maybe thats not the fault of my listeners or a lack of Gods grace. I may just be speaking a language they dont understand.
The Church is spread through many lands and many peoples. The one message has to be articulated and uttered in a thousand different ways. The gestures and the words, the ceremonies and the traditions that speak movingly to one people may mean little to another.
A message that touches the hearts and will of one generation may hardly be noticed by the next.
Whats the use of eloquence of words and elegance of traditions if theyre not intelligible to the people who hear and experience them?
Is there something wrong nowadays? Is something lacking in this generation? Is there less generosity, less concern, less faith, less care and less love than there used to be? Why dont they understand? Maybe I should lend you my puppy to help you out. Shed challenge you to learn to speak in a way that could be understood.
I bet St. Paul would have gotten along well with her. He knew all about effective communication. His motto was: I have become all things to all.
Msgr. Robert L. Stern, Secretary General of CNEWA