Tag Archives: preaching

Who is Christ in our time?

A running fight between a priest and his religious superior over how direct the priest can be in his preaching that Jesus is The Way, The Truth and The Life has been ensuing for an extended period of time. The dialogue between the two is not edifying. The superior is arguing that the priest is teaching his own brand of Catholicism that is offending some of the faculty and some of the parents. The priest is preaching and teaching what Church believes, and is articulated in the Second Vatican Council and other documents like Dominus Iesus. The latter contends that the fruits of V2 have too often generated poorly catechized adults and has contributed to a general weakening of the truth of salvation. Jesus Christ has been reduced to moralisms or what beige Catholicism shows, “the nice Jesus.” Reading the homilies you do realize that the priest is not pouring vinegar in the eyes of the congregants but he is being clear in his teaching: the gospel is true, and the magisterium of the Catholic Church is accurate –salvation is at hand. His point: Do you believe in what is biblically revealed by God? Or, is theology made up as you go along to get along? If it is the latter, then we are in deep trouble.

Catholics can’t be the only ones dealing with matters of doctrine and dogma. Sure enough, the Wall Street Journal answered my question. No, Catholics, the Orthodox and other ecclesial communities are having to face the problems of what is being preached, and what face of Jesus Christ is being revealed today to the world. The secularists are not the only ones to “change” the face of Jesus. The content of a priest’s preaching is as much important as the how something is said. Words matter; concepts matter, clear thinking is crucial. Yet, style cannot be confused with content.

In the “Houses of Worship” column in WSJ today Stephen Prothero writes about a Seattle Evangelical Pastor Mark Driscoll and his efforts to portray a more robust understanding of who Jesus Christ is, an image that does not make Jesus out to be a “pansy.” Driscoll evidently believes that many quarters of Christianity have distorted the Christology to fit contemporary concerns. Prothero characterizes Pastor Driscoll as believing “too many American churches are populated by ‘chicks’ and a bunch of nice, tender chickified church boys.” In other words, what Driscoll sees in Christian churches today is a face of Jesus that is cosmetically altered to fit a current ideology, one that is not too challenging, one that has little-to-no-concern for ultimate things. Dare I say, the current Jesus is anemic.

I think it is fair to say that Jesus Christ we ought to preach, the Second Person of the Trinity, is not made in the image and likeness of certain men and women. He is the image of Someone greater, the Divine Mystery.

What else does Driscoll think and say? Apparently, his assessment indicates that some Christians have swapped out the revealed Son of God for “a limp-wrist hippie in a dress with a lot of product in his hair.” Jesus is metrosexual. Sounds similar to the controversy noted above. Prothero notes that some segments of American Christianity, since the 1800s, have preached a “Jesus as a brave warrior –not a meek preacher….” It is thought that if the image and person preached –Jesus– was more masculine men would be coming back to the practice of religion, or we would be more faithful to what is biblically revealed. I am not sure that has to be an agenda item; but I am concerned that the truth be preached and not glossed-over to suit a constituency.

I happen to think that the person of Jesus we often warm up too is inconsistent with what is foretold in the prophecies of the OT, and in the portrait given in the NT. Sacred Scripture does not give us an effeminate savior. Quite the contrary, Jesus of the NT is not aiming to be a “nice God-man interested in how you’re feeling.” We don’t have a Savior who is a good social worker. Salvation is not the liberation of personal anxieties but the liberation from sin and death; it is the opening the possibility of encountering the Beatific vision. Think of Jesus’ interaction with tax collectors, the pharisees, the mis-guided apostles and so on, ought to give us an indication of the person of Jesus: being “nice,” that is, sentimental, is not going to get you to heaven.

Prothero quotes Billy Sunday who said in 1916: “Lord save us from off-handed, flabby-cheeked, brittle-boned, weak-kneed, think-skinned, pliable, plastic, spineless, effeminate, sissified, three-carat Christianity.” A strong, masculine Jesus was transformed in the 60’s and 70’s with “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “Godspell.” You know, I think Billy Sunday is right.

Stephen Prothero is uneasy with and dismissive of, Pastor Driscoll and Sunday, because he lacks a Catholic understanding of Scripture, liturgy, and theology. Prothero, likes suburban Catholicism with a pretty low Christology. It seems to me that he sees the person of Jesus as relative and subjective. And is inconsistent with what is witnessed by the saints. Rather unfortunately, Prothero doesn’t hold to the existence of objective reality, objective truth. A reading of the person of Jesus in Scripture and orthodox biblical exegesis shows a face of Jesus concerned more with the true “ends” of man and woman rather than being given a make-over to suit post-modern problems in psychology. Nowadays, according to some, you just have fit-in if you are going to be an acceptable preacher of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Priest killed allegedly for giving bad homilies

The small, rural Scilian town of Trapani apparently is a crossroads of culture and history. It is now dealing with the murder of an elderly priest for allegedly giving bad homilies. His assailant, 33 and unemployed, wanted to teach Father a lesson one what he was saying in the pulpit. In some reports, Father Michele DiStefano is said to have spoken in a public fashion of the wrong-doings (sins?) of his people. I hope he wasn’t revealing what he heard in the confessional.

Bad preaching can drive people away. Actually, I think music can equally disturbing. If priests read this report they may want to get their affairs in order, or pick up a Father Peter John Cameron’s book on preaching, Why Preach: Encountering Christ in God’s Word.
I suppose you could make many conclusions about this circumstance, but I think it’s if we pray for God’s mercy on Father Michele and the man who killed him.

