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Michael Daniel's review (September AD2000) of a new book of published sermons prompted a few memories and thoughts that readers may find of interest.
While working in the US in 2003 I was impressed by a sermon and later asked the priest if it would be possible to obtain a copy. His response was a polite 'no' and despite my attempts to pry out a specific reason for the refusal I don't recall that I was given one.
Since returning to Australia in 2004 I have noticed that most sermons by priests are eminently forgettable. In addition, the weekly parish reflection, in those parishes that have them, is of the short personal story type that is generally as light as the paper it is printed on. This, I surmise, reflects the current educational theory that personal experience is the best (only?) way to engage an audience.
This contrasts with memories of the sermons heard in my childhood in the 1970s/80s. Most were well worth listening to. Interestingly, I still recall one sermon given just before the sudden death of the parish priest. It included a passionate exhortation on the pro-life message. I don't know whether the priest had an inkling that his time was almost up, but I've always been impressed that whether by accident or design his last few sermons were intensely passionate and focused on what was really important.
In contrast, at the last election one parish priest wouldn't even allow information pamphlets on candidates' pro- or anti-life stances to be distributed at the church doors after Mass. Instead, a passing reference that anybody interested could collect them from the presbytery was announced. As any pamphlet distributor knows, that effectively means very few will be distributed.
Fortunately, every now and then I get to hear Archbishop Coleridge at the Cathedral in Canberra. He sets a very high standard for his sermons and provides a sharp contrast to the lightweight fluff that one generally hears otherwise.
I was wondering about why this was so when I came across a comment by Fr Benedict Groeschel, 'If you wonder why Sunday sermons are so vague, it is because the person preaching has been prepared, not to preach the Gospel, but rather to critique it'.
This explains a lot, as much modern scripture scholarship is academic and therefore cautious, devoid of reliance on tradition, and tends to rationalisation of the New as well as the Old Testament. I hope that the upcoming Synod on the Bible addresses this problem of critiquing the Bible vs. preaching it.
The timidity of priests in expounding the truth on faith and morals is sad, as this is a core part of their vocation. Hopefully, the above book and the upcoming Synod will help improve the quality of this important priestly service.
Reprinted from AD2000 Vol 21 No 9 (October 2008), p. 15
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