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What they're hearing from the pulpit--updated

Perhaps another Pew study will contextualize recent discussions here of clergy and the election. It's on what Protestant and Catholic church-goers say they're hearing from the pulpit.The AP has a story that the IRS since 2009 has not been pursuing cases involving political involvement on the part of religious groups:http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/U/US_IRS_CHURCH_POLITICS?SITE=NHPOR&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT

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It seems to me that data obtained about Catholics when the questions are phrased:- Is what youre HEARING from your clergy more supportive of Obama, Romney, or neither?- Has the clergy in your place of worship SPOKEN ABOUT the Presidential candidates? may be interpreted as including only homilies from the pulpit and include inserts in parish bulletins or letters from highly visible bishops in dioceses. Also, I think that some people may trust the words of a cleric, who says I am not trying to tell you how to vote but is really building a case for voting for a particular party.I am not at all surprised by the statement in the article:Among white Catholic churchgoers, 21% say their clergys messages have been more supportive of Romney, compared with 4% who say the messages have been more supportive of Obama.(Fr. Komonchak, I am trying not to Bishop Bash.)

My inbox had an e-mail from Sojourners which opens with "Jesus didnt say What you have done for the middle class, you have done for me.I'm glad most Church-goers hear about our obligation to the poor from the pulpit. I think we need to hear it a lot more often and a lot more strongly.

JAK --How did your chickens do in the storm?

In two Catholic churches I attended over a two-week period in Florida, statements were read from the pulpit that clearly implied a vote for Obama (without mentioning his name, of course) would be a mortal sin. The statements said that in making their decision, Catholics must consider (in this order) 1. which candidate upholds the right to life of of all humans, from conception to natural death, 2. which candidate upholds "religious freedom" and 3. which supports policies that aid the poor. At the first church, with a large population of elderly "snowbirds," the pastor added, in case anybody missed it, that voting for a pro-choice candidate would be a grave sin, for which he received a round of applause. At the second church, populated by more Hispanics and families than elderly, the statement was greeted mostly by non-committal stares.

If your experience, Ms Bailey, in Florida can be generalized, the Pew findings would be incorrect. On the other hand, if their findings are correct, your experience should not be generalized. It's a puzzlement.

Is there any kind of rule that the homily have some kind of demonstrable connection to the readings? That's the kind of homily I always hope to hear and I sometimes get a little resentful when the homily is replaced with a political speech.

Irene: Yes. From the GIRM (which I found via Todd Flowerday's useful blog):

The Homily is part of the Liturgy and is highly recommended, for it is necessary for the nurturing of the Christian life. It should be an explanation of some aspect of the readings from Sacred Scripture or of another text from the Ordinary or 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.

I'm afraid that's very much the exception at my parish. On All Saints Day the celebrant did go into a little tirade about how the New York Times is "our biggest enemy," which I suppose he might have connected to the beatitude about being persecuted if he'd thought to. But I've never yet seen him so much as mention the day's scriptures in a homily, so I think it was a coincidence.

Beverly Bailey: People who talk and think that way are religious zealots. Their religious zealotry usually includes severe scrupulosity, which they also try to induce in others.

Thank you, Molly; I figured there had to be some kind of guidance re: homilies. The kind of celebrant you describe would really take the enjoyment out of the Mass for me. We had a lovely All Saints Mass (the homily was about how we can all of us be Saints, its not limited to the top 144,000, which I think is helpful to hear) And then after the Mass was over, the priest shared a message from his bishop in Nigeria that the people of NYC were in his prayers post-hurricane. I think the end of the Mass is a good place for talks unrelated to the readings. This way, if you don't really want to listen, you can just leave gracefully.

The political tirade does not have to be in the homily. It is enough to have it in the prayers of the Faithful (which, here are usually prepared by some of the parishioners), in the announcements at the end of Mass, or in the bulletin, to give the parish a political color and make it uncomfortable for those who are from the other side of the political spectrum. Here in France I have the impression that the parishioners active in the parish often are more conservative than the priest, and those are the venues through which they sometimes exhibit a certain political zeal.

