Warm Southern Breeze

"… there is no such thing as nothing."

OUCH!! That stings!

Posted by Warm Southern Breeze on Thursday, August 19, 2010

Two of life’s truisms are that “the only constant is change,” and that “the more things change, the more they remain the same.” I suppose it would seem as if we’re caught in a most unfortunate, and never-ending cycle, reminiscent of a “Catch-22,” or “Groundhog Day” type experience. The only difference being, that is fictitious, this is real.


Don’t go easy on us, Father.

A standard formula for a good homily is to teach, witness and challenge.

In the first, the preacher would explain or amplify the readings. Then he would bear witness with his own testimony or the experience of others. Finally, he would challenge the congregation to accept and live the Gospel message.

Many of us treasure a good homily. But if we’re honest, we’re not so sure about being challenged. Pity the poor pastor who does so regularly; he’s likely to see the ranks in the pews dwindle.

Naturally we need and expect good exegesis on Scripture. This would include placing the readings in historical and Biblical context, pointing out connections to other readings, placing these in the history and life of the Church and providing insights from official teachings, scholars and theologians.

The Christian message, un-adulterated, is a hard one. Let’s be grownups and be willing to hear the truth.

In a recent essay, G. Jeffrey MacDonald, a Protestant minister, recalled how he was told by an advisory committee “to keep my sermons to 10 minutes, tell funny stories and leave people feeling great about themselves.”

The message, he said, was, “Give us the comforting, amusing fare we want or we’ll get our spiritual leadership from someone else.”

Catholic priests and deacons — and parish life directors, who typically preach once a month — pick up similar vibes.

At more than one parish, pastors who routinely challenge people to follow Christ as He said He was to be followed — take up your cross and follow me, turn the other cheek, sell what you have and give to the poor — hear complaints and see the congregations shrink.

In some cases, parishioners have protested homilies that merely echoed the pope’s teaching against this or that war.

On certain topics, such as violence and riches and love-your-enemies (or at least your neighbors), Christ could not have been more clear. As Jesuit peacemaker Rev. Daniel Berrigan said years ago during a talk at RPI, “The words of Jesus on war and violence just burn our eyes out.”

We demand less than the truth so we can stay comfortable. We nod and smile and thank our pastor for the homily, but our underlying message is clear: “Just don’t ask us to change.”

Instead of teaching, witness and challenge in a sermon, we really want some instruction, mild inspiration and reassurances that we’re doing our best, God knows, and please remember the second collection.

Sadly, American Catholics and Christians generally have demanded their churches cater to the consumer mentality: Make it easy and accessible, with a smooth exchange of goods and services, so we can get on with the rest of our lives.

Aside from denying ourselves the full Gospel message, we can also lose out by wearing out our priests, deacons and parish life directors.

“Most clergy don’t sign up to be soothsayers or entertainers,” Rev. MacDonald wrote. “Pastors believe they’re called to shape lives for the better, and that involves helping people learn to do what’s right in life, even when what’s right is also difficult.”

Want to help yourselves, religious leaders and the Church at large? Demand the truth, listen to it — and then pick up your cross and follow Christ. As we often discover, He who lays on the burden will also help us bear it.


The Official Publication of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany


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