Sermons

Summary: Our preaching should be simple, and incorporate positive examples.

Thursday of 22nd week in course 2015

Joy of the Gospel

St. Gregory the Great

“May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.” What a positive message from St. Paul to us today, as we celebrate the heritage received from Jesus, through St. Paul and our saint, Gregory the Great. One of the last true Romans, he was elected Pope in a time of political and religious crisis–the Lombard invasion of Italy–and reformed pretty much every institution of the Church. His most famous contribution was really one of the little ones–the chant we call “Gregorian” after him. The words of Peter really do apply to him: “we toiled all night.” But he had a great harvest, including the conversion of England by Augustine of Canterbury. He was a great writer and preacher, and one of the last Latin Doctors of the Church.

Our Holy Father, Francis, continues with his words to preachers today, and it should really teach all of us how to speak of our faith: ‘One of the most important things is to learn how to use images in preaching, how to appeal to imagery. Sometimes examples are used to clarify a certain point, but these examples usually appeal only to the mind; images, on the other hand, help people better to appreciate and accept the message we wish to communicate. An attractive image makes the message seem familiar, close to home, practical and related to everyday life. A successful image can make people savour the message, awaken a desire and move the will towards the Gospel. A good homily, an old teacher once told me, should have “an idea, a sentiment, an image.”

‘[Pope] Paul VI said that “the faithful… expect much from preaching, and will greatly benefit from it, provided that it is simple, clear, direct, well-adapted.” Simplicity has to do with the language we use. It must be one that people understand, lest we risk speaking to a void. Preachers often use words learned during their studies and in specialized settings which are not part of the ordinary language of their hearers. These are words that are suitable in theology or catechesis, but whose meaning is incomprehensible to the majority of Christians. The greatest risk for a preacher is that he becomes so accustomed to his own language that he thinks that everyone else naturally understands and uses it. If we wish to adapt to people’s language and to reach them with God’s word, we need to share in their lives and pay loving attention to them. Simplicity and clarity are two different things. Our language may be simple but our preaching not very clear. It can end up being incomprehensible because it is disorganized, lacks logical progression or tries to deal with too many things at one time. We need to ensure, then, that the homily has thematic unity, clear order and correlation between sentences, so that people can follow the preacher easily and grasp his line of argument.

‘Another feature of a good homily is that it is positive. It is not so much concerned with pointing out what shouldn’t be done, but with suggesting what we can do better. In any case, if it does draw attention to something negative, it will also attempt to point to a positive and attractive value, lest it remain mired in complaints, laments, criticisms and reproaches. Positive preaching always offers hope, points to the future, does not leave us trapped in negativity. How good it is when priests, deacons and the laity gather periodically to discover resources which can make preaching more attractive!’

In response to that call, let me direct you to a very good resource that we have coming up: the Assembly 2015, which will be at St. Mary’s University on November 7. I know that the Archbishop’s people have been working hard to bring in some good talent from our area and from the nation, especially Scott Hahn. It will be a good day to get together with folks from all over the Archdiocese. I’m registered, and encourage you to do so for all or part of the day.

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