All posts tagged: Marten Program

The Ladder of Homiletics: 7 Steps to Effective Preaching, Part 2

In part one of this series, I introduced the first four steps on the ladder of effective preaching. I conclude here with the final three steps. 5. Communicating in Contemporary Culture The New Evangelization cannot be other than a Christian encounter with the world within our contemporary horizon. As they say, context determines content. Gaudium et Spes calls the Church to recognize the commonality that the disciples of the Lord share with all humanity, especially the poor. If the homily is unified in its method by a deployment of inductive narration, then the preacher recognizes the crucial role of the listener in an engagement of the text. Rather than simply a series of sentences supplying information, the homily becomes an event—a kind of sacrament—which forms the Christian assembly. As a formational text, then, the homily gathers and shapes the listener in Jesus’ name with a pastoral imperative to reach the contemporary ear. In this regard, the preacher keeps substantial developments in contemporary language and culture at the ready. A familiarity with the contemporary rhetoric of …

Effective Preaching, From a Listener—Part 3

Effectiveness in preaching arises from the two-way communication between the sender and the receiver of the message. To continue from last month’s post, how do we as listeners receive, listen, and grow through your homily? You may feel, as you stand to speak, that you are preaching into a vacuum. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Each of us slides into the pew with a head full of ideas and concerns and dreams. We also arrive with different levels of motivation. Motivation to Listen To further the metaphor from the last two segments, if the homily is like butter, and we listeners are like toast, then we arrive at Mass in varying degrees of warmth. Some of us walk in with a sensitive heart and a responsive mind, ready to let your message soak in, like good butter on warm toast. Here are reasons that may happen: We are in love with God. We have had kindhearted experiences of the faith community and/or you as the parish leader. We have had experiences of your …

Effective Preaching, From a Listener—Part 2

In the first article of this series, I talked about effectiveness as “preaching that sinks in like good butter on warm toast.” Much is written about the “good butter” that a homilist is to prepare. In the last segment we talked about the Holy Spirit who is the source of that “sinking in.” But what makes for “warm toast?” What would be helpful for preachers to know to help us listeners to grow in faith?[1] First, understand what our lives are like. Week after week, you are like a rock star. As you walk thirty feet or drive 60 miles to the church building to say Mass, hundreds, maybe thousands of us are getting ready to hear you. After the fight with the ten-year-old over brushing his teeth, after changing the diaper or the bandages, after putting on the knee brace or the hearing aids, we turn the handle to the church door, file in and slide into the pew. Phew! We got here. Do you know how much effort it takes for us all …

Effective Preaching, From a Listener—Part 1

There is a mystery dimension to effectiveness in Catholic preaching. For example, I can sit in a pew with five faith-filled folks who hear the same homily and one will say, “Wasn’t that inspiring?” while another will shrug, “meh. . .” A lay preaching student told me that when she was in Preaching I class, she analyzed Pope Francis’ homilies for why he so touched people and wondered, “Just as an experiment, if I preached those same homilies, would they have the same outcome?” In the twentieth chapter of Acts, St. Paul preached on and on—so long that a young man was overcome by sleep and fell out of a window; yet the folks in Troas continued to listen to Paul speak on and on until daybreak. So what is “effectiveness” in Catholic preaching? And how do we get to “it” in ordinary homiletic practice? As Fr. Michael Connors, C.S.C. and I have been preparing for the Notre Dame Marten Program’s conference next summer—“To Set the Earth on Fire: Effective Catholic Preaching”—we have had in-depth …

Effective Catholic Preaching—Part 4

This is the fourth and final installment in our series examining the characteristics of effective preaching in the Catholic tradition today. You could call this a postscript, “What Not to Say or Do in Preaching for Effectiveness.” Here are some admonitions I give myself: Avoid moralizing. We have a lot of moralistic preaching today, I think. I’ve heard moralisms of the right (which usually have to do with sexual morality) and moralisms of the left (social justice). Moralism is moral challenge without the love relationship which makes discipline and right action desirable and achievable. Is there moral challenge in the Gospel of Jesus Christ? You bet, and plenty of it. But it is grounded in a vision of joyful discipleship, as Pope Francis continues to remind us. Before you challenge, you need really Good News to plug people into, making meeting your challenge possible. Avoid using the words should, ought, and must in preaching. However true or well-intentioned, those words sound dictatorial rather than persuasive. Lead people into the arms of God and they will …

Effective Catholic Preaching—Part 2

Last month, I concluded Part One of this series with four key pieces of homiletic advice for effectiveness: Every homily must be (the) Good News. A homily should make one point, and one point only. Every homily should appeal to all three dimensions of the human person: mind, heart, and will. We must preach in a way that animates, stimulates, calls forth, or focuses the proclamation of the Good News by all the baptized. Now let me add a fifth: We preach to facilitate the encounter with a living God. As the Pontifical Biblical Commission stated, The presentation of the Gospels should be done in such a way as to elicit an encounter with Christ who provides the key to the whole biblical revelation and communicates the call of God that summons each one to respond.[1] Good preaching does not settle for a “moral to the story”—in fact, good preaching avoids moralizing altogether. To be sure, the Scriptures offer us plenty of moral challenge, and good preaching does that, too. But it is a moral …

Effective Catholic Preaching–Part 1

What makes good preaching “work?”  What is “effective” preaching in the Christian tradition?  What distinguishes the “excellent” homily from one that is merely satisfactory?  Can we identify the qualities that make for homiletic success? You might think that there are many scholarly volumes written on this question, a matter of considerable importance to the Christian community, but actually that is not the case.  There is a lot of homiletic advice out there, but no consensus on the answer to this question in the homiletics community, and relatively little literature addressing it. We in the Marten Program in Homiletics will be pondering this question over the coming school year, leading up to our sixth major preaching conference next summer.  That conference will be entitled, “To Set the Earth on Fire: Effective Catholic Preaching,” and will be held at Notre Dame July 24-26, 2017. But we’d also like to hear from you, our readers: what do you think are the ingredients or characteristics of truly effective preaching?  Whether you are a preacher yourself, as a priest or …

Preaching Lent in the Year of Mercy

Lent comes from the same old English root as lengthen – it’s a reference to the lengthening of the daylight hours in the Northern Hemisphere’s spring.  In other words, Lent is the church’s springtime, a time of increasing light helping us to see more clearly, a season of new life and renewal, a time to renew our love.  This is why the old missal could pray, “Each year you (God) give us this joyful season…”  Lent has an urgent message, and demands a drop-everything response.  But it is sustained by the joy of what Christ has done and is doing, the love into which we are invited, witnessed in Christ’s Passion and Resurrection.  So it is less about the sadness and hard work of repentance than it is about God’s mercy and unmerited goodness toward us.  If we turn Lent into a season that focuses on our sinfulness and our penitential practices, we will feed another sorry round of self-centeredness in ourselves, and miss God’s effort to pull us out of precisely that narrow preoccupation …