PREACHING is, of course, an indispensable activity of the Church, because this is none other than transmitting the word of God. Yes, the word of God, eternal and ever relevant to us, needs to be proclaimed always, so as to be known, loved and lived by all as much as possible.
It is the word that gives us eternal life and not just some human and natural knowledge. As St. Peter said when our Lord asked the apostles if they too would leave him after telling them he was the bread of life that caused disbelief among the Jews, “To whom shall we go? You have the word of eternal life.” (Jn 6,68)
If we go by the standard expressed by St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians, then this must be a tremendous responsibility requiring nothing less than vital union with God.
“My speech and my preaching was not in the persuasive words of human wisdom, but in the showing of the Spirit and power, that your faith might not stand on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God,” says St. Paul. (2,4-5)
Further down this Pauline chapter, the apostle of the Gentiles professes that “we have the mind of Christ.” (2,16) It’s a “we” not an “I”, for St. Paul refers to himself, first, then to the others, his listeners, for only when we have the mind of Christ, one way or another, can we appreciate preaching, whether we are the giver or the listener.
We have to be wary therefore of preaching or listening to it outside of Christ’s mind, doing it solely on the basis of our human talents and conditions, without referring it to Christ.
This happens when one preaches oneself instead of Christ. This happens when instead of making the gospel and the doctrine of our faith as the framework of preaching, one uses mere rhetoric, or his mastery of the sciences, or he exhibits his talents.
Nowadays, more and more people are relying on their human knowledge rather than on word of God as their ultimate key to human development and happiness. And some of them have brought this human knowledge with its accompanying skills to such polish and perfection that the word of God becomes totally irrelevant if not discredited.
They have also become smooth talkers, and many people also have practically lost any touch with the “mind of Christ,” such that they can only welcome the wisdom of the world rather than the word of God.
Again St. Paul referred to this when he said: “There shall be a time, when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, they will heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears, and will indeed turn away their hearing from the truth, but will be turned to fables.” (2 Tim 4,3-4)
We have to make our preaching effective. The desire for it should be made to burn in spite of the inhospitable environment. But, yes, there have to be appropriate, creative ways to do it.
Preachers really have to prepare their material well. It starts with a consistent life of prayer and earnest search for sanctity. Without these, no amount of brilliant and clever delivery can cover the hideous hole that will always be apparent when such consistency is missing.
Obviously, preachers have to think of their audience and try to figure out who they really are and what God wants to tell them in their current conditions. Thus, abiding observation of the people and the social developments is a must.
But let’s not forget that the best way to know the people is when one spends hours hearing confessions. Here he can really get a good glimpse of the intimate interior lives of the people.
The gospel should be made the background of preaching. We have to be wary when we are drawn to participate in secular debates and discussions. The gospel should inspire such exchanges, not the other way around, or worse, discarding the gospel.
This is a proximate temptation because in the desire to be up-to-date or to be knowledgeable about social, economic or political events and developments, the gospel can be sidelined or simply treated as an ornament.
Preaching has to bring these discussions to Christ, and in fact should inspire them. The word of God is always relevant to these discussions. And these discussions are in great need of divine inspiration.
Let’s also pray that the listeners have the proper attitude toward preaching. They should not expect social or political theories, but rather only to hear God’s word.
By: Fr. Roy Cimagala
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