10.29.2007

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.