03 December 2007

Preach...or die

St Francis Xavier: 1 Cor 9.16-19, 22-23 and Mark 16.15-20
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St Albert the Great Priory

During my novitiate six, seven years ago, the novices had a saying that leapt to our lips readily when asked to mop the floor or sweep the parking lot or grout the bathroom tile. We would say to the offending senior member who burdened us with an odious task, “Father, THAT was not in the brochure!” More often than not the senior member would respond with something like, “Yea, that’s right. Who would join if we put THAT in the brochures?” Reading again Paul’s description of preaching, I now know why we Dominicans prefer the Beautiful Feet of the Preacher quote from Isaiah: if we put Paul’s description of preaching in the brochures, no one would join us! This leads me to wonder and ask: why would anyone in his or her right mind want to be a preacher, choose the life of the preacher?

Let’s quickly review Paul’s description of preaching: there’s nothing about preaching worthy of boasting, he says, rather preaching the Gospel is an imposed obligation; he laments, “Woe to me if I do not preach it!” He is rewarded if he preaches willingly, but not if he does so unwillingly. He preaches for free. (That’s not good.) He has made himself weak, a slave to all; he has become all things to all for nothing more than a share in the Gospel. For all the romanticism of this picture of the preacher, I can’t imagine the vocations brochure drawn from our Pauline description that would attract a single soul to the preaching. But, then again, I could be missing something. After all, the image of the Gospel preacher painted by Christ himself isn’t all that attractive either: driving out demons, speaking weird languages, handling snakes, drinking poison, touching the sick. Yea, um, not a good brochure.

So, both Paul and Jesus himself paint wild and woolly pictures of the Gospel preacher. Nothing we could put on our vocations recruitment material. Why do we choose to become preachers then? All of us, any of us here: why do we heed the Lord’s admonition: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature”? Surely the psalm this morning has something to do with our decision: “For steadfast is His kindness toward us, and the fidelity of the Lord endures forever.” Good reasons, yes, but not quite enough, I think. Surely the life of the preacher is adventurous: snakes, demons, poisons, slaves, preaching Forty Day Novenas to the Infant of Prague! Tempting but not quite. Maybe this is it: we preach b/c those who hear the Gospel and believe “will be saved” but those who hear and do not believe “will be condemned.” We have a moral obligation to preach AND convince. Yes, that’s an excellent Dominican reason to suffer through a novitiate.

But I think the best reason is stated rather quietly in the conclusion of the gospel reading. After Jesus was taken up into heaven to sit at God’s right hand, “…[the disciples] went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them…” While the Lord worked with them. While they preached the Lord worked with them. Because they preached, he was with them. For those of us called to preach (any of us here!), is it too much to say of us that we are preachers b/c we know, somehow truly Know, that we cannot work with the Lord unless we speak his Word of mercy, unless we preach his Gospel? This is not just a matter of saving others from condemnation but finding and claiming our own salvation. We know, in other words, that there is nothing else for us to do but to lend—to give, freely give—our voices to the Word, to become slaves for the Word. Maybe our vocation brochures need to say only this: “If you are called to preach the Gospel: woe to you if you don’t!”

Preach today. Not because you ought to, unwillingly. Not for recompense or recognition. Not to boast or to exercise your rights. Preach, proclaim the Good News, because and only because, if you don’t you will not be you, because you cannot be you if don’t.


  1. For all the romanticism of this picture of the preacher, I can’t imagine the vocations brochure drawn from our Pauline description that would attract a single soul to the preaching.

    It would attract romantics, right? Who, in short order, would become dirty, hungry romantics wondering why the power was shut off.

  2. Tom, always the Practical Dominican...how utterly strange...!

  3. I need some help with my Protestant friend father...can you help?