This is surely Francis' best-known quote... and I'm afraid it's almost always quoted out of context. Usually when I hear somebody quote these words, you would like Francis rarely preached with words, or that we regular laypeople should discourage preaching with words in favor of living Christian lives and letting people "figure out" we're Christians by our example. (yeah... right) On the Catholic Exchange podcast from January 16th I heard this guy named Dr. Marcellino D'Ambrosio and I believe this hits the nail on the head:
"If you weren't supposed to preach the Gospel except when necessary by words, he thought it was necessary a lot because he trained his guys to preach; and they preached on the street corner, they preached in churches. He was a deacon, so he preached in churches. The importance of that saying is it's not a cop-out from sharing the Gospel with words. It's don't share the Gospel with words without realizing that your actions can really contradict those words and undermine them."
I think the popular temptation these days is to downplay using words because we don't want to be "preachy," but I think we are trying too hard if that happens. Just offering to pray for someone when they're going through a rough time can speak volumes and doesn't require a knowledge of theology or a course on "six steps to effective evangelization." It helps to know that we're all on the same journey, whether you happen to be in church, unchurched, ex-church, overchurched, dechurched, churchaholic, tired, bored, excited, or curious.
One of the many ironies of Christianity is that we cannot become perfect in God's eyes without revealing all our imperfections to other people. Yes, every last imperfection, for whatever little thing we consciously hold back gives praise to Satan rather than Christ. A lot of Christians (myself included) continue putting up that old shell and never let anyone see who they really are. That's a dark, ugly place. We know that dark, ugly place exists inside every person. We know the world is groaning for salvation from that dark, ugly place. But we conceal it, so that the world looks at Christians and sees a bunch of hypocrites: they're sins are obvious, yet they claim to be perfect in Christ. What kind of salvation is that supposed to be?
So there are two options for the Christian: deceive ourselves by continuing to live inside our shell or become transparent and let Christ deal with our imperfections.