09 July 2020

The immovable rock of preaching

14th Week OT (R): Crisis Preaching
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP


The Catholic preacher stands on the ancient witness of Scripture; the incarnated revelation of the Father in the divine person of Christ Jesus; and the ordered, intelligible beauty of creation. He stands on God's Self-revelation in the Bible, in Christ, and in creation to accomplish one necessary task: to proclaim the Father's freely offered mercy to sinners. The Catholic preacher gives his voice to the Word of God so that the People of God may know that their Father has forgiven them their sins through Jesus Christ. Knowing that their sins are forgiven, God's people are then exhorted to receive His mercy through the sacraments, thus growing in holiness. And with their growth in holiness, they are charged with going out into the world to bear witness – in word and deed – to the mercy they themselves have received. In season and out, the Catholic preacher preaches one Word, one message, one revelation, one Gospel – Jesus Christ is Lord! From the throne of one's heart, Christ rules. In season and out, in sickness or in health, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, the Church is the eternal bride of the bridegroom. The preacher preaches standing on this immovable rock.

Jesus says to his disciples, his apostles: “'As you go, make this proclamation: The Kingdom of heaven is at hand.’” The kingdom IS at hand. Not used to be at hand, or will be at hand at some point. But IS at hand. Right here, right now. Whether that right here, right now is a hurricane or a beautiful spring day; an economic depression or record economic growth; a bloody civil war or a nation celebrating its unity in peace – right here, right now – the Kingdom of heaven is at hand, and Jesus Christ is Lord. The tides of history in this world will ebb and flow, will come and go, but the Lordship of Christ for those who follow him never wavers. When confronted by a crisis, some disastrous eruption in the ordinary patterns of daily life, the Christian remembers faith, hope, and charity. He/she remembers to trust in God's divine providence; to expect that God's promises will be fulfilled; and to love sacrificially for the good of the Other. The Catholic preacher will be a personal sign, an embodied symbol of this memory among his people. The proclamation of the presence of the Kingdom is ancient, contemporary, and eschatological. Then, now, and to come. If you will serve the Lord as his priest, you will serve him as a voice crying out into whatever wilderness he sends you.

Our Enemy, the spirit of this age, will tempt you to compromise the Word, to make “prudent adjustments,” to skirt around the Hard Stuff and focus on the Easy Stuff. You will come to think that you are being cooperative when you succumb to this temptation. That you are being a “team player.” After all, there are bigger problems to tackle. Larger issues to consider. There's the parish budget. The diocesan tax. The capital campaign. There's the media to think about and how this will be received in the chancery. If you are being an ass in the pulpit, you should worry about these things. But if you are preaching the Good News that the Father has freely forgiven our sins through Jesus Christ, then you have nothing to worry about. Hurricanes? Your sins are forgiven; receive God's mercy. Record unemployment? Your sins are forgiven; receive God's mercy. Civil war? Riots? Pandemic? Your sins are forgiven; receive God's mercy. Every crisis is a chance for both the Church and her greatest Enemy to preach their respective gospels. For our Enemy, that gospel is: fear, anger, paranoia will keep you safe. For the Church, that gospel is and always will be: your sins are forgiven; receive God's mercy.

Just in case I haven't made myself clear: a crisis changes nothing about the Gospel or its preaching. Preach the Gospel before a crisis, and how you preach the Gospel during and after a crisis should look exactly the same. Did the Roman Imperial persecutions change the Gospel? No. Did the Gnostic nonsense of the Patristic period change the Gospel? No. Did four hundred years of the Arian heresy change the Gospel? No. Did the collapse of the Roman Empire; the invasion of the Moors; the nominalist revolution of Luther; the French Revolution; the rise and fall of Napoleon; the 19th century modernist scourge; the Bolsheviks, the Nazis, the Maoists, the Sexual Revolution, or the Internet change the Gospel? No. When we preach faith, hope, and charity, and live these virtues well, we participate in the Divine Life. The Divine Life does not change. But we do. We grow in perfection and though the world around us may be falling apart, we endure not b/c we are immune to natural disaster or disease, but b/c our inheritance is the Kingdom. The Catholic preacher preaches standing on this immovable rock.

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