Summary: The challenge is to engage the listener, but to do so with the clear goal of bringing them closer to the transcending love of Christ.

Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary 2016

The prophecies were quite clear. The Messiah would be born of a virgin. He would be of the line of David, born in Bethlehem, the city associated with David. He would be king, and rule over all the earth. The expectation of the Jewish people was also very clear. They were suffering under the Roman oppressors. It was high time, they thought, that God would manifest His power by bringing them a Messiah, an Anointed One, who would raise a mighty army and destroy the rule of Rome. So when a nobody descendant of David heard from his virgin wife that she was pregnant, and still a virgin, because of the action of the Spirit of the Lord, he was skeptical, and he knew that nobody would believe Mary’s story. He was putting together a plan that seemed to be the best way around the mess, when an angel appeared to him, and set his mind straight, if not at ease. God would fulfill the prophecies, but not the human expectations. God would give them the Savior they needed, not the Savior they wanted.

The Holy Father continues his exhortation to preachers and, indeed, to anyone who would spread the good news of God’s mercy and love. Anyone called to that mission ‘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.’

When you or I deliver God’s message, the challenge is to engage the listener, but to do so with the clear goal of bringing them closer to the transcending love of Christ. That means a balance between listening to our friend or audience and listening to the Word of God. God’s love and truth are meant to bring us together, but they can only do so if we maintain close contact with both the Word and the people. Please pray for us poor, weak preachers that we may do that each time we share the Word of God.

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