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Coming soon to a pulpit near you?

There hasnt been much comment here about the U.S. bishops recent document on preaching, Preaching the Mystery of Faith, approved at their November 2012 meeting. Since it represents a new direction in the bishops thoughts about the goal of Sunday preaching, I wonder what people think about the changes the bishops have recommended.

Preaching the Mystery of Faith is a sequel to the influential 1978 document from the bishops on preaching, Fulfilled in Your Hearing. The bishops say that new circumstances within the Church at this historical moment call for us to build on this previous document.

What new circumstances? It is a familiar list. First, people have become disaffected with the church mostly, in the documents analysis, because of our individualistic, relativistic, materialistic society, not because of what people may have come to feel about the church, its message, its leaders, the nature of authority, or their local parish. Second, both the people who have drifted away and those who are at mass every week seem to be uninformed about the Church's teaching. Neither of these diagnoses are documented with details, perhaps because they are now so widely regarded (by many church leaders, anyway) as the official story of our current condition.

The bishops call upon preachers to remember that homilies are inspirational when they touch the deepest levels of the human heart. But the bishops also clearly feel that Fulfilled in Your Hearing neglected the homily's catechetical function, and the driving force behind Preaching the Mystery of Faith is to restore catechesis, in the form of description and explanation of church doctrine and tradition, as a stronger and more urgent homiletic priority.

When we have the privilege of preaching the homily to a congregation at the Sunday Eucharist, we also have an invaluable opportunity to advance the Church's catechetical ministry. ... Over time the homilist, while respecting the unique form and spirit of the Sunday homily, should communicate the full scope of this rich catechetical teaching to his congregation.It would also be helpful for experts and publishers to prepare pastoral aids for the clergy to help connect the proclamation of the readings with the doctrines of the Church.

In addition, the bishops say that virtually every homily preached during the liturgy should make some connection between the Scriptures just heard and the Eucharist about to be celebrated.

It's a lot to accomplish in a Sunday homily, isn't it? Retain a focus on the week's readings and how they might illuminate the great questions and decisions of our lives, but also make their connection to the doctrines of the church explicit, and provide an explanation of those doctrines as needed. And also make sure to work in the Eucharist.

In 1978, Fulfilled in Your Hearing helped begin an era where preaching on the readings became the official and widespread expectation for what most preachers should be doing most Sundays. By contrast, with Preaching the Mystery of Faith, the catechetical homily only marginally related to the lectionary may make something of a comeback. In my own diocese, a schema of such homilies is running throughout the Year of Faith, with all preachers directed to devote the second Sunday of each month to an assigned catechetical topic (Scripture and Tradition, The Four Marks of the Church, etc.).

Perhaps there are people who will respond well to a refresher of Catholic Basics in their homilies. What concerns me most is the undercurrent of condescension towards those who will hear these homilies: those undercatechized, culture-saturated laity who need so much remedial teaching: "The homilist ... addresses disciples who like their spiritual ancestors on the road to Emmaus may be tending, in varying degrees, in the wrong direction, confused and unsure." Thus the need to be very explicit about resolving their confusion.

By contrast, the innate respect for the assembly expressed in Fulfilled in Your Hearing asks us to wonder first about the words parish listeners are actually hoping to hear, rather than our preconceived notion of what they ought to hear.

Unless a preacher knows what a congregation needs, wants, or is able to hear, there is every possibility that the message offered in the homily will not meet the needs of the people who hear it. To say this is by no means to imply that preachers are only to preach what their congregations want to hear. Only when preachers know what their congregations want to hear will they be able to communicate what a congregation needs to hear: Homilists may indeed preach on what they understand to be the real issues, but if they are not in touch with what the people think are the real issues, they will very likely be misunderstood or not heard at all. What is communicated is not what is said, but it is what is heard, and what is heard is determined in large measure by what the hearer needs or wants to hear.

The bishops have made their own judgment about the shape of our parishes right now and what their assemblies need and want to hear in homilies. Are they right?