I wonder how long after the election it will take for the super-secularists to sue for the cancellation of the religious tax exemption of the Catholic Church, whether of the Church in the whole U. S. or of the particular dioceses such as Bishop Jenky's. Since the law prohibits the exempted organizations from politicking, and some of the bishops have clearly politicked, I don't see how it can be avoided.

Joseph A. Komonchak: "If your experience, Ms Bailey, in Florida can be generalized, the Pew findings would be incorrect. On the other hand, if their findings are correct, your experience should not be generalized. Its a puzzlement."I can't generalize from my own experience, of course, but I've heard similar stories from acquaintances across the country. Still, I do suspect there are many Catholics, such as the parishioners who applauded, who prefer their pastors take (their) sides politically, and who get more than a little annoyed when they hear concern for the poor take what appears to them priority over the abortion issue.

I believe many Catholics would be surprised at the extent to which President Obama has advanced a pro-abortion agenda through a long list of "bill signings, speeches, appointments, and other actions" since his election in November, 2008.His many pro-abortion actions are documented at the link below. The list is shockingly long and extensive.I am you to help spread the word about President Obama's pro-abortion activities.For the sake of America's future children, please forward the link below to all the people on your email list, so that as many people as possible can learn the shocking truth about our pro-abortion President as we head into Tuesday's critical election. You can include the text of this message if you like.A posting of the link on your Facebook page would be helpful as well.The link:http://www.lifenews.com/2010/11/07/obamaabortionrecord/Above all, in this battle we are fighting, let us not forget the power of prayer.

Speaking of what is being heard from the pulpit, below I have linked to an inspirational election homily by Fr. Sammie Maletta.Fr. Maletta delivers a powerful and thought-provoking homily on the moral truths that we as Catholics are called to defend as citizens in in a free society.He argues that Catholic teaching is neither Democrat or Republican -- but, that does not mean we are free to vote as we wish. There is a hierarchy of moral truth that must inform our vote.Fr. Maletta's homily is a stirring call-to-action in the face of a world increasingly dominated by secularization and a world in which our religious freedom is increasingly threatened.THIS INSPIRATIONAL HOMILY IS WORTH YOUR TIME -- IT IS THAT GOOD!http://allhands-ondeck.blogspot.com/2012/10/inspirational-election-homil...

So,what do people do when they hear an inappropriate homily? I once heard one that made me so angry, I really wanted to get up and leave. But I had my children with me, so I stayed. But all through the Liturgy of the Eucharist, I stewed and simmered over that Homily. And when it was time for Communion, I was furiously pissed off, and I thought I really shouldn't receive in this really angry state, but, again, my kids were with me, and I didn't want them to see me NOT receive.So what do you do in that situation? Leave? Start reading the paper? Hang onto your collection envelope in protest? Talk to the priest after? Or suck it up?

Tell the presider after Mass what you thought was wrong with the homily!

Happened to me once, with an assistant pastor. The worst thing was the approving attitude of the congregation towards the priest's homily. That was alienating! During the Eucharistic prayer I forced my mind away from what I had just heard and focused with intense determination on the words and rituals in a kind of tunnel vision, as though they existed all by themselves in a stand-alone fashion, outside the context of that particular place, time, presider, and company. Amazingly, they still brought me some peace.I didn't have my mind together enough to articulate the extent of my disapproval when I saw the priest after Mass, but afterwards Jim Pauwels advised me to nark on him, so I did, and wrote a letter to the pastor, who then had a talk with him. I also could have written a letter directly to him instead, and now I think that that would have been better even if less effective.

As I prepare for the Last Sunday in Election Time, I take consolation in knowing that the fervor of the homilist's denunciation of the president will be directly related to the homilist's desire for a mitre. It will have nothing to do with me.

A married deacon once told me that his homilies were substantially improved at breakfast after Mass when his wife and children laughed, jeered, and generally told him what was wrong with what he had just said. Probably not politics in this case.

Sunday morning Mass in a large suburban Long Island church illumined by ten candles and two propane torches:Homily: the priest read clearly his well-prepared homily on today's Gospel, with other Scriptural references to today's text: the need to love God, one's neighbor, and love (or appreciate) ourselves. Nothing about the election.Entrance hymn: a plodding Amazing Grace.Communion hymn: a melodious The King of Love My Shepherd Is. Recessional hymn: O Beautiful for Spacious Skies. Followed by applause from some, as regularly happens here with any song that includes the word America.----Pastor's Column in Bulletin: "This column replaces a column which was to be about the presidential election. ... People are now worried about saving their homes or helping a neighbor, and not about tax rates or social issues."In addition to many concerns in the Parish Social Ministry page, "We ask your help in driving some of our Senior Citizens to the polling places."The Bulletin includes a wordy prayer for religious freedom that has been seen in quite a few places.

