Summary: How should we prepare to preach, either to ourselves or to a group?

Thursday of 18th week in course 2015

Joy of the Gospel

We have for a whole year been considering the Holy Father’s first “solo” encyclical, The Joy of the Gospel. From it, we have gleaned Pope Francis’s understanding of the new evangelization, or at least some of that understanding. Today’s passage is directed at how to write a homily, and since you don’t give homilies, we might be tempted to skip over it. But everyone who is serious about the Gospel of Christ writes and gives homilies and sermons. We do it for ourselves, after we read Scripture, and sometimes for our families. We share insights and blessings we may have gotten from our contemplation of the Gospel. So let’s look at his “homiletic method” and learn at least how to preach to ourselves the authentic Gospel of Joy.

It’s a perfect day to begin–the Feast of the Transfiguration. Jesus had a habit of going up to the tops of hills and mountains in Galilee and Judea. He would spend long nights in prayer–maybe that’s why we find him asleep in the back of fishing boats during storms! He wanted to bring all men to the embrace of the Father, so He would frequently take the time to enjoy the embrace of the Father Himself. I don’t think this mountaintop transfiguration was unique to this occasion on Tabor. I believe it was the common experience of Jesus, and Peter, James and John were privileged on this one occasion to be witnesses. They were embraced in a new way by Jesus and the Father. If we are to communicate the love of God to others, we must first experience that love ourselves, as Jesus did.

In passing, I must add that St. Luke’s Gospel tells us what Jesus and Moses and Elijah were talking about–His Passover, His suffering for our salvation. Our Father’s embrace is sometimes for the purpose of helping us in trial, in sickness, even in failure. It’s all part of His plan and His love.

So we prepare our homilies, whether for ourselves or our classes or our congregation. The Pope writes: ‘The first step, after calling upon the Holy Spirit in prayer, is to give our entire attention to the biblical text, which needs to be the basis of our preaching. Whenever we stop and attempt to understand the message of a particular text, we are practicing “reverence for the truth.” This is the humility of heart which recognizes that the word is always beyond us, that “we are neither its masters or owners, but its guardians, heralds and servants”. This attitude of humble and awe-filled veneration of the word is expressed by taking the time to study it with the greatest care and a holy fear lest we distort it. To interpret a biblical text, we need to be patient, to put aside all other concerns, and to give it our time, interest and undivided attention. We must leave aside any other pressing concerns and create an environment of serene concentration. It is useless to attempt to read a biblical text if all we are looking for are quick, easy and immediate results. Preparation for preaching requires love. We only devote periods of quiet time to the things or the people whom we love; and here we are speaking of the God whom we love, a God who wishes to speak to us. Because of this love, we can take as much time as we need, like every true disciple: “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening” (1 Sam 3:9).

‘We need to be sure that we understand the meaning of the words we read. I want to insist here on something which may seem obvious, but which is not always taken into account: the biblical text which we study is two or three thousand years old; its language is very different from that which we speak today. Even if we think we understand the words translated into our own language, this does not mean that we correctly understand what the sacred author wished to say. The different tools provided by literary analysis are well known: attention to words which are repeated or emphasized, recognition of the structure and specific movement of a text, consideration of the role played by the different characters, and so forth. But our own aim is not to understand every little detail of a text; our most important goal is to discover its principal message, the message which gives structure and unity to the text. If the preacher does not make this effort, his preaching will quite likely have neither unity nor order; what he has to say will be a mere accumulation of various disjointed ideas incapable of inspiring others. The central message is what the author primarily wanted to communicate; this calls for recognizing not only the author’s ideas but the effect which he wanted to produce.’

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