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Ann, your last post comes closer to capturing what is going on and possible reasons. As Jim McCrea notes, although SBNR is mostly a movement of the "young", many of we older folk are also becoming SBNR - after decades as committed, practicing members of religious denominations it seems that the organized church sometimes becomes more of an obstacle in developing our relationship with God than a help. I understand why so many young people are not choosing the path of institutional religion, although I do worry that they are leaving without first having established a solid foundation for their spiritual search. ".. the name of the SBNRs indicates to me that many of them left the churches because their longing for the spiritual experience of the holy/God was not being met by the Church,..."That is why most SBNRs talk of "seeking" and a "journey" - they are looking - and they aren't finding what they seek in the churches. Perhaps it's time for the churches to look inward - instead of castigating the SBNRs as "shallow", "self-centered", "lazy", "egotistical" as so many (Fr. James Martin, SJ, are you reading?) are wont to do, they might spend some time looking in a mirror and asking themselves what they are doing to convince SBNRs that the churches are NOT the place to find God. Tinkering with the homilies isnt going to reverse the trend.The strong interest in Buddhism that you note provides a good clue. Brian McLaren tells a story about Dr. Peter Senge of MIT, best known for theories about the "learning organization" when he interviewed him for a conference of ministers. Dr. Senge asked a bookstore manager what the best-selling categories of books are - on top was how to get rich in the IT revolution. But the second most popular category was "religion and spirituality". Books about Buddhism far outsold books on Christianity. When Dr. Senge was asked why Buddhism might attract more interest in contemporary society than does Christianity he said this "I think it's because Buddhism presents itself as a way of life, and Christianity presents itself as a system of belief. So I would want to get Christian ministers thinking about how to rediscover their own faith as a way of life, because that's what people are searching for..." Stephen Prothero (in "God is Not One") is among the many who note that Christianity focuses on the "head" - on belief - and christian history is full of the tragic fruit of Christianity's attempts to impose "right belief" (orthodoxy) on others, including on other Christians. The Catholic church these days is very prone to silencing, excommunication, stomping out dissent and IMPOSING specific beliefs - not only on their own members, but on everyone else too (such as in the contraception debacle, civil gay marriage legislation etc).But Jesus did not talk about these things. At one time Christians were known as the people of the way. But Christian churches seem to mostly fight about right belief - among denominations and within their own denominations (as seen in spades in the RCC right now, and also to a lesser degree in the Anglican communion). The narrow focus on "right" belief has splintered Christianity into tens of thousands of separate Christian churches. I know of Catholic families who are so split on what it means to be a Roman Catholic that some members won't even talk to other members of their own family because they are "dissenters". Dr. Senge's observations are not "new" and many others have made similar observations. But they seem to be ignored by the "leadership" of the churches, especially the RCC and they could be a useful starting place for an honest "examination of conscience" by these leaders to see themselves as others see them and why others are increasingly finding what they see to be unattractive.

Its a lot to accomplish in a Sunday homily, isnt it? Retain a focus on the weeks readings and how they might illuminate the great questions and decisions of our lives, but also make their connection to the doctrines of the church explicit, and provide an explanation of those doctrines as needed. And also make sure to work in the Eucharist.I suspect this over-stuffed homiletic agenda is the result of every member of the drafting committee having to get his (I'm just guessing it was all men) own hobby horse into the race. So someone says, "We need more catechesis" and someone else says, "Yes, but the homily is supposed to be based on the readings" and someone else quotes Barth about preaching with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other and then someone says, "But we want to make clear that the banquet of the Word is a prelude to the banquet of the Eucharist" and soon you end up with an undoable task.It would probably be better to think of all this not in terms of each homily one gives, but in terms of the sum total of homilies one gives in a three month period. So if one goes three months and has never mentioned the readings (shocking, but not impossible) or made a connection between the Word and the Eucharist or done any teaching or made any connection to the lives of parishioners. . . then perhaps some changes are in order.

