Summary: If the Church is a mother, the preacher should put on the mind of a mother when preaching.
Thursday of 16th week in course 2015
Joy of the Gospel
God revealed Himself on Sinai in smoke and clouds, thunder and lightning, and by doing so reminded the Hebrews that He is transcendent–entirely different from us. He needed to do that to get their attention, and show them that the way of life He wants for us is higher, stronger, better than that we would choose by our fallen nature. Likewise, Jesus spoke to the common people the truths of God, but He did so in similes and parables. The ways of God, which are the ways we are called to if we are to become the best versions of ourselves, are always just, always pure, always other-centered. Left to our own fallen nature, we tend to cheat, to try to get one-up on the other guy, to take care of ourselves first.
The Holy Father has been writing to preachers in this part of his letter. He understands very well that good preaching has to take human weakness into account, but continue to draw us upwards, mold us into images of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Now he uses a very strong metaphor to get his point across: ‘We said that the people of God, by the constant inner working of the Holy Spirit, is constantly evangelizing itself. What are the implications of this principle for preachers? It reminds us that the Church is a mother, and that she preaches in the same way that a mother speaks to her child, knowing that the child trusts that what she is teaching is for his or her benefit, for children know that they are loved. Moreover, a good mother can recognize everything that God is bringing about in her children, she listens to their concerns and learns from them. The spirit of love which reigns in a family guides both mother and child in their conversations; therein they teach and learn, experience correction and grow in appreciation of what is good. Something similar happens in a homily. The same Spirit who inspired the Gospels and who acts in the Church also inspires the preacher to hear the faith of the God’s people and to find the right way to preach at each Eucharist. Christian preaching thus finds in the heart of people and their culture a source of living water, which helps the preacher to know what must be said and how to say it. Just as all of us like to be spoken to in our mother tongue, so too in the faith we like to be spoken to in our “mother culture,” our native language (cf. 2 Macc 7:21, 27), and our heart is better disposed to listen. This language is a kind of music which inspires encouragement, strength and enthusiasm.
‘This setting, both maternal and ecclesial, in which the dialogue between the Lord and his people takes place, should be encouraged by the closeness of the preacher, the warmth of his tone of voice, the unpretentiousness of his manner of speaking, the joy of his gestures. Even if the homily at times may be somewhat tedious, if this maternal and ecclesial spirit is present, it will always bear fruit, just as the tedious counsels of a mother bear fruit, in due time, in the hearts of her children.
‘One cannot but admire the resources that the Lord used to dialogue with his people, to reveal his mystery to all and to attract ordinary people by his lofty teachings and demands. I believe that the secret lies in the way Jesus looked at people, seeing beyond their weaknesses and failings: “Fear not little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Lk 12:32); Jesus preaches with that spirit. Full of joy in the Spirit, he blesses the Father who draws the little ones to him: “I thank you Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and [learned] and revealed them to babes” (Lk 10:21). The Lord truly enjoys talking with his people; the preacher should strive to communicate that same enjoyment to his listeners.’
I read all the time about folks in the pew complaining about the homilies they hear. If there is a valid complaint, though, it must be constrained by the truth and directed to the preacher. I tell folks if they like my homilies, not to tell me, but the pastor. If they don’t like them, or think I am making a mistake, tell me. That’s the best way to follow the Gospel command, and to help us preachers become the best versions of ourselves!