Fulton Sheen: The Art of Preaching

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The Dominican Friars of the Province of St Joseph have a new initiative on preaching using as their model the Venerable Servant of God Fulton J. Sheen, the famed preacher on TV and in Church. Kindly Light media will produce “Fulton Sheen: The Art of Preaching.” It is a worthy project to support.

“Fulton J. Sheen: The Art of Preaching” Examines effective preaching via the words of Fulton J. Sheen, with commentary from experts, including Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, Fr. Peter John Cameron, OP.

Be sure to watch the trailer and read up on the project.

Preaching … to the pope and others

preaching to the pope.jpgLast Sunday at the keynote address given by Father Julián Carrón who said among many other good things is that preaching is taking part in man’s search for God. Moreover, preaching arouses curiosity from within, that one of its aim is to overcome the divide between faith and life.

We can point to the many instances when the preacher goes to his file, looks for the right date, and proceeds to inflict on the faithful yet another good example of pastoral slothfulness as if the faithful will not recall the last time the priest said the exact same thing. You can say that the quest of the Infinite, the quest for the  Faith is severely reduced.
In his Vatican Diary yesterday, Sandro Magister wrote a piece that may interest you, “Those who preach to the pope.” A timely essay given that Pope Benedict recently chose Cardinal Gianfrance Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, to preach this coming Lent.
Magister’s essay is good not only because it reveals some insight into an aspect of papal life not often thought about by the laity, but it also shows a certain commitment of the Pope to hear others share what Father Carrón says about our searching for God and the preacher arousing curiosity in the hearer. Magister also provides a helpful list of names and affiliations.

Sharing the patrimony of good preaching: what the Protestants bring to Catholics

This article appeared in the 18 November 2009 issue of L’Osservatore Romano (weekly English edition). Thought it would do us well to consider one or two of the author’s points.


Even before the Holy Father had provided a title for the recently-published Apostolic Constitution, Anglicanorum Coetibus, providing for Personal Ordinariates for Anglicans entering into full communion with the See of Peter, many anticipated the numerous ways in which the incorporation of these new members would be beneficial to the Church.

Wm Levada.jpgCardinal Levada remarked: “It is the hope of the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, that the Anglican clergy and faithful who desire union with the Catholic Church will find in this canonical structure the opportunity to preserve those Anglican traditions precious to them and consistent with the Catholic faith. Insofar as these traditions express in a distinctive way the faith that is held in common, they are a gift to be shared in the wider Church.”


One might well wonder what concrete form a sharing of those gifts with the wider Church could assume. Whereas it would be proleptic to attempt to catalogue the many and diverse blessing the arrival of these anticipated new members will bring to the Church, one thing is certain. Even the most “high church” among them will have been sufficiently influenced by the Protestant sensibilities of Anglicanism to bring with them a great reverence and a high standard for liturgical preaching. A profound attentiveness to biblical preaching is the undeniable patrimony in all of its forms, including Anglicanism, despite the ambiguity some of its members may experience over identifying themselves as Protestant.


St Peter preaching Fra Angelico.jpgIf anything, the Anglican Communion has been noted for its wide diversity. Accordingly, many Anglicans who might have answered to such labels as “high church” or “Anglo-Catholic,” could have been observed maintaining patterns of weekly (and even mid-weekly) Eucharist while simultaneously, so-called evangelical or “low-church” Anglicans might have typically attended non-eucharistic Morning Prayer most Sundays.” Broad” Anglicans would feel at home at any number of points between those two extremes.


One value shared in common among all Anglicans, however, has been their expectation of regular and good preaching. It can be reasonably well anticipated that most Anglicans who will take advantage of the accommodations extended in the Holy Father’s Apostolic Constitution will come from the ranks of the high churchmen, and to their love for preaching it is reasonable to add the expectation that the preaching will be theological, eloquent and sophisticated. The presence of this expectation in a great number of new Catholics is good news for the Church, since this strengthen the expectation placed upon priests to enhance the quality of their proclamation of the Word. Of course, former Anglican priests who become Catholic priests will bring their refined homiletic patterns with them.


William E Lori.jpgThe renewal of preaching is perhaps of the most highly successful and least neuralgic of all the liturgical initiatives of Vatican II. After some decades of ambiguity, at least at the popular level, about the role of preaching in the liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium clarified that preaching is part of the liturgy itself (art. 52) and from that moment, a homiletic renewal unfolded. With little, if any resistance, preaching at the Mass (even at daily Mass), at the celebration of the Sacraments, at the Liturgy of the Hours and at numerous paraliturgical events has become normative and increasingly better quality. Seminaries around the world began paying better attention to the homiletic formation of seminarians, and on-going formation programs for priests are repeatedly asked to sponsor preaching workshops in their curricula.


There will undoubtedly be moments of joy as well as suffering as the presence of the former Anglicans entering the Church under conditions of Anglicanorum Coetibus begins to be felt. That joy and the suffering will be sustained by veteran and new Catholics alike. Much uncertainty lies in the near future. What is certain however, is that the former Anglicans’ heritage of good preaching and their expectation that this will be continued will only serve the Church well as these new expectations strengthen the impetus to the charge the Church has already embraced to refine and strengthen its ministry of the Word.


All of the pieces are in place for a win-win situation. Moreover, this expectation is quite realistic, since in Cardinal Newman we will recall that precedent has already been set.


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Michael Monshau, O.P., professor of Liturgy, Homiletics and Spirituality at the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas (The Angelicum) in Rome.

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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