Heart Speaks to Heart

Christ Preaching -- Rembrandt van Rijn

Recently, I had to deeply reflect on how I give a homily at Mass. I am not the best preacher, but I believe that I have been given the gift of getting the message across and to the point. Thank you, Holy Spirit! The reason for my reflection was that someone has defined my preaching style as "harsh" and "negative". So, I took a step back and "pondered what kind of greeting this might be."

Since I have been preaching I have always found my style to be challenging. Yes, challenging. The problem today is that some people do not want to be challenged, but rather told how good they are. Unfortunately, they never heard the Gospels and Jesus' teaching authentically.

When people search for the compliment of doing good (which we know is not appropriate) the fault lies in the old error of Pelagianism. Pelagius was a fourth century British monk who taught that Christ came to give us an example and that our salvation consists in simply following him. This view seemed noble and reasonable, but St. Augustine saw that it would lead to self-exaltation and separation from God. Unfortunately the temptation of Pelagianism is very great (its latest version is the "self-esteem" movement).

Jesus' first "homily" quotes Him as saying: "The time has come; the kingdom of God is upon you; repent and believe the Gospel." (Mk 1: 15) That sounds kind of harsh to me. The word for repent is "metanoia" meaning a change of heart. We are surround by a secular culture which doesn't exactly deny God's existence but implies that if He does exist, He is unimportant to human affairs.

Besides calling people to repentance, the preacher must give the congregation solid teaching. Catechesis is another important purpose of the homily. All teaching in the preaching needs to be rooted in the Scripture and the Catechism. Failure to do so leads to heresy, such as Pelagianism.

The final purpose of preaching is perhaps surprising: to entertain. Not as a comedy stage show, but able to draw people in to the message. Bishop Fulton Sheen knew that and did that well.

Cardinal Newman's motto was "cor ad cor loquitur" -- Heart speaks to heart. My job is to first get the message into my own heart, so that I can get it into the hearts of the people. Of course, hearts have to be receptive to the process. A hard heart usually refuses to hear, refuses to change.


"A Gem Among Virtues"

"How beautiful then is modesty. and what a gem among virtues it is." (St. Bernard, Confessor and Doctor of the Church).

For the last several years a serious approach to dress (shorts, low neck-lines, tight apparel, shirts with large insignia, etc.) for Mass and Church functions has waned. Some say that we should just be happy that they are there at all. But listen to what the Church says:

To say that “…modesty is a matter of custom” is just as wrong as to say that, “…honesty is a matter of custom.”
Pope Pius XII

From the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
2521. Modesty protects the intimate center of the person. It means refusing to unveil what should remain hidden…. It guides how one looks at others and behaves toward them…

2522. Modesty protects the mystery of persons…Modesty is decency. It inspires one's choice of clothing.

2523.There is a modesty of the feelings as well as of the body….Modesty inspires a way of life which makes it possible to resist the allurements of fashion and the pressures of prevailing ideologies.


Not My Church, O God! Not My Church!

When our Lord walked the face of the earth, His Church was "the people". Somewhere along the 200 decades since that time, Church has taken on the meaning of building, property.

This year our diocese will begin the challenging task of restructuring and consolidating parishes. I believe we are the last diocese in Pennsylvania to pull up the sleeves and attack the issue. The grim reality is that we have less priests to serve the needs of the people entrusted to us. Pastors at present have one, two, three and even four parishes. Granted, we are still better off than other parishes in the country where some parishes only see a priest once a month.

In the next year and a half our Bishop in consultation with various committees (both lay and cleric) will be attempting to place priests of the diocese where the people are located. Currently, we have priests assigned to parishes that have very few parishioners. No doubt we will place priests where they can do the best work.

Unfortunately, many national or ethnic churches will be closed. When the immigrants arrived in this country the Church was to some degree their sanctuary from the new world. Today, hardly any of the ethnic parishes in our diocese even know the language of the country they left. Many of the smaller parishes cannot support themselves much longer due to population shifts, loss of ethnic traditions by the young and the decline in certain industrial/manufacturing jobs.

May we pray the those who will be hurt by this process and that they will be able to see the great opportunities that abound in the future.