All posts tagged: preaching

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 …

The Love of the Hound of Heaven

One morning sometime in the middle of August about ten years ago, I lay awake on an uncomfortable bed in my bedroom, which was tucked above the stairs in the Cottage, one of the volunteer houses at Red Cloud Indian School where I was preparing to start my second year of teaching. I hadn’t been able to sleep the previous night, so at about 4am, I decided to watch the sun rise over the ancient hills of Pine Ridge. Throwing on a sweatshirt, I plodded past the elementary school playground, past the green dinosaur, and up a hill to the cemetery. My feet were damp with dew and dust as I took a seat in the far corner of the cemetery, next to Chief Red Cloud’s grave. There I watched the sun come up over Manderson Hill and a full moon set over the buttes out toward Chadron Road. For a single suspended moment they faced each other, as though speaking the strange, secret language of the dawn, an earnestly joyful exchange of light. For …

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 …

Dying to Christ

“In that day, says the LORD, courage shall fail both king and princes; the priests shall be appalled and the prophets astounded.” Then I said, “Ah, Lord GOD, surely thou hast utterly deceived this people and Jerusalem, saying, `It shall be well with you’; whereas the sword has reached their very life.” My anguish, my anguish! I writhe in pain! Oh, the walls of my heart! My heart is beating wildly; I cannot keep silent; for I hear the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war. Disaster follows hard on disaster, the whole land is laid waste. Suddenly my tents are destroyed, my curtains in a moment. How long must I see the standard, and hear the sound of the trumpet? “For my people are foolish, they know me not; they are stupid children, they have no understanding. They are skilled in doing evil, but how to do good they know not.” I looked on the earth, and lo, it was waste and void; and to the heavens, and they had no light. I …

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 …

Preaching Kerygma

In a recent article for this journal, Bob Waldrop cites statistics from Sherry Waddell, who states that 60% of Catholics 18 to 29 years old and 54% of Catholics age 30–49 do not believe that a personal relationship with Christ is possible, which Waldrop claims is indicative of the overwhelming secular influence of this age. He argues that the remedy to this unfamiliarity with Christ is an encounter with the kerygma followed by an effective initiatory catechesis. This claim for the need of a kerygmatic proclamation is not new, but rather has been whispered throughout the Church for 80 years, beginning with Fr. Josef Jungmann’s heavily debated book The Good News Yesterday and Today. Originally suppressed by the Jesuits, the book experienced a resurgence through its promotion by Johannes Hofinger, a one-time student of Jungmann, and the catechetical work of the Second Vatican Council. Catechetical study weeks of the 1960s further promoted the need for kerygma in catechesis, but the General Catechetical Directory (1971) and the General Directory for Catechesis (1997) relegate the kerygma to …

The Feast of the Holy Family: Not Just a Model

Those of us suspicious of the pious platitudes that too often make their home in Catholic homiletic practice know that the feast of the Holy Family is a “code-red” day for such platitudes. We families assemble in our parishes and are exhorted that we should conform our domestic life according to the peaceful, loving relationships of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. The image of the Holy Family that we receive is one pictured on holy cards where perfect beauty and order and attention are mutually given by Mary, Joseph, and Jesus (I suppose there were no smartphones to distract attention . . . otherwise Christ would have been found wandering around Jerusalem playing Pokémon GO instead of in the Temple). Those of us with toddlers normally do not hear this point of homiletic insight (ironically) because our children want to take up their vocation as amateur arsonists by playing with the candles placed before the statue of the Blessed Mother or to take a swim in the baptismal font. But for those of us able to attend to the preaching this …

Effective Catholic Preaching—Part 3

This is the third installment in our series examining the characteristics of effective preaching in the Catholic tradition today. What follows is my complete list of twenty points. The first five have appeared in the first two parts of this series. 1. Every homily must be (the) Good News. (See Part One.) 2. A homily should make one point, and one point only. (See Part One.) 3. Every homily should appeal to all three dimensions of the human person: mind, heart, and will. To what I said in Part One, I would add: a. The appeal to the mind engages both cognition (“left brain”) and imagination (“right brain”). The use of the imagination is crucial to human understanding. Good preaching deploys both discursive and imaginative language. b. The appeal to the heart both arouses and educates the heart’s desire, inviting the hearer to fall in love with Love itself. Preaching doesn’t simply arouse emotion for its own sake. The purpose is to lead the hearer into relationship with the very source of Love. c. The appeal to the will engages the …

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 …