Tuesday 10 November 2015
The Failure of Today's Preaching
I am on record on this blog as lamenting the loss of the Traditional Liturgy (which that is reverent and God-centered in contrast to the Novus Ordo which is entertainment and man centered); the loss of a universal language (Latin) and the loss of the Catechism from schools. I have to add a fourth: preaching.
According to Sacrosanctum Conclium of Vatican II, “The sermon, moreover, should draw its content mainly from scriptural and liturgical sources, and its character should be that of a proclamation of God's wonderful works in the history of salvation, the mystery of Christ, ever made present and active within us, especially in the celebration of the liturgy.” (SC35,#2) That we have been encouraged by Vatican II to preach on the readings of the day, and by scripture scholars and so-called expert homilists to ‘break open the word’, means we have failed to teach the living out of the Faith.
The result is a loss of huge proportions. It may well be true that before Vatican II all we got was sermons and little or no preaching on the word of God, but today we get homilies focusing on the word and very little if no preaching on the life of Faith, other than the renewal of society. Now social sin does indeed need to be tackled, but tackling personal sin must come first –we cannot renew society until we renew ourselves; we cannot renew society if the people who make up that society are engaging in illicit sexual liaisons, contraception, abortion, homosexuality, drunkenness, dishonest dealings, violence etc. We simply cannot have a holy society which consists of sinful persons. We may as well try to establish a healthy population fed on nothing but the fats, salts and sugars of junk food, with heavy alcohol consumption and smoking. We are not doing so. We are not challenging personal sin for fear of upsetting people, or fear of being disliked or simply fear of being ridiculed as out-dated.
I grow increasingly saddened by the young families that have returned to Mass but have not returned to The Faith, and there is a huge difference. Returning to The Faith is a return to the living out of The Faith in all its many and varied facets; returning to Mass is simply fire-insurance Catholicism (going to Mass to avoid the fires of hell). In ‘fire insurance Catholicism’ folk return to Mass but simply attach it to their previous worldly lifestyle of excessive alcohol consumption, illicit sexual encounters, cohabitation, contraception, violence and dodgy dealings. For them, coming to Mass is seen as enough to enter heaven, yet to attend Mass and not live the life of self-denial (and ultimately self-sacrifice) that is at the core of the Mass, is to fail to make the Mass and The Faith alive and active; Catholicism becomes mere attendance at a religious ritual; an external act that makes no impact on the inner man.
The restoration of The Faith is not as simple as being a ‘brick by brick’ restoration of the liturgy, although it certainly includes that; rather, it must include as a foundation a restoration of sermons and of the Catechism in schools.
Because schools have not taught the content of the Catechism and because preachers have not taught personal moral doctrine but focused on social sin –encouraging the ‘be nice to everyone/social justice’ religion, we have nothing to build upon in those returning to Mass, who justify their sinful behaviors with “the world has moved on… everyone does it…it‘s just enjoying life”. Sadly, they may very well enjoy life on earth at the expense of enjoying eternity, in that they have continued to live by the ways of the world while attaching Sunday Mass as fire insurance. Trying to get them to see otherwise is a losing battle if one is a lone voice, and I know of few priests who will mention contraception, homosexuality, drunkenness, dishonest dealings, violence etc, in their homilies –which leaves the preacher responsible for the loss of the souls to whom he ministers. One is reminded of the words of Ezekiel 3v18-19: “When I say to the wicked, 'You will surely die,' and you do not speak out to warn the wicked man to turn from his wicked ways that he may live, the wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his I will hold you responsible for his death. But if you have warned the wicked man and he does not turn from his wickedness, he shall die in his iniquity; but you yourself will have saved your life.” I may not always go down well with the parish or indeed with my brother priests, but I have no desire to lose my soul or leave people in the dark just to be loved for being ‘nice’ by avoiding the hot-button topics. I may not always avoid sin myself; I may at times fall myself, but to go on as if personal morality does not exist just so as to avoid is not what God has called us to do; we are called to warn those in sin, not affirm ignore their sin or worse, affirm them in it. Until we get back to worship which is at once reverent, propitiative (God-appeasing) and God-centered rather than entertaining, man-affirming and man-cantered; until we get back to teaching the Catechism in schools, and until we get back to preaching personal morality -especially on the virtues and vices, the seven deadly sins, the four sins crying to heaven for vengeance, the three eminent good works, the four last things, the seven gifts and twelve fruits of the Holy Ghost, the spiritual and corporal works of mercy etc- we have no hope of saving the souls of our folk –or our own.