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Preach to connect with the people

The following is an article on Homilies which takes excerpts of talks given by Archbishop Jason Gordon

“The preacher must know the heart of his community, in order to realize where its desire for God is alive and ardent, as well as where that dialogue, once loving, has been thwarted and is now barren.”

—Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, 2013

I was not a natural homilist; preaching did not come easily to me! For the first five years of priesthood, every weekend I struggled bitterly with the text to find a Word from God for the people. For me preaching was, is and continues to be a difficult task.

A call

The apostles were first called to companionship and preaching (Mk 3:14). To this call, before His death, Jesus added keeping His memory alive (Eucharist). After the Resurrection, He gave them power to forgive sins (Jn 20:23) and the Great Commission: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” (Mk 16:15).

Here the key elements of apostolic life are established and handed on to the bishops and then to the presbyterate. Preaching is integral to our vocation and to the mission of the Church.

At the opening of the public ministry in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus is preaching repentance for the Kingdom of Heaven (Mt 4:17). In Luke’s Gospel when He unrolls the scroll of the prophet Isaiah to read, Jesus gives us a glimpse into His understanding of the mission entrusted to Him: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.’’ (Lk 4:18). Here we learn that preaching Good News is a work of the Holy Spirit and it is integral to Jesus’s identity and His mission.

Preaching is one of the tools most frequently used by Jesus, the first apostles and the early Church for [building the Kingdom].  [Today] the Sunday homily is the most used tool in the priest’s toolkit [for the same mission, building the Kingdom]. It gives the pastor the greatest opportunity to reach and form most of his people most consistently. However, I fear it is not always used well or appropriately.

When used well, preaching allows a pastor to bring renewal to his parish and to engage his people in stewardship and participating in the life of the Church. Preaching opens the community to the sacred mystery of Christ amongst us in the sacraments and the poor; it is how the priest connects people with their vocation and provide the pathway and tools to achieve our ultimate purpose—holiness.

Preaching with vision

If you don’t know where you are going then according to the cat in Alice in Wonderland, “It really does not matter which road you take, each one would be as good as another”.

Vision is an aspiration for your community that creates a path from the present situation to a future state. For Jesus, His vision was the Kingdom of God; He proclaims it at every opportunity possible.

Before we can begin preaching, we need to know God’s intention for the community. From this perspective, preaching is pointing out the signpost and facilitating the community along the journey to the Kingdom of God.

Without a clear vision for the community, the Sunday homily will be a series of ‘hit and miss’ occasions that people will either enjoy or endure; it will entertain or bore, but it will not assist the People of God to make their journey to holiness in a seamless and consistent way.

Every homily should therefore connect the congregation with both the ultimate vision and the next step that they need to make along their journey. Preaching is about connecting God’s people with their vocation through the Word and showing the next developmental step along their journey.

It is my belief that if I were holy enough, if I listened more carefully to God’s Word and preached every week in obedience to it, that the People of God would be much further along this journey. The community would comprise missionary disciples fully alive in Christ, serving the needs of all persons who are on the margins.

Regardless of the pastoral need or priority, regardless of the state of the community or its individual members, those in the pew or those who left the Church, the Sunday homily is the bridge between wherever the Church is today and the Church that God wants, tomorrow.