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Sunday, November 3, 2013

What Do People Need to Hear?

A good friend, has posted on his blog a statement/question:  Where Catholic Preaching Needs to Go....?  This is one among many things close to my heart.  Preaching - Homilies - Sermons.  So when I saw this, I thought I would propose my own somewhat rambling thoughts on the subject.  First, I am just a "pew-sitter." I have little training or education in theology, slightly more than a little education in writing and literature, but lots of experience in listening to homilies.  I will seek out homilies to read and hear.  Most of the time I am disappointed.  My friend, Father Philip N. Powell, OP, produces consistently good to excellent homilies, as do Msgr. Charles Pope and Fr. Lawrence Lew, OP.  But in general, most other homilies I read or hear are hit or miss. 

Maybe I'm doing something wrong?  So I searched for what I should be looking for in a homily, and came across this excellent piece by Fr. Peter John Cameron, OP.  He lists seven points for listeners who want to know "How to Listen to a Homily."  I think it is also a good thing to read for those who want to know "How to Write a Homily."  I won't rehash what he writes, but if you have the time, go over and read what he has written.  I think it will be well worth your time.

But what do I find so disappointing?  So often I find only a facsimile of the faith - I want good, strong, genuine Catholicism, and instead hear "Catholic-light", or "I'm OK, you're OK".  Let's all get together, get along, and have a wonderful group hug around this table where we have a weekly community together-meal, with this Jesus-guy who loves us all and isn't going to really judge us but only love us just as we are no matter what we are doing....  Yippee! 

Msgr. Pope wrote an article about the differences between men and women, here.  He posits that men seek to be challenged and women are more comfortable being consoled.  I always knew I was a little different, because I seek to be challenged.  I'll hear one of those pop-psychology sermons and want to scream:  But you didn't SAY anything!!!  While I hear other women gushing:  Oh, what a wonderful sermon!  Really?  What did you put in your coffee this morning?!?  This is probably the reason that the faith formation group I facilitate is primarily populated by men.  Recent, and recurring topics, like "Hell", "Purgatory", "Fear of God", "Pride" may not cater to the female sensibilities.  Two weeks ago I ended our final prayer with "Repent!  And believe in the Gospel!", and last week "Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner!"  We don't hear this during the homily, so my inner-Baptist-preacher comes out on Monday nights and I get all-fired up and teach what needs to be taught. 

What is that exactly?  What do I, sitting here in the pew, want and need to hear?  And what do I think my fellow pew-sitters need to hear? 

"Abandon your wickedness and believe in the Lord!!" 

Well, OK, maybe not that strong, but that's the general idea.  So many people don't seem to know Who Jesus is.  The 60's/70's hippy Jesus seems to be the general consensus around here.  Peace, love, acceptance, tolerance....  But really, Who Is He?  Why should He matter to me, now in 2013?  What is meant by a "living God?"  Is Jesus really present, here, now?  What kind of relationship should I strive for?  What kind of relationship should I expect?  A personal relationship?  What does that really mean?  A Sacramental relationship?  And what does this relationship with Jesus have to do with my relationship with the Church? 

I see a problem of belief.  Jesus, to me, is....  There is this idea that whatever or whomever I feel Jesus is for me is who Jesus is.  There is little emphasis on the Jesus of Scripture.  This Jesus, who is fully human AND fully divine.  I think in so many ways, priests and others involved in teaching the faithful need to back up, full-stop, and ask:  Who is Jesus?  Why should I believe in Him?  As a preacher and teacher, you need to be sure of your own relationship - for you can't preach what you don't have or what you don't believe.  Your preaching will come from your relationship, your prayer, your study, your meditation.  Be clear in your own mind and heart, and that will shine forth in your homilies. 

Be clear in definitions of commonly used but misunderstood words:  Love is a prime example.  God loves me, so I can do whatever I want, and He will still love me.  Well, OK, sure, sort of - but why does it always have to be about me?  And what is Love, as in the theological virtue, which is called "charity"?  If we define charity as "love of God", how does that change our perception of "love?"  Maybe it doesn't, but I think it probably will.  Yes, God loves us, but what does that mean???  And how should that affect the way we live, our relationship with Him and with those around us, our relationship with the Church? 

Seriously discuss and explain the Incarnation.  Ho-hum.  God became man.  Nothing special there.  WHAT?!?  This is what I hear - well, OK, not in those words, but it is how people live, as if it really doesn't mean anything. 

Mystery - expound on mystery, on its beauty, and its difficulty, and its necessity. 

Ask hard questions.  Challenge.  Provoke (within reason, of course!).  Speak of current events and how our faith should inform the decisions we must make in our everyday lives.  Know what your people are hearing and seeing and experiencing in their daily lives, and allow the Gospel to address those issues.  Be brave!  Ask hard questions of your congregation - acknowledge that they are hard questions.  Ask these same questions of yourself, and be honest with your answers.  Fr. Martin Fox, in his homily for this weekend, asked this question: 

"If Jesus came to your house today, would he challenge you on anything?"
Wow!  Did I want to be asked that?  Do I really want to think about that?  But I can answer that question honestly and truthfully ONLY if I have an understanding of who Jesus is and what my relationship to Him is.
I don't really like the expression "meet the people where they are," but it seems appropriate for those who set about preaching.  Start at the beginning.  Jesus.  Begin here - not the wishywashy Jesus, but introduce people to the Jesus of the Gospels.  If your relationship with Him is strong and solid, it will come out in your homilies.  If you know Him, it will come out in your homilies.  So, sure meet people where they are and meet them where you are ... but don't stay there!  Move together toward the Lord, toward the perfection for which He created you.  Each step you take should be closer and closer to Him, so you may hear Him and understand that He wants to, both for priests and laity alike, "make you worthy of your calling...." (2 Thes 1:22)