FIYH 37-39: Limitations of the Preacher

The preacher is in a tough position, especially the primary one in a community. A caution not to get a big head about things, and keeping perspective on things:

[37] It may be good to close this section with a word of caution. While preachers, like other people, cannot be expected to know everything, they are easily tempted to give the impression that they do. As one perceptive critic put it, preachers in their pulpits are people who speak ten feet above contradiction. The Word of God which we are called to proclaim is a divinely inspired Word, and therefore an authoritative and unfailing Word. But we who are limited and fallible possess no guarantee that our understanding of this Word-or of the human situation-is without error and therefore relevant and binding.

The bishops are insightful to advise against making homilies an occasion for personal confessions, as it were.

[38] Preachers accept their limitations not by making the pulpit a sounding board for their personal doubts, anxieties or problems, but by offering people a Word which has spoken to their lives and inviting these people to think and ponder on that Word so that it might speak to their lives as well. A recent poster says it well: “Jesus came to take away our sins, not our minds.” What preachers may need to witness to more than anything else is the conviction that authentic, mature faith demands the hard struggle of thinking and choosing. What the Word of God offers us is a way to interpret our human lives, a way to face the ambiguities and challenges of the human condition, not a pat answer to every problem and question that comes along.

We conclude FIYH’s second section on the preacher with a reminder of the simplest and most basic expectation of the parishioners:

[39] Some years ago a survey was taken among a group of parishioners. They were asked what they hoped to experience during a sermon. When the results were in, the answer was clear. What the majority wanted was simply to hear a person of faith speaking. Ultimately, that’s what preaching is all about, not lofty theological speculation, not painstaking biblical exegesis, not oratorical flamboy­ance. The preacher is a person speaking to people about faith and life.

The bishops don’t mention it, but the Pauline notion of God being able to work through human weakness is also a good reminder. I would expect the preacher to put the same amount of work into a homily and being a good homilist as I put into any aspect of my own faith: preparing music or parenting or struggling with an acute moral decision.

(All texts from Fulfilled in Your Hearing are copyright © 1982 USCCB. All rights reserved. Used with permission.)

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in Fulfilled in Your Hearing, Liturgy, USCCB documents. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to FIYH 37-39: Limitations of the Preacher

  1. Tony Neria says:

    There doesn’t seem to be any test one must pass to be a homilist in the Catholic church besides being a priest or deacon. I can’t count the amount of times I sat through a 10, 15 or even 20 minute homily and had no recollection of what the priest said.

    Priest and Deacons should take stock in their own ability to speak in public. Can they tell a good story and keep peoples attention? Do they have the gift? If not, they probably should limit their homily to five minutes or less.

    One of the the greatest speeches ever told was 233 words long (The Gettysburg Address).

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