Friday, December 5, 2008

Why is Catholic Preaching So Bad?

A challenge to all, especially to any former or present non-Catholics: why is the present state of Catholic preaching so bad?  

With honourable exceptions (various priests known to me spring to mind), the preaching done by priests at Mass in Australia (they never preach otherwise, which is in itself a damning inditement) is mind-numbingly boring - even leaving aside whatever ideological viewpoint is being expressed!

Contrariwise, on the rare occasions I've heard an Anglican or Lutheran preach, disregarding their particular viewpoint, they are far better at preaching.

Now, this is paradoxical: the Catholics have the grace of state imparted at ordination, the others, not; but, as "grace builds on nature", if no real learning about homiletics has been undertaken (I am aware of the very limited and very ideologically slanted courses available at Catholic institutions here in Oz), then there is very little for the Holy Ghost to work with - albeit He had no problem with a bunch of rough fisherman who'd been instructed by Our Blessed Lord, He did particularly succeed in imparting the gratia prædicationis to that learned erstwhile Pharisee, St Paul.

Since "faith comes through hearing" (Rom. x, 17), we have here a profound problem, at least partially responsible for the indifference, that is, the practical apostasy we see around us, and the fact that "my people are destroyed through lack of knowledge" (Hosea 4:6, in the Hebrew):

For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord, shall be saved.  How then shall they call on him, in whom they have not believed? Or how shall they believe him, of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear, without a preacher?  
(Rom. x, 13f)

I myself feel that the overdone emphasis on preaching, not sermons, but homilies (as if the former were somehow wicked), that is, on preaching on the readings of the day exclusively, turns "proclaiming the word of God" (I gnash my teeth at even repeating such jargon...) into an exercise in amateurish exegesis, regurgitating a sanitized version of the readings (in most cases, at the OF people find the first reading from the Old Testament obscure and irrelevant, the second from the Apostle too confusing, and the Gospel wearisome from long repetition), predictably ending in an bourgeois exhortation to "be nice" or indulge in a spot of social justice.  Such a homily has no content; it would be better to be silent!

The pressing need to-day is precisely to preach sermons, homiletical if you will, that actually set out to illumine our intellects and inspire our wills, that we may depth (!) our understanding of our most holy Faith, and match our actions to its precepts.  What is particularly lacking is any motive for believing and practising - that is, to have a dose of "salvation anxiety" as Fr Dom Murphy would say, to point out that we have before us the Two Ways, the way of life or the way of death, and that we must work to win heaven and avoid hell.  Since most contemporary Catholics, priests and people, are indifferent Universalists in fact, they see no threat of hell and have an assurance of heaven only mitigated by their very minimal belief in the afterlife: so why bother saying or doing anything?  The peculiarly Australian anti-intellectualism that afflicts our Church also militates against trying to impart doctrine; and since 1968 few dare to challenge a congregation to strive for anything against their inclinations, sacrifice being a dirty word.  (This attitude also explains why for most men Confession is a forgotten sacrament, since it is utterly against the Zeitgeist.)

David and Terra, et al., as my fellow Aussie Catholic bloggers I call upon you to contribute to this discussion!


Anonymous said...

I am a convert priest who was trained as a Protestant minister. I agree. The first thing that is needed is familiarity with scripture in the Catholic context, esp. the Fathers. Next you need to challenge people. The word of God naturally should do that. Finally it must all lead to Christ and lead them to Him.

We have the greatest material in the world to work with! But canned homilies don't do that. Priests must spend the time to get to know the Bible. Homilies have to be a priority.

Fr. Jim

Son of Trypho said...

I'm not sure but perhaps the formation process in modern seminaries is so bad that the priests cannot produce a high-quality output?

Perhaps also there is a form of condescension towards the laity? They lower the quality of the work to the lowest level to be inclusive?

And alot of folks aren't familiar with Patristics and similar to your comment about the OT, would find it obscure and irrelevant unless it was carefully constructed in the delivery?

There is also probably a lack of general knowledge on the Scriptures and Patristics too.

Just some thoughts - I'd like to hear others.

Quasi Seminarian said...

A proper Homiletic course is 4 years.

Good luck finding a seminary that teaches it.

I remember one priest who held is Licentiate in Homiletics explaining the proper set up to me.

From what I remember:

Homilies of the Fathers
Homilies and the way they have changed.
Elements of a Homily

Basically it takes a long time and means that you end up learning the Fathers, historical homilies and so on.

Bring it on I say. Last I heard some seminarians were given an hour with a rector ... the same was for how to celebrate Mass ...

Joshua said...

I would like to thank Fr Jim, for so concisely stating what is needed for good homilies. I have often thought that converts make excellent priests - bravo!