Catholic Preaching – What do you Think?

47b6cc20b3127cce9854864ffc0300000027100abuw7rs2zswjgWhen I talk with Catholics who have left the Church, the number one reason I get that they left was poor preaching.This is especially true of those who left for the Evangelical Churches. Catholic priests as a group have the reputation of being poor preachers. I think there are several reasons for this.

  1. The expected length of a Catholic sermon is 7-10 minutes. This is far too brief a time to really develop well a biblical or doctrinal theme. It results in a  slogan based and brief exhortation. In this matter the people of God have to work with us. Most Catholics are upset if the liturgy goes more than 50 minutes. We all need to agree to take more time to be with the Lord. Longer sermons are necessary to really develop and break open most passages. Most Protestant sermons are about a half and hour. True, I don’t want a preacher to go longer unless he really has something to say but it is also true that most priests have to wrap up when they’ve barely gotten started. It’s not a good context for preaching.
  2. This leads to the second point. I think many of us priests confuse exhortation for preaching. Most of the sermons I grew up with could be summarized in two sentences:  “1. Jesus is challenging us to do better today.” And 2. “Let us try to do better and now please stand for the creed.”  This is exhortation but true preaching takes the Word of God and does four things: Analyzes, organizes, illustrates, and applies it. It doesn’t just exhort us to do better it shows how, and sets for the why and wisdom of God’s Word. This as you might guess takes a little more than 7 minutes.
  3. Good preaching is edgy. It comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable. But too many priests are afraid of offending or upsetting. Despite the fact that we serve a Lord who got killed  for what he said, too many of us are not willing to suffer even the raised eyebrows of our congregation. We have to be will to talk forthrightly about serious issues today, about sin, about injustice, about promiscuity and so forth. We have to speak the truth in love but the “Jesus loves you sermons”  are not enough. Jesus loved us enough to speak the truth to us even when we killed him for it.  We priests have to get a spine, and a heart and be willing to preach  even the difficult stuff. It has been my experience that Catholics respond well to tough sermons. They don’t want angry priests but they do want priests who are zealous for the truth.
  4. How about a little enthusiasm? If you really care about what you are saying shouldn’t it be reflected in your mannerisms and tone of voice? Too many priests have a kind of lecture like discursive approach instead of a fiery Charismatic approach. True enough there are different personalities but a fiery enthusiasm is hard to hide. But being on fire can’t be faked. It comes only from prayer and a deep love for God and His people.

Now I raise all this because this blog isn’t just supposed to be a cheer leading section. One of the purposes of this blog is to reach out to Catholics who have drifted or outright left. And I KNOW this is one of the big issues.

So alright readers I know you can add to the list  above. Perhaps your feed back will help some of us priests improve. So have at it. Be kind and constructive but speak the truth. We priests can use it. And pray, pray, pray. You get the priests and the sermons you pray for.  Also encourage Father when he does well and gently admonish him if he needs improvement.

Before you write take five minutes and listen to this sermon by Fr. Bill Casey, a great preacher, for his take on this! It’s powerful and talk about edgy! He tells us priests to stand up like men with a backbone. He also thinks that help is on the way. There is hope since the Holy Spirit has not given up on us!

By the way the goofy looking preacher with the big mouth in the picture at the top is yours truly. 🙂

10 Replies to “Catholic Preaching – What do you Think?”

  1. I once knew a priest in kingston, Ontario who never wrote his homilies but he would simply walk up to the microphone when the time came and found himself making very good homilies on a daily basis. When people asked him where he got his material, he simply shrugged his shoulders and said, ‘I don’t know where they come from’.

    I think that the priesthood (as well as all of us, of course) need to come closer to Jesus and seek deeper conversion, and perhaps then they will be able to preach better in directing others how to get there. I don’t mean to say by this that I think the priests who aren’t doing a good job preaching are necessarily this way because of sin, but I do think that true deep conversion to Jesus is very helpful if one wishes to direct others along that path with one’s words. For as Christ said, ‘can a blind man lead a blind man? will they not both fall into the pit?’

    I question if poor preaching is really such a primary cause for people turning away from the church to protestant faiths… a more fundamental problem present here is that people who do that seem to value preaching over receiving the holy eucharist (or perhaps they didn’t believe in the holy eucharist in the first place?) and the problem then has to do primarily with a lack of faith which is simply aided by poor preaching.

