Forming Strong Preachers
The faithful need priests who communicate Christ’s message
One thing I really enjoy as a priest is greeting the faithful after Mass. It always amazes me how, as a pastor, I can learn so much about our people in these “drive-by” moments. I enjoy it so much that I make an effort every Sunday to go to either of my churches when I am not scheduled just to greet the people.
One Sunday after celebrating holy Mass, I proceeded to greet the faithful. There were the usual pleasantries. People extend their well-wishes for the day or week. Some ask for prayers or a quick blessing as they are anticipating surgery or facing a struggle. And then, from time to time, there are the complaints.
On this particular Sunday, a woman was waiting for me. I could tell she was angry. She said, “I almost interrupted you in your homily today because you did not say anything about that terrible abortion law put into effect in New York.”
After acknowledging her feelings and sharing my own disgust for the new legislation, I then did my best to explain to her that my role as a preacher is to break open the word of God. Essentially, this means that I am to preach on the sacred Scriptures. If there are issues that the readings speak to in everyday life, they can be addressed at that time. On that Sunday, though, there was no correlation between the readings and the newly enacted abortion law. I simply told this faithful parishioner: “What I preached on was the fruit of prayer and what God wanted me to say. I cannot preach on what the faithful think I should say.”
On that same Sunday, in our diocese a homily actually was interrupted for this same reason. Someone stood up and challenged the deacon who was preaching, wondering why he was not addressing this new law.
The faithful obviously want good and relevant homilies each week that speak to issues and concerns that touch their hearts. But as someone who daily seeks to affect unity in the name of Jesus Christ, no preacher can tailor a homily for one person. Nor can he fall prey to preach about what the people want more than what God wants.
Of all the things we do as priests, preaching to the faithful is one of the most important. It demands that we be men of prayer and study in communion with Jesus and the Church. The pulpit is not meant for our own personal agenda, but to proclaim the Good News. We are mere instruments.
To assist us in this critical effort of breaking open the word each week as preachers, The Priest magazine is devoting this entire issue to various aspects of preaching. The In Focus features Father John McDonald of the Pontifical North American College, who writes on preaching as an encounter with Christ. Father Joshua Whitfield, author of “The Crisis of Bad Preaching” (Ave Maria Press, $17.95), offers tips on preaching to children. Benedictine Father Don Talafous discusses some themes for preaching during weddings. In his Priestalk column, Father Patrick Carrion reminds readers to keep things fresh. Paul Senz addresses how we priests can seek feedback from our congregations in order to improve our preaching.
Preaching is something we clergy do every day. Sometimes, however, it can become all too familiar, and we can become complacent. The faithful are counting on us every day to feed them. Summer affords us an opportunity to look at how we can become better in our preaching, all the while knowing that the best homily preached is not always the one spoken, but the one lived.
FATHER DAVID J. BONNAR, editor of The Priest, is a pastor of 15 years in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, where he has served in numerous roles. To share your thoughts on this column or any others, follow The Priest on Twitter @PriestMagazine and like us on Facebook.