When 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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. 🙂