    That being said, there is something else that may be important to note here:

    St Alphonsus once told a story about a devout lady who wanted to know what souls were the dearest to Jesus. One day, while at mass during the elevation of the Host, she saw the infant Jesus standing on the altar with three young virgins. Jesus took the first and caressed her very much. He went to the second, took off her veil and struck her on the cheek, and then he turned his back on her. Then when He saw her sorrowful, He comforted her with all sorts of kindness. Then He went to the third, seized her by the arm in anger, struck her and drove her away from Him. But the more she saw herself rejected, the more she kept humbling herself and coming back to Him. Then the vision ended.

    The devout woman in the church wanted to know what the meaning of the vision was and Jesus appeared to her again, and told her that there were three types of souls that loved Him.

    i) Some love him, but their love is so weak that if they are not coaxed by spiritual pleasures they become uneasy, and are in danger of turning their backs on Him, and this was represented by the first virgin.
    ii) The second virgin represented the souls who love Him with a less feeble love, but who require to be comforted from time to time.
    iii) The third represented the more courageous souls who, although constantly desolate and deprived of spritiual consolations, do not cease doing all they can to please the Lord. These souls, Jesus said were the ones that pleased Him the most.

    The reason why I bring up this story is because it relates to this situation with regard to bad preaching in that despite what we often here about (and in some reflected in Fr. Casey’s excellent homily) how little fire us catholics may have, there is something to note in that catholics around North America are going to masses on a regular basis where they do not receive the spiritual gifts of having good preaching, where they do not have parishes that are really attached to each other, where they constantly hear about all sorts of problems in their church with abuses and scandals that don’t seem to end and any number of other problems that we could name… and yet they are still going…. and there is something silently remarkable about that.

    It makes me think of the third virgin in St Alphonsus’ story.

    God uses all evil for good purposes in the end and where sin abounds, grace abounds even the more and God’s grace shines through this whole thing whether we recognize it or not.

    Keep up the good work on your blog and in your ministry, Fr. Pope, and God Bless you,

  2. Thanks be to God that our parish has been blessed with many fine preachers! Perhaps expecting them to preach for at least 30 minutes has something to do with that…

  3. I tend to disagree a bit on the length issue. As you can see in Fr. Casey’s video, his homily took 7:30 minutes, so you can make your point in that amount of time. In the end, I think a good homily stems from a combination of a few things. One is spontaneity, as Reesorville alluded to above. Most of the “boring” homilies I’ve heard in my life have been read. In contrast, two is preparation. I really think a priest should take time and know what the readings will be about beforehand. He doesn’t necessarily have to write something down, but at least his mind will be processing what he read. Today I went to Mass and I was surprised to see the priest reading the missal while the reading was being read. Wasn’t it a bit too late for him to do that? Three is nature. Some priests are good preachers and some aren’t; we all know that. Four is prayer. Five is inspiration from above, and regardless of what else is done, sometimes God will just prevent a priest from giving a good homily, for whatever reason. There’s probably more than these, but what I’m trying to say is that there are so many things that have to be just right for a good homily to happen, that anytime we think we hear, we should feel very blessed.

  4. Wow! So refreshing to read an article with such honesty about the state of catholic preaching – thanks!
    I realise that I might be doing a great injustice to many fine priests in writing this, but I can’t help but wonder if many priests have ever met Christ as a living Presence in the Word.
    When I came to my faith, through a charismatic retreat, the first thing that came alive to me was the Word – and i should say that’s not an experience unique to me. Coming out of the retreat after hearing some fine preaching and finding so much in the Word even in my daily reading, it was dissapointing to say the least, to hear sermons with priests declaring that Jesus must have been in a bad mood for refusing to heal the Canaanite woman who begged him for her demoniac daughter.
    Or the normal, more mundane way of taking passages rich in meaning and beauty and instead of breaking it open in their context, in their spiritual sense and how that comes down to our lives, simply as you have written “We need to try more!”. Then there are the priests who, anytime they come across demons in the bible, spend an extra ten minutes in the sermon – to try and explain what it could have meant and how we should read them now. The only thing all the congregation understood was that the priest did not understand and the priest did not believe there were demons existed even now and very much at work!
    Soon after coming to the faith I was very much on the verge of leaving the church myself for precisely the same reason – bad preaching – but was prevented at the last minute on reading about the apparitions of O.Lady at Garabandal.Listening to evangelicals on TBN and GodTV was then what really fed me – I still listen to a lot of evangelical preachers! Thankfully, I’m now in a parish( where you can really hear the gospel being preached (he preaches a little more than 20 mins) and it’s actually tied a lot of loose ends that I had from the evangelicals. He’s does a marvellous job of bringing in all the concepts which I’ve heard only in the evangelical world (eg. the kairos,the rhema and it’s power to deliver and save, etc,etc) and showing how much more we actually have in the catholic church!
    I think now, I can honestly say I’m catholic and love the church!!
    Maybe the way forward to address the problem would be for catholic priests to listen to good evangelical preachers as a discipline of training – they could then take what has been said, correct the theological errors and deliver it. And then, in the process, they’ll become fine preachers themselves!

