Monday, 21 July 2008 14:18
Written by Joe Waters
One of the chief opportunities for evangelization and formation is the homily during the Mass. It is in the homily that most Catholics will receive their formation and those who may not be intentional disciples have an opportunity to hear the "ardent proclamation" that Jesus is Lord and that a personal relationship with him is possible. However, it is my experience that many homilists fall into a standard homiletic pattern in which the Word-upon which the homilist is charged with commenting-is not given priority, but only becomes a tool for illuminating or commenting upon experience.
The General Instruction of the Roman Missal says that "It (the homily) should be an exposition of some aspect of the readings from Sacred Scripture or of another text from the Ordinary or from the Proper of the Mass of the day and should take into account both the mystery being celebrated and the particular needs of the listeners."
Richard Lischer, a well-known Lutheran preacher and professor of Homiletics at Duke Divinity School says that many prefer
...to build the sermon on the authority of the needs, capacities, and experiences of the listener.... The common solution appears to be: Scratch deeply enough into the postmodern psyche and you will hit a vein of genuine spirituality. One way to tap into it is to tell stories whose religious dimension is recognizable and acceptable to all, and then to correlate the experience generated by these stories with the Christian message, e.g., "grace." When done successfully, the presence of Christ radiates as a spiritual dimension of everyday life. When the reliance on experience dominates the sermon, the gospel becomes an illustration of a greater truth.
Richard Lischer, "Resurrection and Rhetoric." In Marks of the Body of Christ, ed. by Carl E. Braaten and Robert W. Jenson, 13-24. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999.
Of course, the problem is clear: the gospel is neither a mere "illustration" nor an indicator of some deeper, more transcendent truth that is really the heart of what we preach, rather it is itself the very content of our preaching and the "power of God for salvation." (Romans 1.16)