The Texas Inkling


How do we preach?  A reflection on the responsibility of Christian discipleship by JC Sanders

“In humility, we hope to learn; out of charity, we seek to teach; in friendship, we desire to search for Truth”  Indeed, all of us engages at some level in the search for metaphysical meaning, a search for meaning in and underlying our lives.  We may each conclude differently as to the real answer to the riddle of our existence—or, in some cases, deny that there is such an answer or even the validity of the riddle.  On some level, and at some time or times in our lives, we are left to face the riddle.

We who are religious, and especially those among us who are Catholic, even claim to have at least a part of the answer to this riddle.  We are here because God has willed us to be here; and He has willed us, because He loves us.  In the person of the Father, He loves us as His Children; in the person of the Son, He loves us as brothers; and in the person of the Spirit, as One Who lives in us.

As Christians, we acknowledge these as being at the core of our metaphysics.  Too often, we stop there.  Are we not called to be the disciples of Christ?  To proclaim the coming of His Kingdom, to convert the whole world unto the greater glory of God?  Truly, we all fall short of these ideals, but has that become a mere excuse for apathy?  Indeed, if we truly do accept and believe the claims of our faith, we ought to preach it as well.

So often, we do not.  In part, this is because the idea of preaching brings to mind images of me standing on the street corner and yelling at passers-by.  Most of us have at least heard the various corner demagogues who proclaim the good news of hell fire for all those who are sinners, and the often worse news tat one must repent of one’s unnamed and unknown sins in order to be saved.  These salvation-through-mortification preachers rarely do much justice to the vocation of preaching.  More seldom is it that such bring about a true conversion.

It is no wonder, then, that so many people of good faith shy from the call to preach.  Perhaps it is merely the notion that sin, Hell, and eternal damnation are not the best topics to preach to the un-Catechized, even in those instances when the underlying theology is soundly intact.  On the other hand, very few people (including a number of faithful Christians) relish the idea of listening to one of those “Jesus loves you no matter what” homilies or sermons which are often seen as the alternative.  Again, the message may be correct, but it is too often presented as if to insult the other person’s intelligence.

It is perfectly easy to write off preaching, especially as lay people who often have no background in philosophy or theology.  We can excuse ourselves by saying that preaching is for the priests, forgetting too easily that we are all called to be a sort of priest, and thus, a sort of preacher.  And while we often try to deny it, we each act as a preacher in the sense that each of us teaches something about ourselves in our daily lives—and can, in turn, teach something about our faith, and about our God.

Though we may be timid of voice, we can still be gifted preachers by being bold in acting.  Our deeds may often speak louder than our words, and in preaching this is no less true.  Saint Francis of Assisi is commonly held to have directed his followers to “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.  Whether we like it or not, and whether we intend it or not, we are judged by our actions.  As St. Matthew puts it, “By their fruits you will know them.”

Thus, we as lay people may do a greater service—or disservice—to the Church in our preaching than anything said by the priests in their homilies.  The homilies are heard by mostly those of us who are already Catholics; it is very seldom that they can help bring about a conversion of heart for those who are outside of the Church.  The priest most interacts with a group of people who are already Catholic; we, in our daily lives often interact more with non-Catholics, and even non-Christians.  We may be their primary lens into the Church:  what kind of view are we giving them?

Return to the Texas Inklings Home