Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Advertising Christ

My wife, in her life before marriage and motherhood, studied advertising. I remember having conversations with her about it when we were dating, and she would tell me that an advertisement could be memorable, but if you didn’t remember who the advertisement was promoting, it had fundamentally failed in its purpose.

Some fifteen or more years later, I was listening to the radio in an all-too-typical bad mood when an extremely annoying ad came on the air. This was the type of ad that got Billy Crystal’s character in trouble in the movie City Slickers. I turned to my wife and snarled, “That ad makes me not want to shop at Meijer!”

In the interest of full disclosure, I have nothing against Meijer. I think their Thanksgiving ad in which a woman calls the doctor because of something her husband ate (and then runs through a long, long list) is quite clever. We don’t normally shop at Meijer because the nearest one (as far as I know) is in Troy, about 40 miles away.

My point is that name recognition in advertising can work both ways. An annoying ad or a bad experience can drive us away from an enterprise just as surely, or maybe even more so, than a good ad or a pleasant experience.

Are we aware that we are walking, talking advertisements for Christ and his Church? The popular anecdote about St. Francis of Assisi is that he preached the gospel, and when necessary, he used words. One of the biggest impediments to people accepting Catholicism is the apparent contradiction between what the Church teaches and how the members of the Church live their lives. I am as guilty of that as anybody, and on a personal level I find it deeply frustrating.

One of the things that I pray regularly is that I might not be a source of scandal – an obstacle to another person’s faith. Because whatever good things we might say with our lips, it only takes one moment of weakness for another to look at our bad behavior and say, “He makes me not want to be Catholic!”

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