Summary: The homily is the touchstone for judging a pastor’s closeness and ability to communicate to his people.
Thursday of 13th Week in Course
Today Jesus’s words are about preaching and service. They are directed to us, to the clergy leaders of the Church, primarily, but really to all Christians. Saint Francis lived out this vocation–he took with him on his journeys almost nothing. He lived on the generosity of the people. No salary, no retirement plan, not even a closet full of clothes. The picture painted here is a bit like that of a door-to-door salesperson. Salute the householder. He would say “Shalom aleichem” and if there was openness to the message, there would be an appropriate response. If not, there would be words like “we gave at the office.” A whole town full of unlistening folks would get shaken from the bottom of the preacher’s foot.
The juxtaposition of these two texts is remarkable. When Hosea in his sermon speaks to Israel, he says “How can I hand you over, O Israel! How can I make you like Admah! How can I treat you like Zeboi'im! My heart recoils within me, my compassion grows warm and tender.” Admah and Zeboiim were two little towns that were destroyed along with Sodom and Gomorrah, whom Jesus condemns in the Gospel, along with those other towns who would not hear the Gospel. We need to be conscious of this, because if we don’t do our task of evangelization, men and women may be lost who with our witness might have been saved.
The Holy Father in his encyclical now turns his attention to preaching: ‘Let us now look at preaching within the liturgy, which calls for serious consideration by pastors. I will dwell in particular, and even somewhat meticulously, on the homily and its preparation, since so many concerns have been expressed about this important ministry, and we cannot simply ignore them. The homily is the touchstone for judging a pastor’s closeness and ability to communicate to his people. We know that the faithful attach great importance to it, and that both they and their ordained ministers suffer because of homilies: the laity from having to listen to them and the clergy from having to preach them! It is sad that this is the case. The homily can actually be an intense and happy experience of the Spirit, a consoling encounter with God’s word, a constant source of renewal and growth.
‘Let us renew our confidence in preaching, based on the conviction that it is God who seeks to reach out to others through the preacher, and that he displays his power through human words. Saint Paul speaks forcefully about the need to preach, since the Lord desires to reach other people by means of our word (cf. Rom 10:14-17). By his words our Lord won over the hearts of the people; they came to hear him from all parts (cf. Mk 1:45); they were amazed at his teachings (cf. Mk 6:2), and they sensed that he spoke to them as one with authority (cf. Mk 1:27). By their words the apostles, whom Christ established “to be with him and to be sent out to preach” (Mk 3:14), brought all nations to the bosom of the Church (cf. Mt 16:15.20).’
Some have commented rather harshly about the Holy Father’s frequent criticism of priests and even bishops. You can see this here in these couple of paragraphs. But the Pope is fulfilling by calling clergy to task his vocation as prophet. Every summer in our Office readings we see a number of the Church Fathers doing the same thing. That’s particularly true of St. Augustine. We are called to pastor, to shepherd the people of God, not to ignore or prey on them.
So what is your part as the laity. Well, you can do a couple of things. First, if we are not doing something we should, or are doing something we shouldn’t, then you should come directly to the offending clergyman and tell him. Do it charitably. If I do something incorrect, tell me, not the pastor. Tell the pastor if I ignore you, but let me fix the problem first.
Second, pray for us. Yes, the ordained receive special graces, but that means we need them, and we need just as much the prayer of the people of God. Don’t assume that someone else is doing it; each of you has a responsibility to pray for priests, bishops, deacons. Only you can raise your prayer to the Father for us. And we really appreciate it and give thanks to God for that service.