Why Preaching Must Be a Priority Today
In the Archdiocese of Boston's chrism mass three weeks ago, Archbishop Sean O'Malley gave a homily with this title, the text of which has been published in the most recent (4.22) issue of Origins. There are some incisive observations in the homily, both with regard to the culture and to the importance of preaching, a few of which are worth quoting:
"The pulpit is the important arena of our martyrdom, our witnessing . . . proclaiming the word of God is the first task, the primum officium of the ordained priest . . . . Today, with religious illiteracy at an all-time high, we must toil to preach and to teach. We must preach the word in season and out of season, when convenient and inconvenient."
"Why is preaching so important today? Why is it so difficult? Our present situation makes good preaching both crucial and challenging. To me, one of the best metaphors to describe the reality of the church in the United States is the biblical notion of exile. Exile in the Old Testament is not just a geographical experience. Exile is a spiritual condition of God's people when they find themselves in a hostile, alien environment where the overriding temptation is to assimilation. The cultural pull is to accept and to conform to a dominant cultural influence that is incongruent with our faith and with our destiny. For today's world the central claims of the faith are increasingly unwelcome, and they are received, if not with hostility, at best with the yawn of indifference. Israel survived the exile because God's people resisted the twin temptation -- assimilation on one hand and despair on the other."
"A national opinion research center conducted extensive surveys with the Catholic laity and was forced to conclude that the strongest correlation of church attendance and Catholic identification for both the young people and the general Catholic population were not issues of sex, birth control, abortion and the ordination of women; rather the strongest predictor of Catholic behavior and identification was the quality of the Sunday sermon preached in the respondent's parish church. In another survey of 30-year-olds returning to the church, the two most important factors were a personal relationship with the priest and the quality of preaching. Both of these things underscore the important role of the priest in the life of the Church. The priest is irreplaceable."
Though O'Malley goes too far at points (at one instance dangerously implying that preaching is more effective than the Mass itself in the sanctification of souls), he has underlined a crucial factor -- the quality of preaching -- which has the capacity to make or break the quality of a flock. Insipid, lukewarm, and lifeless sermons have produced an insipid, lukewarm, and lifeless flock. To produce a theologically literate, biblically informed, culturally engaged, and morally upright flock, we need theologically literate, biblically informed, culturally engaged, and morally upright homilies.
# posted by Jamie : 8:17 AM