Those who would preach or lead in the Church must have great courage, for though we preach a gospel that contains consoling messages, it also contains much that is contrary to the directions and desires of popular culture and human sinfulness. And thus it is true that every preacher who would preach the gospel of a crucified (and risen) Messiah must have courage. And this applies not only to clergy, but also to parents, catechists, and all who are leaders in the Church, family, and community.
And if we must have courage it also follows that we must be encouraged. To be encouraged means to be summoned to courage by affirmation, good example, and when necessary, by rebuke and warning.
In the Office of Readings of the Liturgy of the Hours for today, there was a magnificent example of exhortation and the summons to courage by St. Bernard of Clairvaux. I would like to present his words here and then add a few of my own [in red]. Please recall that while his words were directed to his fellow priests and brothers, who had the task of preaching and teaching, they can just as easily be applied to parents and all who lead in the Church and in the community.
We read in the gospel that when the Lord was teaching his disciples and urged them to share in his passion by the mystery of eating his body, some said: This is a hard saying, and from that time they no longer followed him. When he asked the disciples whether they also wished to go away, they replied: Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. I assure you, my brothers, that even to this day it is clear to some that the words which Jesus speaks are spirit and life, and for this reason they follow him. To others these words seem hard, and so they look elsewhere for some pathetic consolation. And thus every preacher, teacher, and parent must recall that the message is not necessarily rejected because it is wrong or because we are being too insistent on what is hard. It is often rejected on account of worldliness and a refusal to consider the life that such words bring, a refusal to yield to them in the Holy Spirit, who prompts us to embrace the proclaimed truth even if it is hard to understand or live at first.
Yet wisdom cries out in the streets, in the broad and spacious way that leads to death, to call back those who take this path. And thus we who would preach must persevere and have an urgency that realizes that many are walking straight toward Hell. Because we love them, we will risk their wrath, even their revenge, and not hesitate to call them back lest they perish.
Finally, he says, For forty years I have been close to this generation, and I said: They have always been faint-hearted. Dead bodies float downstream. It takes a live body to resist the current, to run and not be weary, to be strong and not give way. Too many who preach, teach, and lead are weak, are faint-hearted. They must be strong and persevere despite opposition, setbacks, misunderstandings, and trials. And even if we err and are too harsh, or are too weak, or stumble on the way, we cannot allow this to hinder our godly course to proclaim the gospel with strong hearts, not faint ones. Every day we must claim new strength.
You also read in another psalm: God has spoken once. Once, indeed, because for ever. His is a single, uninterrupted utterance, because it is continuous and unending. Indeed, the Word of God does not change. Neither can our doctrines or our adherence to what God has said once and for all.
He calls upon sinners to return to their true spirit and rebukes them when their hearts have gone astray, for it is in the true heart that he dwells and there he speaks, fulfilling what he taught through the prophet: Speak to the heart of Jerusalem. And so must we speak, calling those who have strayed to return to their right minds and to the truth of the gospel. We must speak to their hearts, appeal to their consciences, where God’s voice still echoes whether they like to admit it or not. Deep down they know God is right.
You see, my brothers, how the prophet admonishes us for our advantage: If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts. You can read almost the same words in the gospel and in the prophet. For in the gospel the Lord says: My sheep hear my voice. And in the psalm blessed David says: You are his people (meaning, of course, the Lord’s) and the sheep of his pasture. If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts. Hear also the prophet Habakkuk. Far from hiding the Lord’s reprimands, he dwells on them with attentive and anxious care. He says: I will stand upon my watchtower and take up my post on the ramparts, keeping watch to see what he will say to me and what answer I will make to those who try to confute me.
I beg you, my brothers, stand upon our watchtower, for now is the time for battle. Amen! To your battle stations! Stand up and be a witness for the Lord! Keep watch for the people of God!
Let all our dealings be in the heart, where Christ dwells, in right judgment and wise counsel, but in such a way as to place no confidence in those dealings, nor rely upon our fragile defenses. The Battle is the Lord’s but we are His soldiers.
Courage! Solidarity! Action!