Praying for boldness

In today’s first reading, Acts 4: 23-31, Peter and John, released from detention by the authorities, return to their companions.

In the prayer that follows, they pray that God may enable them “to speak his Word with all boldness.”

This group that had recently cowered in fear asks for boldness. The Greek word, parrhesía, can also mean frankness and openness.

This morning I happen to do a search on the word and found that the French philosopher Michel Foucault wrote on parrhesia in a book called Fearless Speech.

He noted that

parrhesia is a kind of verbal activity where the speaker has a specific relation to truth through frankness, a certain relationship to his own life through danger, a certain type of relation to himself or other people through criticism (self-criticism or criticism of other people), and a specific relation to moral law through freedom and duty. More precisely, parrhesia is a verbal activity in which a speaker expresses his personal relationship to truth, and risks his life because he recognizes truth-telling as a duty to improve or help other people (as well as himself). In parrhesia, the speaker uses his freedom and chooses frankness instead of persuasion, truth instead of falsehood or silence, the risk of death instead of life and security, criticism instead of flattery, and moral duty instead of self-interest and moral apathy.

παρρησία: boldness: speaking the truth, despite the costs.

So often we count the costs in what we say and do. We want to be accepted, to be honored. And so we lack the boldness of concrete speech.

It’s easy to talk about love and justice, without getting concrete. It’s easy to condemn corruption and poverty, without naming names. It’s easy to be on the side of the poor, if we don’t have to change our lives and put our lives at risk.

Solidarity is easy from afar.

So let us today ask God for boldness in speech and in deed, not counting the cost.


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