03 November 2013

Where Catholic preaching needs to go. . .?

One of my holiday/summer projects is to reconfigure the homiletics program at NDS.

In my hubris, I've concluded that the problem with Catholic preaching is Catholic homiletics. Not the academic study of Catholic preaching as such, but the overall approach that most homiletics texts tend to favor: preaching is a personal performance rooted in the subjective experience of the preacher and relies almost entirely on an affective mood in tone and content. 

To counter this tendency, I want to introduce seminarians to a wider literary understanding of the imagination; that is, I want to give them some literary tools with which they can re-imagine the Gospel and present it to a contemporary Church. This entails reading novels, poetry, and creative non-fiction in a way that prompts the preacher to address real existential issues and questions through Gospel lenses.

Along with a number of other (better qualified and more experienced) preachers, I've also concluded that catechesis must take a backseat to evangelization in Catholic preaching. Preachers can teach all day long, but if their people haven't experienced Christ as a living presence in their lives, teaching is just mental work: memorization, recitation, etc. This doesn't mean that there is no place in Catholic preaching for teaching, it just means that the first focus of the homily needs to be on bringing our people to an encounter with Christ.

I have no idea where any of this will lead. . .St Dominic, pray for us!
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8 comments:

  1. As long as preaching doesn't involve piggybacking on the latest TV show, you're on the right track.

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    1. I've used TV shows in my homilies. . .they just can't be The Point. The Point is always Christ.

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  2. Gregg the Obscure10:43 AM

    Many folks I know use just the standard you quote.I don't, That's at least partly because I'm a glib public speaker and I know the difference between sanctity, wisdom and schmaltz, even though I'm more prone to rely on the latter than the better of those choices.

    Lately the pastor (and now sole priest) of our parish has been completely unable to speak (in your charity please pray for Fr. James), so we've had several hastily-arranged substitutes, the first of whom has also taken ill (in your charity also please pray for Fr. Clarence). It's been interesting to have such a broad variety of homilists. The Holy Spirit uses all of them, though, even if it's just a tiny phrase here or there.

    I especially agree that the homily should be evangelistic. If the celebrant uses the Roman Canon, there is plenty of catechesis provided therein.

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    1. Parish priest tend to allow administrative activities to take over their preaching ministry. Homily prep gets pushed aside for an endless array of cmte meetings, home visits, hospital calls, etc. This is why Catholic preaching tends to be highly subjective and just plain bad. The laity will complain bitterly if the pastor is available to them 24/7, but they also complain bitterly if his preaching is bad. They can't have both. Fortunately, lay folks are stepping up to take over a lot of administrative duties. . .duties for which they are better qualified than the pastor. Lord knows if I were a pastor, someone would have to be in charge of the money. I can't add three numbers in a row w/o messing it up.

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  3. Our homiletics professor had us read some Flannery O'Connor stories. The exercise was to name the moment or offer (or rejection) of grace.
    We also had a spirituality professor who had us watch Dark Night Rises and unpack spiritual/theological themes. The ability to view movies/television and read books with an eye out for homily material is helpful. If people's minds and hearts are being formed (or malformed) by this stuff, as a preacher we have to be able to point out where truth and error are found in these things.

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    1. Fr. Estabrook, your homiletics prof sounds like my kinda guy! :-)

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  4. "This doesn't mean that there is no place in Catholic preaching for teaching"

    My recollection is that somewhere St Thomas describes the difference between preaching and teaching as the goal of the former is to bring the non-believer to the faith (entry into the Church), and the latter is to train the believer in the contents of the faith. The latter lands a dead letter without the former, hence "pray for the conversion of Catholics to Catholicism!"

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