  5. Amen. I was raised Pentecostal and am exploring Catholicism. I am really drawn to it, but the reason I found this blog is because the lack of preaching I am discovering is bothersome. I think Father Casey would be an excellent Father to be under and to listen to at Mass.

  6. I am Catholic but recently stopped attending due to disabilty and old age. I have 3 religious channels on my cable tv which I watch daily. I find most of whats on Catholic TV is the usual dull and uninspiring devotions which put one to sleep. Concerts and Latin chants and dull unispiring talk shows or preaching shows.
    I find I always end up watching one of the Baptist or non denominational shows to get exciting informative and inspiring preaching that builds my faith.
    Heavy bible teaching which allows me to get my Bible (now using NKJV), and follow along which is an enormous faith builder. The music if any is much more pleasant and enjoyable also compared to the dull and uninspiring catholic music.
    That does not include the greats like the AVE MARIA, and many classics. Those are inspiring. The Latin chants etc. however are just awful.

  7. Ray, I agree wholeheartedly with your assessment, and my experiences closely match your own.

    After 40 years of devotion to the Catholic Church–which basically means 40 years of lame preaching washing over me like a lullaby–I decided to take my commitment to Christ outside Catholicism. After having met Christ in a dynamic way 19 years ago on the strength of many months of Evangelical-led radio preaching, the past two decades have been a painful mix of exhilaration and misery. The exhilaration is traceable to Protestant-related gatherings while the misery was born of watching priest after priest embarrass himself and the worldwide Catholic Church with inept or cowardly homiletics that seem to have been inspired by Hallmark Cards or Barney the Dinosaur. It is as if I’ve patiently waited for Catholicism to show itself to be what it claims, and it has failed. Why should I grant it another 20 years of my life? Critics can call me what they wish, but I’m not sitting under lame preaching, bad singing, empty ritual, disconnection from Scripture, or dead corporate church life for another two decades!

  8. After a comment by a parishioner over the abnormal length of the Christmas eve sermon,
    in a Mass, that was exactly 63 minutes long
    in a small Iowa town…where we spent much longer than the sermon,
    waiting for someone to realize,
    that due to great oversight on my part,
    that no one was assigned to be an usher,
    (as the minutes ticked by, it finally ocurred to someone to take it upon themselves to take up the collection),
    it struck me,
    that we, priests could just have, a sort of threaten a ‘stand up strike’ next Christmas and
    actually preach for 15-20 minutes everywhere in the United States at every Mass.
    Is there Anyone out there who has the guts to join me?
    Let em’ walk out, or not contribute, or not show up, what’s more important?
    What if the Bishoops had to all declare that we could not do it?
    That they wanted the big contributors to keep things going the way they are….and were, as Bishoops against long homilies?

    Actually, my question is about how to do a ‘pulpit exchange’ with the local protestant clergy.????
    a.) No Mass – yeah right.
    b.) Liturgy of the Word before Mass?
    c.) heretical woman preacher in the pulpit during Mass after Gospel – wait a minute –
    I am ready for a sabbatical.
    d.) After Mass – 2nd Liturgy of the Word
    e.) Afgter Communion.

  9. I love the limitations we put on God’s time! So many! I am a current Protestant (By name only), a
    believer in our Lord Jesus Christ, The Father, and The Holy Spirit. I was raised in a Catholic home.
    This was not a very good experience. Not the idea of Jesus, (I used to say play mass as a kid in
    my room at home after church on Sunday. But the harshness of imposition. The cursing, the violence,
    the mixed message. I turned my back on God not long after. I am now a 52 year old man. The gift from
    my Lord that I have survived many trials has led me to seek further, giving back that gift, the easing of
    suffering, the pain, the anquish, the brokenhearted. I searched for vocation for years…not finding what
    was in plain sight for me. I am to pick up my cross and follow Him! Why as a 52 year old man, married to
    a wonderful Christian wife, are people like me shut out from true ministry in the Roman Catholic Church?
    I know, the celibacy rule. However, If I understand correctly, there is a shortage of Catholic Priests? This is
    far larger than just the time spent on Sunday sermons. There are serious demographic and disconnect issues
    that if not addressed, will undermine the whole of Christianity across the globe. It may shift continents, but in the end the trend will be decline. The United States and Europe are aging rapidly. Pope Francis, in his comments so
    far has the right idea! Time to really shake it up! God Bless!

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