Summary: The preacher must know what the needs of the listener are.
Thursday of 21st week in course 2015
Joy of the Gospel
St. Monica day
We who minister to the Church are first of all your fellow servants. The parable Jesus is telling His disciples in this Gospel is first of all directed to those who lead the Church. We know this is true because only the chief steward of a household has authority over the others, and only he would presume to discipline any of them. But the chief steward is not the master; only One is, Jesus Christ, whose return we should anticipate, and we pray for, every day. Our task is to treat our fellow servants–our brothers and sisters–with respect for their dignity as children of God.
What is our duty to you? St. Paul said it well: to “see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith.” We are ministers of the Word of God, and through Word and sacrament we help you understand how to become the best version of yourselves, and give you the spiritual energy needed to actually become that person. It’s a huge responsibility, and it means we must always preach the truth and respectfully serve at Mass and the other sacraments we stand for Christ to give you. We need to give you what you need to be like Jesus and Mary.
The Holy Father echoes this thought: ‘The preacher also needs to keep his ear to the people and to discover what it is that the faithful need to hear. A preacher has to contemplate the word, but he also has to contemplate his people. In this way he learns “of the aspirations, of riches and limitations, of ways of praying, of loving, of looking at life and the world, which distinguish this or that human gathering,” while paying attention “to actual people, to using their language, their signs and symbols, to answering the questions they ask.” He needs to be able to link the message of a biblical text to a human situation, to an experience which cries out for the light of God’s word. This interest has nothing to do with shrewdness or calculation; it is profoundly religious and pastoral. Fundamentally it is a “spiritual sensitivity for reading God’s message in events”, and this is much more than simply finding something interesting to say. What we are looking for is “what the Lord has to say in this or that particular circumstance”. Preparation for preaching thus becomes an exercise in evangelical discernment, wherein we strive to recognize – in the light of the Spirit – “a call which God causes to resound in the historical situation itself. In this situation, and also through it, God calls the believer”
‘In this effort we may need but think of some ordinary human experience such as a joyful reunion, a moment of disappointment, the fear of being alone, compassion at the sufferings of others, uncertainty about the future, concern for a loved one, and so forth. But we need to develop a broad and profound sensitivity to what really affects other people’s lives. Let us also keep in mind that we should never respond to questions that nobody asks. Nor is it fitting to talk about the latest news in order to awaken people’s interest; we have television programs for that. It is possible, however, to start with some fact or story so that God’s word can forcefully resound in its call to conversion, worship, commitment to fraternity and service, and so forth. Yet there will always be some who readily listen to a preacher’s commentaries on current affairs, while not letting themselves be challenged.
‘Some people think they can be good preachers because they know what ought to be said, but they pay no attention to how it should be said, that is, the concrete way of constructing a sermon. They complain when people do not listen to or appreciate them, but perhaps they have never taken the trouble to find the proper way of presenting their message. Let us remember that “the obvious importance of the content of evangelization must not overshadow the importance of its ways and means” Concern for the way we preach is likewise a profoundly spiritual concern. It entails responding to the love of God by putting all our talents and creativity at the service of the mission which he has given us; at the same time, it shows a fine, active love of neighbor by refusing to offer others a product of poor quality. In the Bible, for example, we can find advice on how to prepare a homily so as to best to reach people: “Speak concisely, say much in few words” (Sir 32:8).’
Two things I learned in learning and teaching homiletics: first, keep it under ten minutes. Anything longer than that and we should pass out notebooks and pencils, because it’s a lesson. Second, preach from the heart of the Church. In my case, I find that there are great encyclicals from the Popes that can be quoted verbatim. These are two things that have worked for me and that I share with other preachers.