Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Preaching: Let's get happy

Diogenes posts at CWNews that a new group, the College of Preachers, has published a new guide. This new guide discusses ways Catholic priests can improve their homilies. Great, you'd think, crummy homilies are a problem, and priests clearly need some sort of encouragement, advice to make themselves more adept at the oldest and second most visible part of their vocation. So enter the College's guide to preaching.

The guide sets out to help priests 'double-check' facts on areas which are out of their technical expertise. Again, great, right? Well no. The guide is designed so that say, Fr. Doe wants to preach about the mortal sin of mixing your recycables, he knows where to look to make sure he doesn't confuse the hard plastics with the corrugated cardboard. Yea, not what's really needed.

The problem most priests seem to have with preaching is actually coming out and saying something worthwhile. There's simply too much therapy and not enough instruction. As much as we like a chuckle, 4 jokes does not a good sermon make. Nor does reminding us that all we need is love and that we're all pretty good deep inside - that's what our saccharine hymns are apparently for.

Unfortunately it's just too easy to offer up a few heartwarming and mindnumbing comments, or make an empassioned pseudo-political speech against the most recognizable media-inflated issue de jour. But that's not effective preaching, and no matter accurate your facts are, the congregation still suffers.

I've noticed many younger priests to be much better preachers than older priests. I don't know why that is; maybe there's an a problem of priests burning out, especially after what the Church and Western culture has been through the past 40 years. But what these new priests seem to understand and the older ones don't, is that simply preaching the Gospel and Catholic tradition is and will always be the best choice. Not that reminding Catholics of God's demand that we, for example, be stewards of the Earth in the context of climate change isn't all that bad, rather, it's that people are inured to that sort of thing. We get that stuff from our friends, the media and family outside of Church and we don't need it every Sunday too.

edit: If you really want a guide to preaching, start by reviewing this.


Anonymous said...

Coupla points to consider:

priests can't preach what they don't have. Seeing as the laity has been given such poor formation over the past 40 years, it is a pretty good bet that priests themselves have had a pretty sad "education". Which would explain (NOT excuse) some of the immoralities committed--if we are told in confession nothing is sinful anymore, what does that say of the confessor's own moral grounding/formation???

When our parish had a strong pastor who preached the "hard" stuff as well as the easy, it was interesting to see more men became attracted to the Faith. And more young families. Yet, he was kicked out because a few could not hear the Truth, having been submersed in the feel-good relativism for so long. It's not like he was raving nonstop about hellfire and damnation, foaming at the mouth, or picking on individual parishioners. Just speaking on good solid morality, and the reality that there is a Heaven and a Hell, and how immoral behaviour is against God and deserving of Hell. Perhaps these disaffected few felt convicted, which is the sign of a good preacher, after all.

Another good preacher in the area was also kicked out of the Church he was in. Apparently one complaint was that he made a parishioner feel "nervous" and their "palms started to sweat" when he preached. Yet this priest has been the cause of numerous conversions.

Now, our current (good) priest is effectively neutralized by the females in control. He has probably been told of the past history of the area as well, so that would understandably put a damper on things.

The result of the priest's lack of authority? Increased liturgical abuses, and a stressed out, anxious priest. I imagine that being put in that position, would make it extremely difficult for him to preach on "sensitive issues". At least 2 families (12 plus people) have left for other parishes in the past few months. In a place of 30 families (of which *maybe* half show up on a good Sunday), that is quite a gap.

So in addition to poor formation, I think there is fear on the part of some priests, that should they preach the whole Truth, the above scenarios could very well happen to them.

Embattled Catholic

Colm said...

A sad situation. I'm quite blessed to have several priests, including a younger one from Nigerian whose passion for Christ is infectious, you have come through parishes like the one you describe and are the stronger for it.

I suppose the best thing we can do is pray and privately support priests when they give us the 'hard' stuff instead of the facile homilies which are still so popular. I've heard that priests rarely hear from the congregation when they've done something good, only when they're perceived to have done something bad.

Colm said...

And actually, there's an interesting article in this month's First Things by R.R. Reno, who discusses the collapsed of neo-scholasticism and it's relation to the problems we're currently facing. Very interesting.

Anonymous said...


We are careful to be very supportive of our priests, in prayer and in vocal/public encouragement. Especially when they give good homilies. One good young priest looked almost shocked when we thanked him for his excellent homily. There are many priests who are afraid of repercussions here, and probably elsewhere as well.

With kids to raise, we need to give them the example of respect and love for the priesthood. With the disprespect, arrogance and rudeness displayed by laypeople here, I worry that even if one of our boys was interested in investigating a priestly vocation, he might be discouraged after observing the shenanigans and white martyrdom the priests undergo in our location.

We have a couple of African priests in the diocese, as well as some Polish and Philippino. We enjoy attending Mass offered by one African priest in particular. He is very exuberant, but totally focused on Jesus during the Mass. Sadly, his leadership is also being erroded.

One (foreign) priest told me that the Canadian-born priests had a better time of it, because they couldn't be kicked out of the country if people didn't like them. I disagreed, because at least if a missionary priest is "kicked out", he can return to his own country, whereas if a Cdn priest is given the boot, his work in the vineyard is effectively cut short. The conception around here is, that if people complain enough about their priest (even over trivial things), they can get him removed. Precedent having already been set. Is this attitude a Canada-wide thing, or only a particular diocese?

We have 2 men becoming priests here this year, and from what I can make out, we are currently sponsoring 2 foreign seminarians. That's it for vocations, other than the 8 permanent deacon candidates. So how can we afford to treat our priests like dirt??? I think we all need to reflect on that famous story of St. Francis and the sinful priest. To my mind, the only reason a priest should be removed is if there is something truly serious going on. Otherwise, we are just spitting in God's face.

We no longer attend our local parish, but 20 mins away, in another diocese. Imagine, the pastor mentioned the 4 last things on one occasion! Incidentally, it's one of the few parishes I've seen that is representative of all generations--they're bursting at the seams. LOTS of families.

Then, there's the FSSP priests (a 2 1/2 hr drive away) who aren't afraid to speak on the unpopular seven deadly sins (even the kids listened with interest to that one). They're very blessed--not only do they have the backing of an order, but the people who attend their Masses do so because they want to be there, and want to be told it like it is.

Oops, sorry, longer than I meant...again!