Ceding Excellence

What’s the metaphorical equivalent of biting my tongue where my typing fingers are concerned? Except for English football, I’ve held off from commenting on other blogs in 2015. That seems important to continue.

Some striking commentary about the homiletics directory at PrayTell I will reproduce in part here and offer some thoughts. I hope you will offer your comments too.

Scott Smith there:

People in generally (sic) are not great public speakers, particularly compared to our modern reference points, as we now have the worlds best speakers on tap via things like YouTube etc.

Approaches which don’t rely on excellence, like Pope Francis’ advice to keep it short, have a much better chance of being effective.

And in contrast, the evangelical Protestants are raking it in, according to Scott Pluff:

(H)e was a C&E Catholic, attended a few baptisms and funerals, but never much more. Then a friend talked him into trying Cornerstone Church, a newer evangelical megachurch just up the road. Fast forward a few years, he has now “turned over his life to Christ,” “saved his marriage,” and is involved with this church “nearly every day of the week.” Plus he is very (very) excited to tell his story.

I asked him what made the difference, what did he find at Cornerstone that he never found in the Catholic Church? The preaching! He described his pastor as being on fire with love for Christ. I especially remember his comment that a sermon on his pastor’s worst day was still better than anything he had ever heard in a Catholic church.

So I ask: can we afford to cede excellence? Maybe those newfangled courses in business and management are ill-conceived if seminarians don’t get better at preaching. If the institution isn’t allowing lay people to preach, the better approach may well be to turn over the personnel matters to the laity and let Father concentrate on “the preaching!” Because, don’t you know: we can’t rely on excellence.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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9 Responses to Ceding Excellence

  1. Our pastor is a solid homilist and I have been both comforted and afflicted by what he has to say. I find his homiletics far less annoying than the prospect of sitting through yet another wooden English liturgy every week.

  2. John McGrath says:

    Catholic priests are rained to reflect and to pray in private, and they preach with the expectation that the listeners will use the sermon and Gospel readings to think, reflect and pray thoughtfully. This is not required for preaching “on fire.”

    Catholic worship can drive away the more extraverted. The constant Las Vegas style singing is also quite engaging for extraverts,The elimination of Communion as central to firebrand fundamentalist church services also favors the extraverted. I’ve noticed that fundamentalist and pentecostalist preachers on TV cover very little Scripture, often just alluding to it anecdotally. Certain relatively unimportant passes are played up out of context,. especially those from Revelation that present a vengeful Christ.

    Certain Church of England and US Episcopalian parishes have introduced “alternative” worship services, that is, those similar to the fundamentalist on TV. They still hold their Eucharists of course.

  3. John McGrath says:

    Forgot to mention. The Anglicans presenting alternative worship services do not preach a vengeful Revelation Christ but a Gospel compassionate Christ, as they do in their regular services.

  4. Melody says:

    “… can we afford to cede excellence?”
    That depends on how you define excellence. As John McGrath points out, Catholic priests are trained in a different style of homiletics than evangelical preachers. I don’t think that becoming more like the evangelicals and pentacostals is the answer, especially if the “on fire” style isn’t natural to the homilist. One can always work at doing a better job of giving people some food for thought and inspiration to take home with them. As John also pointed out, there is the introvert extrovert difference; I feel that it is a mistake to skew things too much to one side or the other.

  5. Melody says:

    I would add that I have occasionally heard some “on fire” homilies in a Catholic setting, and it hasn’t necessarily been a good thing. They were in the form of a culture wars rant, or a hellfire and brimstone scolding. The length, also, approached an evangelical style sermon. And therein lies a problem; the homily or sermon becomes the centerpiece and the Eucharist begins to seem like an afterthought.

  6. charlesincenca says:

    As a Director of Music Ministry for 45 years, it riles me that there is a de facto “cede to mediocrity” in practical homiletics in this (and like all) nation(s.) One of the hamstrings seems to be the notion that priests and deacons must deconstruct the lessons and transmogrify them presumably to “break them open (how I loathe that term)” that they will take lodging in the worshipper’s heart. They are not thus constrained, but defer to that M.O. most likely for convenience’s sake. Progressive liturgists and theologians have hammered the Liturgy of the “Logos” as being equal to the “Real Presence” professed in the Eucharist as long as I’ve served. But my generation of priests, who should’ve at least known of Fulton Sheen, seem for the most part have ceded to not being capable of emulating Sheen. Poppycock. My choirs can’t be the Cambridge Singers or the Sixteen, but I sure program and work them as if they were. And we’re, if nothing else, not lackluster. Homiletics are our Achilles Heel, any way you slice the 21st century pie.

    • Liam says:

      Sorry, Charles, but I doubt that emulating Fulton Sheen’s television preaching style would as a general rule (with exceptions) carry over well into live worship.

      And, hiss as you do about breaking open the lections, in my experience it’s not a practice that is as dominant or common as perhaps it is in your neck of the woods, but relatively rare – we don’t even get to Fulfilled in Your Hearing level preaching. Rather, there’s more commonly a perfunctory reference to one or more of the readings, but preaching tends more commonly to partake of a combination (in different measures) of (i) personal narrative and/or egoistic urgency of some sort (the latter comes across when a preacher’s self-dramatisation as prophet comes to the foreground), (ii) therapeutic assurance and validation, and (iii) pious exhortation and catechesis.

  7. Jim McCrea says:

    If the preaching is weak, maybe that is because the believing is also weak.

  8. I’ve been spanked! Wow, Liam, the one two, left right jab with me “hissing, as I do!” LOL. What’s odd about your retort is that you assign some sort of geographical or demographic component about my observation, and then proceed to state that in your neck of the woods “we don’t even get that, we get worse!” So, you’re punking me, why again?
    I’m not suggesting that homilists emulate Sheen’s extrapolated, dialectic TV style, I’m wondering why they seem to think that little to zero preparation for the most exhortional portion of the liturgy suffices for that aspect of their office? Yes, I don’t wanna hear little bon mots about their lives or funniest moments, or weekly repetitions about purgatory or hellfire, or withering Christianity in the West, but I do expect some level of noble simplicity, or even poetic imagery that is in similar company to the beautiful windows and the refined attempts to sing the best chant, hymnody and song in as beautiful a manner possible. That’s too much to ask?

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