What to do when you hear a totally 'off the wall' homily?. Find another parish because there will be another one delivered soon.

""Tell the presider after Mass what you thought was wrong with the homily!Absolutely. Or, if you're not comfortable with that, or if what you want to say is difficult to organize and communicate verbally, send him an email or a letter, in a respectful tone, that contains the substance of the feedback, and offer to meet him over a cup of coffee is he'd like to discuss it further.

What to do when you hear a totally off the wall homily?. Find another parish because there will be another one delivered soon.Not without putting up some resistance. If dialogue is not possible, then, how about having a plan for the next time it happens? For example, sit close to the ambo and surreptitiously pinch your baby hard enough to make her wail and drown the sound of the homily. Then go to confession with that same priest, bring it up, and see what happens.

Claire, that's devious. Our homilist today didn't want to be a bishop. Talked about the Gospel instead.

Tom, I wasn't serious. I never would follow my own advice. I couldn't even if I wanted to.

Even more off-putting than the inclusion of political comments in a homily is the inclusion of politically loaded petitions in the Prayer of the Faithful, after which the congregation is blandly asked to respond: "Lord, hear our prayer." The general intercessions ought to be petitions to which the whole congregation can sincerely offer that response.

Our diocesan paper had an insert today from the USCCB about elections. It was pretty measured, and didn't tell anybody whom to vote for. Archbishop Aymond had an article about 5 steps for discerning whom to vote vote. The unborn were mentioned only once as a topic of interest, and at the end he pointed out that we must consider many issues before making up our minds, not just one or two issues. We're lucky to have him, I think.

/Users/johnpage/Desktop/350x.jpgBishop David O'Connell, CM, bishop of Trenton and former president of CUA, greets Governor Romney as the governor lands for a campaign stop in Philadelphia this evening. The bishop is wearing his purple skull cap and what appears to be a cassock.After many years of watching presidential campaigns, I have never seen anything as blatant (and imprudent?) as this. And little more than twenty-four hours before the election.Thanks to Whispers in the Loggia.

P. S. I liked the way he put this. Speaking about the goals of the society, he said we must "vote for the person we believe has the greater possibility or probability of moving us towards those goals".:So it is not our duty to throw away our vote on someone who cannot yet effect the needed changes.

The IRS, if it were a person, would be wise to avoid prosecuting churches because their clergy advocated publicly against a politician because of his or her immoral acts and policies.Politics is part of the real world. So is religion. Part of religion's duty is to speak truth to powerful politicians.

Here is Archbishop Aymond's column about Catholic responsibilities in voting:http://clarionherald.org/clarion/index.php/archbishop-aymond/1658-how-wo...

John Page:Bishop O'Connell wears his purple skull cap to all sorts of events. http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=oLA7WHb6P9Y#!I prefer the bishops involvement in this event, called the Polar Plunge that raises money for Catholic schools, much more than his bear hug, plunge into the politics that you have posted.

The list of all US dioceses and archdioceses is at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_the_Catholic_dioceses_of_the_United... are only about 35 archdioceses. If someone's up for it, in principle it should be easy to get information for each (blogs, statements, or letters from the archbishop) and obtain a more objective view of what is being communicated by the church arch-episcopal hierarchy in the US. (For dioceses, there are hundreds, too numerous to go through them one by one).

Claire, here's a more direct link if it works:http://usccb.org/about/bishops_and_dioceses/Alternatively, go to http://usccb.org , and click "About USCCB" and follow the links.

I suspect the folks at IRS would *love* to get out of this election complaint business foisted upon them more than 50 years ago by LBJ. I suspect tears of joy would ensue.

Here are the links to voting statements in my next comment, if it doesn't get thrown out and marked as spam because of all the links.

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About the Author

Rev. Joseph A. Komonchak, professor emeritus of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America, is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of New York.