I proclaim to you good news. Luke 2:10
I absolutely love Pope Francis. I love his style, his thinking, his humility, his honesty and what he chooses to focus on. I am absolutely ecstatic about some of the things he says about preaching in his new apostolic exhortation on evangelization, The Joy of the Gospel.
Here are some of his amazing quotes. “The preacher has the wonderful but difficult task of joining loving hearts, the hearts of the Lord and his people.” “The preacher also needs to keep his ear to the people and discover what it is that the faithful need to hear.” “Let us also keep in mind that we should never respond to questions that nobody asks.”
Here is something he said that, no doubt, almost every Catholic who has been scolded from the pulpit, week in and week out, will resonate with. “Another feature of a good homily is that it is positive. It is not so much concerned with pointing out what shouldn’t be done, but with suggesting what we can do better. In any case, if it does draw attention to something negative, it will also attempt to point to a positive and attractive value, lest it remain mired in complaints, laments, criticisms and reproaches.”
All this reminds me of what the monk, Thomas Merton, said a block or two away from where I used to preach every Sunday. “I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. And if only everybody could realize this! There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.”
The challenge of preaching, in my estimation, is summed up in the last line of that quote: How do you tell people how good they are? How do you tell them how much God loves them? How do you tell them “that they are all walking around shining like the sun?” In the words of Pope Francis, how do you “connect people’s loving hearts to God’s loving heart?”
How can we priests and deacons possibly put into practice what Pope Francis is calling for? It’s simple. We start with ourselves. St. John Paul II said it pretty simply in his own apostolic exhortation, Pastores Dabo Vobis. He says that preachers need to approach the word of God with a docile and prayerful heart so that it may deeply penetrate his thoughts and feelings and bring about a new outlook in him. The priest is able to proclaim the word of God only to the extent that the word has burned into his own heart and is lived in his life.
A bitter, angry preacher, filled with self-hatred and judgment, “mired in complaints, laments, criticisms and reproaches,” who feels unloved and is unable to love, will inevitably try to create that angry, judgmental and unloving God he believes in and project it onto congregations. God spare us!
Father J. Ronald Knott