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. 🙂
The Traditional Latin Mass can seem challenging to many priests today for several reasons. First many have not studied or mastered the Latin Language. The Latin of the Mass and Breviary is not difficult Latin but it can take a few years for most to feel comfortable celebrating Mass in that language. Second, the ceremonies of the Traditional Latin Mass are much more detailed than the more simplified rituals of the modern Mass. There are more genuflections and signs of the cross, there are details about where to stand at the altar even how to extend one’s hands. These too are not impossible to learn but it takes a little training and a while before a priest might feel comfortable. Third, even if a priests gets comfortable with the low (recited) form of the Mass, the music of the sung form can also provide challenges. Here too the chants are not hard but they are slightly different than the tones used in the modern liturgy.
All these challenges can be met with a little training and time. The following video shows a workshop designed to teach priests how to sing the Traditional Latin Mass
The Gospel for this Sunday is from John 20:19ff clearly shows him bestowing the authority to forgive sins to his first priests, the Apostles. He breathed on them and said, ‘Whose sins you forgive they are forgiven them. Whose sins you retain, they are retained.’ This passage should not be lightly set aside. According to John it is the among the very first things that Jesus did after He rose from the dead. First he says, Peace be with you. Then he commisions them: As the Father has sent me so I send you. Well the Father sent Jesus to reconcile sinners with the Father. So these sent one (Apostles) would have the same power, to reconcile sinners. It is an essential hallmark of the Church that she be able to reconcile sinners through the ministry of priests. If you’re a good Bible believeing Catholic you ought to get to confession frequently. Afterall Jesus set it up this way himself. Now don’t go an reinvent religion. Just practice what Jesus set forth. Central to the practice of the true and Biblical faith is confession.
So here are some other resources to study moreon this:
I have put together a PDF flyer on the Biblical roots of Confession and you can read it here: Confession in Biblical
I preached a sermon on today’s Gospel which covers among other things the Authority to forgive sins you can listen or right click to download here: Sermon on Divine Mercy Sunday
Here is a two minute Video Apologetical primer on Confession:
Reason # 25 – Don’t block your Blessings! There are just some things you can’t get unless you come to Church. Some folks say they can pray at home just fine. Maybe so, but that’s not all we do or get at Church. Obviously you can’t receive Holy Communion at home and Jesus warns that you need it: “Unless you eat the Flesh of the Son of Man and Drink his Blood, you do not have life in you.” (Jn 6:53). We’ve already discussed that earlier.
But it is also true that you cannot get the other blessings of the Mass at home alone. For example, at the beginning of Mass the priest prays a prayer of forgiveness of sin after we call to mind our sins. This forgives venial sins only but don’t tell me that isn’t a blessing. At several points in the Mass the Priest, speaking in the person of Christ says, “The Lord be with you.” Guess what that means?! It means the Lord is with us who are gathered. These sorts of greetings by the priest are not just empty words, they convey and bestow a reality. Standing at the Altar the priest, once again acting in the person of Christ says, “This is my Body…this is my Blood.” Guess what happens? Jesus becomes sacramentally and perfectly present. When the Priest lifts up the sacred Host and Chalice, guess who you see? That’s right, it’s Jesus. Try that at home. At the end of the Mass, the priest says, “May almighty God bless you: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” Guess what happens? God actually blesses you. Again, these are more than ritual words. They actually convey what they announce.
There are many other blessings at Mass: there is fellowship. I know how much I count on my parishioners to bless me, encourage me and correct me. Many parishes (like mine) also have great choirs. Many parishes (like mine) have great preaching 🙂 ! Good company, good teaching, great blessings and the greatest of all: Holy Communion.
Now don’t block your blessings. Come and go with me to my Father’s House. The following video is a bit grainy but you’ll enjoy this invitation anyway.
Reason # 18 – The Good Priests. Much has been written lately about the sins of some priests who horribly committed sexual abuse. May God bless those who were victims of such priests. But the vast majority of priests are good, holy and dedicated men who given themselves selflessly to God and the service of his people. I can testify to many good priests who helped me along the way. The priests who serve us in the Church are not perfect men but most all of them love God and his people. They work long hours and are present at some of the most difficult and joyful moments of our lives. Most of them are quiet servants, answering late night phone calls, celebrating early masses, sitting through long meetings and patiently listening to our concerns, struggles, joys and hopes, questions, and doubts. They celebrate the Sacraments with devotion, both for God and their people. And truth be told most Catholics love their priests, pray for them, respect them and value their service.
So here is a reason to come home: many good priests are waiting to serve you and celebrate the significant moments of your life. Many good priests await your return.
Here is a beautiful Video that celebrates the ministry priests among us: