“For we don’t proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.” (2 Cor. 4:5-7)
Transparency is perhaps one of the most appealing qualities in a writer today, perhaps because ours is an age when respected experts in institutions of every kind have gravely disappointed the trust that people placed in them (media outlets, financial institutions, the government, the Church). Transparency is such an essential quality for communication that it becomes our credibility. Saint Paul gives us a lot to think about in the few words of this passage.
I never noticed before that this famous passage about clay vessels is connected to one of Paul’s most succinct explanation of evangelization (“we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord”), and perhaps Paul does it on purpose. The image of earthen vessels is a humble image, and it is humility that keeps us from blocking Christ’s shining light. Personally, I find it’s my own ego that compromises my integrity: whether expressed through fear, stubbornness, or selfishness.
When I find myself overly concerned about the reception of an article or manuscript, my writing becomes overly safe, derivative, and boring. After a while, I usually stop writing altogether. Allowing my concerns to overtake those of the story and audience prevents me from communicating effectively.
Lack of transparency in communication tears down our communion with each other. While seeking transparent communication is challenging, it has the potential to build a circle of communion that has both breadth and depth. Paul gives us the key to being faithful communicators: transparency is built on a foundation of humility. Humility enables us to recognize that we are to serve the story we are telling, not ourselves or our own needs. Our message is to take center stage. We become simply servants of the story, so that ultimately, we can serve the audience.
A Giving of Self in Love
As servants of the story, we make an essential contribution. Writing (or any other creative endeavor) is hard work, and how we choose to tell the story is the gift we make to our receivers. If we seek to communicate the truth in a way that others can easily assimilate, then we have to go deep within ourselves, to find creative ways to engage with others, to articulate the truth in a way that is both accessible and appealing. Christ’s communication always put His listeners first, and this kind of ego-less attentiveness to others is true charity.
While we are the “instrument” telling the story, we must be careful to make sure that we ourselves don’t become the story. If we become part of the story—for example, writing in a flamboyant way that distracts attention away from the story, or imposing our own opinion so self-righteously that there is no respect for the audience—then we do the story and our readers/listeners/viewers a disservice. We are no longer able to serve our receivers in the same way.
As communicators, we seek to serve the story and those with whom we are communicating. As communicators for Christ, we serve the Quintessential Story, aware that we are merely the instrument or vessel—and an earthen vessel at that.
Aware of our earthenness and frailty, we stay more easily connected with our own humanity, and thus can more easily connect on a fundamental human level with others. Communication rooted in “the real,” springs from our genuine experiences. The goodness—and fragility—of our being shines through our communication and gives our words and creativity another level of authenticity.
“Communication is more than the expression of ideas and the indication of emotion. At its most profound level it is the giving of self in love” (Comunio et Progressio,#11—Vatican II’s great document on communication). Great communication requires a great story well-told, a love for and knowledge of our audience, and a willingness to share ourselves deeply with others. This genuine communication—a true giving of self in love—is also a true imitation of Christ.