Yesterday I offered some thoughts on preaching. Today a few more reflections. Who are those we preach to today? We should know them as they are and the church in which we preach as it is.
Let’s recognize we’re preaching to people and to a church experiencing a priest shortage, a declining number of women and men religious, and a weakened hierarchy.Statistics– surely we see it ourselves– tell us that people, especially the younger generation, aren’t going to church as they once did. Our parishes are suffering from a decline in members and Catholic schools are closing.
It’s a church roiled by sexual scandals, controversy over the place of women, issues like gay marriage, abortion and government regulations. Certainly, Jesus Christ will be with us always and the church will survive, but what can we do to strengthen it?
I think the closest historical parallel to our American church today may be the Catholic church in American colonial times, which one historian describes as a “priestless, popeless church.” We might add “sisterless” to describe our church, since religious woman had a major role in its growth until now.
The colonial church survived, according to historians, because it was kept alive in the home, by prayerbooks and catechisms. (cf. The Faithful: A History of Catholics in American, by James M. O’Toole, Harvard, 2008)
Historical parallels are never absolute, but that era may suggest a preaching aimed at building a home-based faith, that is strongly catechetical and that promotes a life of regular prayer in people.
What would the prayerbook and basic catechism for today’s church be? The bible, now providentially blessed with new tools to access the treasures of its spirituality. We need a preaching that directs people to this source and helps them mine it.
It’s important we recommend the best versions of the scripture available (The New American Bible, The Jerusalem Bible) and encourage people to use aids like The Magnificat and Give Us Our Daily Bread to follow the daily lectionary.
I believe we need a new generation of preachers in our churches and wherever the gospel can be proclaimed: men and women, priests, religious and laypeople. I’m not looking for new Bishop Fulton Sheens, spell–binding orators to dazzle us with their eloquence.
I think I’d prefer preachers with more modest skills. Maybe preachers like the hosts on the cooking shows on television, who whip up good food and bow out modestly after they show you how it’s done. I think laypeople will have an increasing role in the renewal of preaching.
What about canon law? “The times, they are a-changing.”