In Formation

Wednesday, December 4


The heart of the (preaching) matter

John at Disputations chimes in on the what-makes-a-good-homily debate. His concluding remarks are a healthy reminder about the diversity of our parishes. Plus, he seems to get right to the heart of the matter when he says this:

There are a lot of things a homilist can give me: historical information; an anecdote; an insight into the implications of the Gospel reading. But I've found one of the most valuable things he can give me is the sight of a man of faith talking about his faith. Meister Eckhart said that a good preacher is a man on fire with the love of God, and his listeners watch him burn. Exhortation and explanation are necessary, but on any given Sunday they may miss the mark. I may have already heard the anecdote, or the insight may go over my head. But I am always going to be affected by the sight of a man on fire with love.

The non-verbal messages contained in homilies are no doubt as important as the verbal ones. To think otherwise is to assume we are disembodied minds, susceptible most of all to the power of a lock-tight argument or a clear declaration of the truth. Anyone who's tried to argue someone into the faith knows things rarely work out that way.

Preaching moves and changes us by the power of the Spirit. So generally speaking preachers must have experienced the moving and changing power of the Spirit if they hope to preach with power. So, if I don't know the love of God, it'll be hard for me to burn with that love when I preach. In the end, it's just a variation on an ancient theme: preachers can't give what they ain't got.

As I continue my preparations to preach with power, I need to get first things first. I must know and love Christ and do with my preaching what He would do--and that's always to love the people. As some practical helps, I'm realizing that everytime I prepare a homily, in addition to reading and praying over the texts, I'd better ask myself some fundamental questions--about myself and my homily: Got faith? Got hope? Got love? If not, I'd better shut up or start over.

posted by Fr. Steve | 12/04/2002 |

Tuesday, December 3


Preaching the good news

Last week, Amy linked to a Washington Post article on preaching preparation and its changing ways. Then, on Sunday, she asked what her readers thought made a good homily. And there's been no shortage of opinions.

I'm paying attention to what's being said because I know there will be no shortage of opinions of the homilies I will give when (God willing) I start preaching two years hence. I will spend some time thinking about what Amy's readers have said and hope to respond to some of the ideas captured there. For now, though, I'll offer a few observations from what I learned in my homiletics course last quarter.

I learned a lot about how long it takes to prepare a homily, and how humbling it is to be called to proclaim the Good News to the People of God. We learned--both by what we were taught and by our practice writing homilies--that a homilest must dwell with the readings, to listen to them in prayer and contemplation in order to hear what God wants to say to the particular community gathered together in Christ's name.

I learned that the Good News is the point. My professor invited us to "actualize" the readings (the Good News) for the people through our homilies. Our goal, he said, should be to make the Word present and active through our proclamation. Sometimes that might involve telling a story. Sometimes (though not often), it might involve teaching what the texts "mean." The goal, though, must always be to give active voice to the Good News the people of God need to hear today. And, especially when preaching in the context of the Mass, we should always seek to prepare them to give thanks and praise.

My homiletics class last quarter coincided with the end of the Liturgical year, when we read many parables of judgment. Each week as I spent large amounts of time poring and praying over the readings, I sensed that the message I was called to preach was mercy and love. Even when harsh words were part of a parable, I heard the covenant themes of faith, hope, and love. So that's what I preached.

I didn't intend to be "soft" on judgment, though some might say I was. In defense, I'd say I thought I heard Christ's heart speaking through the Gospels, proclaiming what James says when he writes "mercy triumphs over judgment."

As an example, here's the conclusion to my homily from the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (A), the Sunday we read the Parable of the Talents:

Hope trumps fear for us because we know God's mercy, because we've heard the good news. We know that "while we were yet sinners, he died for us."

The words of the parable make us pause, to ask what we've done with the grace of forgiveness, with the message of hope we've heard. Because we have hope, we can say with the Psalmist "blessed are those who fear the Lord, who walk in his ways."

And that's the point. The third servant had the wrong kind of fear. He had the debilitating, incapacitating, self-doubting fear that destroys. And we all know people who suffer from that scourge.

That's why you and I need to preach to those countless third servants in our world. We need to tell them the truth about God's mercy before the last trump sounds. We need to proclaim to them the words of hope that can ease their heavy burdens, that can make them whole.

* * *

I have no doubt as preachers we'll be asked on Judgment Day what we did with the privilege of preaching.

Recall the third servant's words. "Out of fear," he said, "I went off and buried your talent in the ground."

If we preach God's judgment without offering the word of mercy, we may drive our hearers to despair--so far that they, like the third servant, will bury their talents.

Of course. Yes. We are called to preach the truth. But the message of truth is always mercy over judgment. The message of truth is always "be not afraid." The message of truth is always "repent and believe." And we know that people only repent if they know they're already forgiven. The message of truth is always love, the perfect love John tells us casts out fear.

That's the program, men. That's our task. And we should take it up, not out of fear, but because He first loved us. You and I, we've been entrusted with the Gospel. It's a mighty valuable talent. Let's invest it wisely.

posted by Fr. Steve | 12/03/2002 |

Monday, December 2


Noticing a notice

It's strange to me that a link on Catholic Exchange could make me rethink blogging. I stopped blogging (writing and reading) a month ago. I wasn't trying to overcome an e-ddiction or anything; I just had other things that seemed more pressing. Those who've read my blog for a while have noticed that I've taken periodic blogging breaks. To be honest, the breaks have been more the rule than the exception lately. But I have to say I'm not sorry for the breaks. As you all know, blogging takes time--regardless of whether you're the reader or the writer.

Part of my reason for not blogging for a month was that Fall Quarter was chock full of courses and activities and conversations that kept me busy. I posted a few homilies from a course I really enjoyed. But I had trouble finding sufficient time for quality (and quantity) time in prayer and contemplation, so blogging was the expendable item in my schedule.

Today we begin our Winter Quarter. So, with the thought that I might take up blogging again, I checked my blog, read a few entries on others' blogs, and visited sitemeter to see whether anyone was even reading my blog anymore. When I checked, I saw that November 26 saw a huge spike in my hits. After a little investigation, I learned that they were the result of an article by Barbara Nicolosi on Catholic Exchange.

Needless to say, it's nice to be noticed. And it's especially nice to be noticed by someone as talented and smart as Barbara Nicolosi. She's been to our seminary on several occasions, and taught part of the second homiletics course a year ago (I sure hope she does so again next year when I get to take it!).

So vanity (and perhaps a few other things) drove me back to blogging--at least for now. In the next few days, I'll chime in on homilies, silence, and other matters of interest to me from my time In Formation.

posted by Fr. Steve | 12/02/2002 |