FIYH 74-77: Challenges for the Preacher

The bishops describe the challenge pastors of large parishes know well:

[74] But is it really possible to create this readiness for praise and thanksgiving in congregations as large and diverse as those in which many of us minister? In these congregations some people will be feeling a sense of loss because of a recent bereavement; some facing marital difficulties; some having problems adjusting emotionally to school,. job, home or community; some struggling with a deep sense of guilt stemming from their inability to deal maturely with their sexuality, or because of their addiction to drugs or alcohol. Others in our congregations will be struggling with the relevance of the Gospel to oppressive economic structures, to world peace, or to the many forms of discrimination in our society. Is it really possible to say to these people, “Look at the way in which God is present in your lives and turn to him with praise and thanksgiving?”

If the preacher looks out at the assembly and sees a collection of problems to be solved, the answer will be “no.”

 

If, however, the preacher sees the liturgical experience of the Word and Sacrament as a means by which people can face their struggles with hope, then I would contend there is hope. The homily is not a fix-it tool. The bishops are also wise in suggesting that the preacher must also cultivate an awareness of dependency on God, if there is any hope for homilies to speak to people in trouble, touch them, and be the catalyst for change and hope.

[75] Obviously, it will not always be easy to do this. And we will never be able to do it, at least not with any honesty and integrity, if we have not recognized the active presence of God in our own lives, as broken and shattered as they may be, and out of that brokenness affirm that it is still good to praise him and even to give him thanks. We need to remember in situations like this that our celebration of the Eucharist is done in memory of Jesus Christ who, on the night before he died, turned to God and praised and thanked him out of the very depths of his distress. Praise and thanksgiving, therefore, do not automatically imply the presence of euphoria.

 

The bishops draw another important connection from the Word and homily to the Eucharist. They also suggest that not only is praise of God not necessarily an indicator of euphoria, but that it should also be separate from our moods or attitudes:

[76] We can and must praise God even when we do not feel like it, for praise and thanksgiving are rooted in and grow out of faith, not feeling, a faith which interprets this world by saying that in spite of appearances often to the contrary, our God is a loving God. It is for this reason that even at the time of death, we celebrate a Eucharist, because we believe that for his faithful ones life is changed, not, as appearances would seem to indicate, taken away.

The bishops sum up:

[77] The challenge to preachers then is to reflect on human life with the aid of the Word of God and to show by their preaching, as by their lives, that in every place and at every time it is indeed right to praise and thank the Lord.

 

There’s a good bit within these four sections. To me, it’s best summed up by preachers acknowledging the challenge before them, then not trying to overreach into an expectation of solving other people’s problems. Letting God’s Word into peoples’ lives, breaking it open, and making connections: what more could a good preacher do? All this recipe calls for is to invite listeners to identify Jesus Christ as a participant in their lives, especially their struggles. The preacher, once again, is called to teach others to fish, rather than giving out the fish, to allude to the proverb.

Comments?

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

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About catholicsensibility

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

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