Faithful Preaching

Let me share with you an insightful article from the Wall Street Journal written by John Wilson, editor of  Books & Culture. Wilson writes about the importance of giving a meaningful sermon.

Here is an excerpt from his article:

Is preaching in America in a particularly bad state?

Several commentators have recently raised the question, yet it has a long history. “It has become an impertinent Vein among People of all Sorts,” wrote Jonathan Swift in the 1720s, “to hunt after what they call a good Sermon, as if it were a Matter of Pastime or Diversion.”

And often those on the hunt declare their disappointment, as when Britain’s Lord Hugh Cecil said in the mid-20th century that “the two dangers which beset the Church of England are good music and bad preaching.”

Today’s complainers include Ross Douthat, whose recently published “Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics” describes churches whose preachers promise prosperity to the faithful or dispense the gospel of narcissism. Others wonder about a pulpit presence so charismatic that it draws more attention to the preacher than to his message.

Click here to read the whole article.

3 Responses to “Faithful Preaching”

  1. Ann Marie Barry says:

    Dear Cardinal Dolan, just wanted to tell you I met your Cousin, Freddy Williams.

    Bless you. Please say an extra prayer for me. Looking for full-time work!

    Thank you,
    Ann Marie Mary Barry

  2. Canuck Discerner says:

    Your Eminence, may I ask you what you think constitutes good preaching? I do not mean what makes for a good individual homily, but what makes good preaching as a whole.

  3. joshua says:

    Dear Cardinal Dolan,

    Thank you for this post. It reiterates a point I was trying to make regarding your recent post called, “Growth in Vocation”. I am not a theologian or a scholar. With my humble comments I was responding to another comment made by a nice lady regarding the importance of seeing girls in the Altar. Reading her comment made me think about what we are really doing in the Altar. What is the purpose of Mass? What is the Mass ritual representing to us? Are we there to display how far we have progressed socially since the first Mass? Or our oratory prowess? What did Our Lord Jesus Christ intend for us, the faithful congregation? I think that when we express being unhappy with the preaching, or that there are no girls represented in the altar. Or that we are not current or fashionable enough in our tastes or dress, it is because we are distracted and not mentally prepared for Mass. We are demonstrating that we are not sensitive enough and wise enough to understand or appreciate what is going on at the Altar. We enter a Church, marvel at the physical beauty of the building, or the beauty of a girl in the Church, etc, but we quickly become bored. Why? Because physical beauty appreciation is temporary. Our eyes wonder from one object to the other. Soon there are no other objects to look at and we start criticizing our Priest because he is boring. Our eyes get tired. We want to get this over with. Right? We are allowing our ignorance to get the best of our judgment and then we start to express our boredom. The reality is that although some commentators have distinguished credentials, those that comment on how boring some preachers are in Catholic Churches, are showing arrogance or more likely ignorance. The fact that they have credentials is an insult to those of us that do not have credentials.

    Think about this. Being unhappy about the entertaining quality of the Mass and then writing about it in a book, is the equivalent of taking an ignorant person to a classical music concert and being surprised if the person is bored after coming out of the concert. I believe that in order for that person to appreciate the quality of the music, he/she must have some background in classical music. Not a lot, but a tiny bit. It helps to have heard the same music previously. Some appreciation of how hard it was for the composer to write that piece, and how difficult it is for the musicians to play their instruments well and to follow the conductor. One has to have an idea of the discipline and how difficult it must be to practice each note and to get it right. One has to have some appreciation that the notes being played and the sounds being heard are the same exact or nearly exact notes that the master writing the piece heard in his head centuries ago, and not just pleasant noise coming out of a bunch of horns. We cannot expect someone to like something that is complex like classical music, if they do not understand the concept. The same applies to the Mass ritual.

    We can and should look at ourselves if we are bored with the ritual of Mass, taking place before us on the Altar. What does it mean? A bored congregation could be a symptom of a larger problem in the Church and it has nothing to do with the oratory skill of the preacher. Could it be we are NOT providing the needed background instruction that must prepare the congregant before attending Mass? Is Catechism is not being taught effectively? Many of us are not dumb but are insensitive to the events being portrayed in the Mass ritual and leading to the Resurrection, mainly due to ignorance, and so when our priest or preacher tells us about it, we are aloof and have no appreciation for what is being briefly said in a Ritual that has been repeated over and over since ancient times. When we see the statue or image of a Saint, we know his name, and we pray to him. But are we insensitive to how difficult it must have been for this humble person be to be considered a Saint hundreds of years after he died. Obviously, this Saint was not seeking the instant gratification we are accustomed to. He may have been uneducated as Saint Juan Diego of Colonial Mexico. Saint Diego was not ignorant to the Holiness of the Virgin Mary who appeared before him. When she appeared and talked to him, what he felt must have been like a blow to the chest. It may have knocked the poor Saint off his sandals. As a result, this uneducated man became sensitive to what made Holy, the Mother of God. He felt her Holy presence in his heart. Conversely, during Mass a priest tells us that Christ died on the Cross to save us. We should have some personal appreciation for what that means, and for the pain he must have endured. No. I am not saying we should feel his passion physically. But we should be sensitive to it. He was Crucified by our hand and for our personal salvation. The Lamb of God being led to the slaughter. God the Father allowed this to be done for us. How much he must love us. We must know that it was not the Romans or the Jews that crucified the Son of Man. To me, it was more personal. Each one of us, humanity, participated in this brutal act, and through this event we all took part in, mankind was changed forever, and we have salvation. From here on, it’s about forgiveness. Our Lord Jesus has promised us eternal life if we follow him. We cannot follow him if we first do not forgive, starting with ourselves, then others. In the Mass ritual, we drink his blood and eat his flesh. We must or should feel the love our Jesus has for us, deep in our hearts. A knot should swell in our throats and in our hearts at the very thought of what is happening at the Altar. This Ritual has not changed in 2000 years. Does this not amaze you? Does it not give you an appreciation for what the Church has done for us? Because of a 45 minute Ritual repeated since ancient times, we know about our Savior, how and why he died, and resurrected. We should all be sensitive and feel the excitement and joy of anticipating what is waiting for us if we follow Christ. We should all be sensitive and feel the terror to our very bones, of what could happen if we fail.

    How can we fix this preaching problem? I don’t know where to start. It’s easy to help a priest be a better orator. And just as for in classical music, it’s harder to teach a crowd to be better listeners. I will leave that up to the experts and pray that we as a Catholic Community get this right. God Bless and protect our Pope and protect our Roman Catholic Church from her enemies.