Is it permissible to say that everyone's right?The bishops are right that our people need better catechesis.Thomas Baker is right that this complicates the homilist's job.Also - if I may speak candidly: more than a few homilists will need some catechetical brushing up themselves. (I don't exclude myself in this observation). It's one thing for a bishop to instruct all homilists to talk about abortion during the 3rd or 4th weekend in January. By no means is it a sure bet that everything the homilists say that weekend will actually be true or accurate.(There are two problems with this. One is that there will be people in the pews who will know that what was just said was wrong. The homilist's credibility plummets to the ground. The other is that there are people in the pews who don't know that what was just said is wrong. They've been misinstructed.)

I think the poster is basically correct in positioning this new doc as a sequel to Fulfilled In Your Hearing. It affirms the earlier document at several junctures. This is noteworthy because I don't think this is the case with fairly-recent bishops' documents on music and art and environment, which superseded, rather than added on to, what a previous generation of bishops had said.

My impression of the document was like Fritz Bauerschmidt's -- it feels very written-by-committee, so that I couldn't say what its central emphasis was. Except, perhaps, what you identify, Tom, the sense that the laity need careful instruction.I would have been satisfied if it had been one paragraph long, and that paragraph had said only "Please remember, homilists, that your job is to assist the congregation in hearing the word of God speaking to them through that day's Scriptures." I'm all for a little catechizing in the homily, if it's done well -- and there are good homilists who can fit some solid teaching into a homily without turning it into something other than a homily. But in my experience, it would be a major, major improvement if every priest or deacon simply committed themselves to starting with the Scriptures and the question, "What is God saying? How can I help make it clearer?" I recently changed parishes, from one where the preaching almost never had anything to do with the day's readings to one where the pastor takes his obligation to break open the Gospel very seriously. It wasn't the only factor in our decision to change, but it was the biggest one. The Sunday I heard a priest read the wrong Gospel altogether -- never catching his mistake -- and then give a homily about how Jesus definitely wasn't married, no matter what the New York Times says, which incidentally contained at least one major doctrinal error... that was the Sunday I knew we had to do better. And homilists like that one can't possibly meet all the expectations in this document. But if the bishops, or just our bishop, reminded him that preparing the readings is the biggest part of his job as a preacher? That might mike a positive difference.

Thomas, as publisher of Commonweal, you occupy a bully pulpit yourself, one from which you can preach to the preachers.What about publishing here on the blog complete sermons for every day of the liturgical year? Offer unrestricted use of them to any preacher unwilling or unable to write interesting, scholarly, and appropriate homilies by himself. Assign each contributor a week, the Sunday and the six weekdays. The contributor can then post a rough outline of the week's sermons a couple of weeks in advance of the week in which they are to be delivered. With the two-week lead time, the suggested sermon could be expanded upon and refined in comments.

Jim Pauwels,You wrote that "Its one thing for a bishop to instruct all homilists to talk about abortion during the 3rd or 4th weekend in January. By no means is it a sure bet that everything the homilists say that weekend will actually be true or accurate."Can you give an example of what a homilist might say on this subject that would be true or inaccurate? Thanks.

"By contrast, the innate respect for the assembly expressed in Fulfilled in Your Hearing asks us to wonder first about the words parish listeners are actually hoping to hear, rather than our preconceived notion of what they ought to hear."But doesn't the quoted passage from the earlier document refuse this dichotomy? I read it as saying that in order to communicate well the preacher needs to know his congregation well, including what they may be "hoping to hear." But what the preacher concludes the congregation need to hear could very well run counter to what they're hoping to hear. A Presbyterian minister was canned from his parish when he began to preach on racial matters. That clearly wasn't what the congregation was hoping to hear, but perhaps it was what it needed to hear.I like St. Augustine's plea to his congregation: "May the Lord help us by yourprayers so that I say what I ought to say and you need to hear, so that the Word of God may be useful to us all." [In Ps 139, 1: PL 37: 1803]

"Can you give an example of what a homilist might say on this subject that would be true or inaccurate? Thanks."Perhaps I could, but to what end?

