27 August 2007

Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel...

Some of you have asked for the comments regarding, particularly, this past Sunday's homily. Only two have thus far come to me, both negative, one from someone who heard the homily and one from someone who has a lot of connections in town and is hearing quite a bit.

The gist of the comments, as I understand them since only two people actually came to me, can be boiled down to this: they are tired of the "doom and gloom," and that I keep preaching about things that have been the way they are "for generations."

Now, I don't exactly recall preaching doom and gloom, so I went back to look through the homilies that have I preached the past few weeks.

Three weeks ago was the homily I preached against underage drinking, especially against parents giving their underage children alcohol, resulting from a party being held for our outgoing college freshmen at the home of a set of parents. The Gospel happened to be the one about the thief breaking into the house. I remember saying that the thief, in this case, hadn't broken into the house, but was welcomed in through the front door to steal the purity of the youth! I made the connection with the baptism of their children, when parents are instructed: "See that the divine live which God gives him (her) is kept safe from the poison of sin, to grow always stronger in his (her) heart. If your faith makes you ready to accept this responsibility, renew now the vows of your own baptism" (Rite of Baptism, 93). I also said that the parents in this case simply handed their children the cup of the poison of sin and said, "Here, drink up. At least you're safe in my house."

Two weeks ago, using the Gospel where Jesus says, "Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division," as my springboard, I reminded the parishioners of who Jesus truly is. I also reminded them that nothing must come before Christ Jesus, not even our families.

This past Sunday, of course, I reminded the people that nobody should be receiving Holy Communion unless they have come spiritually prepared, again using the Gospel as my springboard.

Now, if these three topics are filled with "doom and gloom" it must be said that the Gospels themselves are nothing but doom and gloom!

It must be remembered that, as Chris Padgett likes to say, Jesus doesn't call us to a life of mediocrity. He requires that we make a decision either for or against him, and for this reason he says: "I wish you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth" (Revelation 3:15-16). I would suggest that Jesus will treat those who have rejected him more favorably than those who remained apathetic toward him.

At any rate, I cannot help but recall the beautiful line from Saint Paul:

If I preach the gospel, this is no reason for me to boast, for an obligation has been imposed on me, and woe to me if I do not preach it! If I do so willingly, I have a recompense, but if unwillingly, then I have been entrusted with a stewardship. What then is my recompense? That, when I preach, I offer the gospel free of charge so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel (I Corinthians 9:16-18).
I refuse to water down the Gospel, because it is not mine to change or alter. I must proclaim the Gospel and I must do so in its entirety, which will sometimes mean that people will not like what they hear.

What I have preached should not disturb one who is faithful and who is doing what must be done by all who follow Christ. These faithful ones should be encouraged by what I say by recognizing that they are on the right path.

Those who are not living faithful lives will hear what I preach as offensive because they know it to be the truth.

One of the people that contacted me said this: "The kids love you. You talk to any kid, and they think you are a great guy!"

By kids, he meant high school students, and I would suggest without hesitation that they love me precisely because I am not afraid to speak the truth. I will not back down; I will not water it down. Simply consider one of the outgoing college freshmen's comments to me after my homily against the party: "That was awesome, Father!" even as several of the adults criticized me for it.
This afternoon at soccer practice one of the players and I got into a discussion about faith - as we often do - and asked, hypothetically, if he could become, say, a Baptist. I reminded him that if he did, because he knows the truth of the Catholic Church (he really does), his soul would be in grave jeopardy because by doing so he would reject Christ and his Church. His response was fantastic and left the team captain doubled over on his knees in laughter: "Father, if I never met you I probably wouldn't be going to Hell."

Now, by this he didn't mean that he truly believes he is going to Hell, nor did he mean that I am leading him astray. He is a faithful young man who wants very much to do what is right and to be faithful to Christ, but there is some truth in what he says. He is right because I don't shy away from opportunities to speak the truth, and in so doing I very often answer questions the kids have but haven't yet asked and so give them information that they hadn't yet had.

Some of the adults are apparently considering not coming back to Church if all I do is "preach at them." I simply speak the Gospel. When the Gospels turn to more "uplifting" themes, so will my homilies.

Incidentally, my homily this weekend will be about Time magazine's story on Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. (Rocco has two good posts on this here and here.)


