All posts tagged: sermons

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 …

Unrolling the Scroll

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good tidings to the afflicted; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion— to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified. They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations. Aliens shall stand and feed your flocks, foreigners shall be your plowmen and vinedressers; but you shall be called the priests of the LORD, men shall speak of you as the …

The Light in Darkness

Therefore I intend always to remind you of these things, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have. I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to arouse you by way of reminder, since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ showed me. And I will see to it that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things. For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we heard this voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have the prophetic word made more sure. You will do well …

Easter in the Busyness

This post was originally delivered as a homily at Vespers on Wednesday, April 13, 2016. We are grateful for the author’s permission to publish it here. Scripture readings: Psalm 126, Psalm 127, Colossians 1:12–20, Hebrews 7:24–27 As usual, it is in the Psalms, today, that the Word of God seems to draw near to our Easter experience here at Notre Dame. I am speaking, of course, of the lines, “In vain is your earlier rising, your going later to rest, for your email box will fill up with new tasks while you slumber” (Ps 127). It is hard to maintain Easter in April at college. There are simply so many things to do! In fact, I’m supposed to be in two different places on campus right now. But the Psalm’s gifts, the ones the Lord pours on his beloved while we slumber, remind me of one of my favorite parables. The farmer plants the seed and sleeps night and day, and the grain grows up—without him watering or weeding, in fact without him ever noticing. …

Sacrificial Love: A Gift of Pleasing Fragrance

Brothers and sisters: Be kind to one another, compassionate, and mutually forgiving, just as God has forgiven you in Christ. Be imitators of God as his dear children. Follow the way of love, even as Christ loved you. He gave himself for us as an offering to God, a gift of pleasing fragrance. (Eph 4:32—5:2) I say the words of this opening line at least once a day to my children—Brothers and sisters: be kind to one another. I have a freshman in high school and a fourth grader and a third grader. Two boys and the youngest is a girl. Brothers and sisters: be kind to one another. Anyone else have siblings? I myself have two sisters and I remember my mom, exasperated after hours of refereeing bouts, just throwing up her hands and saying, “I don’t care what you do to one another. Just don’t kill each other.” This whole reading has a benign, parental ring to it that is easy to dismiss. Paul trips along with pleasantries: imitate God as dear children; …