Posted by: Thomas Richard | November 12, 2012

Bishops and Preaching

The fall meeting of the U.S. Bishops begins today, Nov. 12 in Baltimore.  (LINK)  An item on the agenda is preaching, and they will consider a new document on preaching (“Preaching the Mystery of Faith: The Sunday Homily”) to express their sense of it in the Church in America today.  Archbishop Robert J. Carlson of St. Louis, head of the USCCB’s Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations, shepherded the writing of the document.  Some highlights of the proposed document that have been released include:

  • “The homily is intended to establish a ‘dialogue’ between the sacred biblical text and the Christian life of the hearer,”
  • “Preachers should be aware, in an appropriate way, of what their people are watching on television, what kind of music they are listening to, which websites they find appealing, and which films they find compelling,”
  • “References to the most popular cultural expressions — which at times can be surprisingly replete with religious motifs — can be an effective way to engage the interest of those on the edge of faith.”

The draft of “Preaching the Mystery of Faith” has this: “The ultimate goal of proclaiming the Gospel is to lead people into a loving and intimate relationship with the Lord, a relationship that forms the character of their persons and guides them in living out their faith. … By highlighting his humanity, his poverty, his compassion, his forthrightness, and his suffering and death, an effective homily would show the faithful just how much the Son of God loved them in taking our human flesh upon himself.”

This draft inclusion holds the most promise for me – for homilies that lead to Christ, that bring persons into intimate personal communion with Him, and that encourage and challenge Catholics to faithfully live the truth of Christ.  Including, specifically, I hope:

  • The sacred right to life for the unborn!
  • The intrinsically sacred character of marriage as traditionally understood!
  • The crucial importance of the family for persons and for nations!
  • The horrific scandal of Catholic politicians who trample upon the truth of the Catholic Faith in their public lives!
  • The false, acidic, corrosive and destructive character of most popular entertainment!

Personally, I hear an occasional reference to some of these contemporary burning issues from some Bishops.  Rarely do I hear these issues preached with the zeal the issues deserve, and the zeal that lukewarm and sleepy Catholics need to hear that they might be awakened.  More often from Bishops, but still not frequently, I have read  written teachings that communicate more an academic analysis than a full-throated call to action.  When the theater is on fire, whispers are not appropriate.  But mostly – mostly – I hear nothing of these matters from the pulpits.

Most of the readers of this blog are in the U.S.  Some are in Canada, some the U.K., the Philippines, occasionally a visit from an African nation, and so on.  How is the preaching in your parishes, and dioceses?  The world is aflame, dear friends, and it is not with the fire of the Holy Spirit!  It is not with the fire of Truth!  There is a fire spreading, world-wide, that has origins in a place we do not want to go, and is being spread by a destroyer we do not want to meet.

Dear Bishops, do you see the fires of destruction spreading throughout the cultures of the nations of the world, in our time?  Do you see the damage already done in the Church, among the people in your flock?  Do you realize how confused so many Catholics are, how weak so many are in their grasp of the Faith, how vulnerable so many are to the lies and seductions of the evil one?

There is a fire reaching into all cultures that must be identified, and resisted, and fought with the light and zeal of holy Truth.  Warnings must not be whispered, dear Bishops!  Warnings must be clear – unambiguous – potent!  You, dear Bishops, are called to be the authentic teachers and preachers for Christ and for His life – and you are the shepherds and overseers of your priests.  We, the people, are seated before these priests every Sunday at least, and we hear their homilies, we read your writings, and we need to hear the Truth preached and taught with the clarity, the simplicity, the unction and the zeal that it deserves.


  1. Dear Thomas,

    Thanks for taking time to read and post some of the Bishops’ words on preaching. I am always hopeful in God’s Love for His Church and the power of His Holy Spirit to form us in Christ, so I join in your hope that we may hear more Sunday sermons urging all of us toward deeper union with Christ.

    It was disappointing to me, however, to read:

    “References to the most popular cultural expressions — which at times can be surprisingly replete with religious motifs — can be an effective way to engage the interest of those on the edge of faith.”

    I do not think that giving credence to the “most popular cultural expressions” will lift the minds and hearts of Sunday congregations. I do not find many “religious motifs” in popular TV or popular music in this present culture. It seems to me that the world has already made too many inroads. We are called to “evangelize the world” and not let the world continually saturate our minds with messages which confuse, denigrate or blatantly oppose God’s Word of Truth.

    It seems to me we need to hear more of Christ and not more of the world. We need to hear the Sacred Scriptures broken open with unction and poured out from hearts on fire with Love for God. We need our Catholics to know Jesus as He is revealed in Scripture, Tradition and the Magisterium. They already know what’s on TV but they do not know all God has revealed to His people. How can we live what we neither know or love deeply? We need to learn how to apply God’s words, and not the “expressions” of this world, to our lives. Since it is a “proposed document” maybe the Bishops will re-consider this part of it.

    I continue to pray every day for the Church: for all clergy, (especially Bishops), religious and lay people. To whom much is given, much is expected. All are called to holiness. Each of us bears responsibility in varying ways. Each of us has gifts for the Church. May Our Lady, our Mother and Model, given to us from His Cross, intercede for us.

  2. [written from the U.K.]

    As usual, there is much to ponder on with this post. Firstly, the strength of the Catholic church is that it isn’t – like the Anglican church – trying to be all things to all people, politically correct, and trend-setting. Why therefore, seek populist references to connect with the ‘audience’? Sounds like marketing thinking to me, speaking as an ex-marketer.

    Secondly, homilies should act as a lighthouse in the dark, stormy times we live in; a beacon of light that guides us home. Not a mirror reflecting the same (potentially) darkness back at the congregation. Once guided safely back into the harbour/true Word, the congregation can reflect on the homily as a means of deepening understanding and as a result, deepen one’s faith.

    Thirdly, homilies should ignite the fire of the Holy Spirit in every listener. Jesus wasn’t PC or mealy-mouthed as so many of the Church hierarchy are today. Jesus challenged, stimulated, struggled against hypocrisy. When was the last throwing the money changers out of the temple example you can think of? Not in the recent past, for sure. The Holy Spirit should be heard in each homily – not just in the words but also in the tempo and passion of the message.

    Just what are the clergy and bishops waiting for? Their pension plan or the Kingdom of God?

    • Hello Chris –
      I added the editorial comment above your post, “written from the U.K.”, because I wanted to point out where you are, and I am very interested to learn perspectives from churches in other countries. I suspect there is much in common, across the churches in the West. There are some clergy, bishops and priests, who see clearly what is happening – and who “dare” (?) to speak of it. But I don’t understand the silence of so many. It is painful, I know that. May God in His mercy give us grace.

  3. If anything is to change for the better in the Catholic Church, priests need to start preaching what the congregation NEEDS to hear rather than what they WANT to hear. So what if he offends someone; teach the TRUTH anyway! Stop beating around the bush. Tell us what the Catholic Church teaches . . . and why. Priests, the souls of your flock are in jeopardy!

    • I agree, Theresa – souls are in danger because of a lack of real, vital knowing of Jesus Christ and His Truth. Preachers need to preach!

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