  1. I have come to the conclusion that no matter what the topic of the homily or how it related to the readings, there will always be people who don't get the message because it applies to them and they don't want it to apply to them. It is their conscience wrestling with truth that can be documented by scripture.

    Do not be disheartened. No matter how hard you try, you will not please every one.

  2. I've been reading your homilies for a good while and I'd have to say the only way anyone could call them "gloom and doom" is if they have no conception of sin. Even then, it's stretching the point.

  3. Anonymous8:20 PM

    Father, how awful it must be to be criticised for saying what should be said. It is so tempting for a priest to preach social justice and marshmallow homilies because people are unwilling to be called to own their sins. I aplaud brave priests like you who preach the gospel in season and out of season. I wish we had more like you in Australia.

  4. The three of you are all right. I'll try to keep it up, looking after Paul, Augustine, Francis and company.

  5. guadalupe9:25 PM

    Fr. Daren, do not be discouraged or disheartened. Any adults foolish enough to stop attending because of your homilies will quickly be replaced by faithful families who flock to hear the authentic Word of God proclaimed without shame or guile.

    A priest friend of mine says (in his delightfully honest manner) that his parishioners can be a real pain in the neck to him, but the words that keep him going belong to Saint Paul: "Your grace is sufficient for me."

    The youth, who can spot a phony from miles away, need a strong role model like you. So doggone it, keep up the good work.

  6. And I, for one, can hardly wait to read that next homily. It'll be interesting to see what you do with that.

  7. And that's the best company you could keep, but you left out Benedict. ;)

  8. Ah, yes, well, he isn't a saint...yet.

  9. Anonymous9:57 PM

    Father, you are a good writer and I'm convinced you're a very decent person. I think you are sincere; I have no doubt that you are a very intelligent guy. I respect you even when I disagree with what you've said or how you've said it. (Case in point: my dissent on your calling people who show up during the opening hymn "hidden enemies" of Christ.)

    I do wonder, though, if homilists don't drive their point home more effectively, at least on occasion, when they consistently try to cultivate a "we're all sinners and we all need to work on this" spirit in the homilies they preach. I know I am a sinner, and in need of constant, ongoing conversion, but I find myself incredibly more open to my pastor's call to conversion when he acknowledges that he too is in need of conversion. When a priest sends me the message that "you people" need to do this or avoid that, without including himself in that ubiquitous crowd of struggling-for-sainthood sinners, and without assuming good faith on the part of the listeners gathered there to hear the homily, I sure end up feeling like I've been "preached at" rather than being addressed in love as a fellow child of God, a brother in this struggle. I wonder if this issue is addressed in homiletics courses? I've never taken one, so I wouldn't know. (Last thought: Don't forget all the good things people -- including that young man -- have told you about your preaching. It's all too easy to get sidetracked by criticisms, even as one tries to reassess and grow.)


  10. He may not be a saint...yet, but he makes as much sense as one.

  11. Father, I believe that it is our job as priests to challenge our people to take them to that uncomfortablbe place and make them think about how they live their lives. Keep preaching brother!

  12. Don't lose heart. Some people are only willing to hear what they want to hear and they do need our prayers.
    If you're making them uncomfortable it means you struck a nerve.
    I depend on priests to do that--to strike a nerve, to make me realize that my life is NOT meeting the Gospel standard and to challenge me to do better, to reconcile and to pray harder.

  13. I know that all of mankind is sinful. Even my precious, holy priests go to confession - I see them in line!

    They don't preach "at" me by reminding me of my sins and my need for confession - they are trying to save my soul and I have never once felt that by them preaching on the sinful nature of man, they are being holier-than-moi.

    Oh, wait. I take that back.
    When I was just going to Mass for superficial reasons, and still very much involved in a life of ee-vil, I DID take offense to their homilies. I used to walk out and roll my eyes and mock their words.
    (But that was a different time.)

    But that's just my personal experience. I know everyone has different tastes in homilies, just like everyone has different tastes in books. I like C.S. Lewis, he may bore you to tears or even offend you.
    I'm sure some people think my favorite homilist is too stern or perhaps boring or repetitive.

    "No one wants a preachy preacher."
    -Ma Beck

  14. Yes, well put Barb!

  15. Anonymous9:00 PM

    I am honored to be mentioned in your blog. You humble me with your words.


  16. Thanks for giving me a great line to quote on just the right day!