Fr. Komonchak,Yes, I do agree people sometimes need to hear difficult and challenging messages. What concerns me is the desire expressed in the new document to give them remedial catechesis, when what they may really want (AND need) is to be challenged every week with the words of the scriptures. (Also, I'm really not convinced that mass-attending Catholics are as ignorant of what the church teaches as they are always portrayed.) It's not that there's anything wrong with remedial catechesis, I just wonder if trying to accomplish it in the homily can be successful. The examples I have seen recently always seem more like lectures (and simplistic, heavy-handed ones) than homilies.

Jim Pauwels,To what end did you choose abortion as a "catechetical" subject that a homilist might say something untrue or inaccurate about? Why reference the specific dates of the 3rd & 4th weekends of January?

Time for me to put in an plug for SOH. In France there is an association of lay people that has taken up the problem since 2007. They (a mix of professionals in theater, communication, and teaching) meet with volunteer priests and deacons who deliver homilies during training sessions, and they give them concrete feedback. The association has the support of the French equivalent of the USCCB. Of course, the laity's input concerns style only, not ideas, because ideas are reserved to the ordained, who receive inspiration directly from the Holy Spirit, and lay people would not want to interfere with that, would they. But they have much to say about the form of delivery, organization, salient points, clarity of the take-home message, etc; the homilists are videotaped and their videos commented on abundantly. There are reports that parishioners frequently compliment their pastor on the suddenly inexplicably improved quality of their homilies: it is gratifying to be of service in that way. That is something that concerned lay people in the US could try to put together as well. http://www.sohcatho.org

Mr. Baker: At least twice before on this blog we've had rather vigorous discussions on the level of religious literacy and comprehension among Catholics and about remedies for them, including through homilies at Mass. http://www.commonwealmagazine.org/blog/?p=3161http://www.commonwealmagaz... don't think we have to choose between preaching on the Scriptures and preaching that puts some doctrinal meat on the table and prepares for the common praise of God in the liturgy of the sacrament. I've recently given some thought to a series of homilies on the structure and rites of the Mass because I'm wondering if at least two generations of the people in front of me have ever had a catechesis on the matter.

Frank - I chose that as an example because it is top of mind. As a matter of fact, our ordinary asked all of us to preach about abortion last year near the time frame of the Roe v Wade anniversary. I believe it's fairly common. I did preach that Sunday, although what I spoke about wasn't particularly catechetical.I don't want to be cagey, but I'm hesitant (a) to invent some hypothetical error that wasn't spoken from the pulpit in real life, as I'm not sure that there would be any profit in it, but also (b) I don't want to embarrass any of the priests and deacons with whom I collaborate by publicizing any goofs or dopey things they may have said in real life.

Lessee, the bishops sent a document to be preached abbout TWICE on the "Fortnight for Freedom" ad shoe-horned the text intodealing with that...then were other poltically motivated letters and homily points assisgned that had nothing to do with the readings...and sometimes there was the separate instructions on the "respect life themes" in October...and don't leave out the missions, maybe human development and surely the diocesan fund under many titles ...and now the expected "anti-abortion" letter and preaching l...will there be abnother "charge" depending how SC rules on gay marriage,HHS mandate, or some large political event? The bishops use the readings as a fall back when they don't have some other points they wish to make...and judging from homilies of the bishops I've known... they're dreadful - some more sincere than others, some with a deeper sense of Scripture, but generally better to be read for study (or sleeep)...

Jim, let me help! Frank, the most recent time when I whispered in my dad's ear: "That's wrong!" during a homily, the priest had just said that revelation stopped with the death of the last apostle, and that there were now no more revelations in the church. The most memorable time, a few years ago, was when the youngish priest talked about the importance of Latin in liturgy, "for example, the Kyrie Eleison". Naturally there are also plenty of times when I think "I disagree", but that's quite different from "that's wrong".

According to Wikipedia, there are 17,644 local Catholic parishes in the United States. I don't know how to do the math to come up with an accurate estimate, but that works out to an extraordinarily large number of homilies each week, each for a relatively small audience, and if there's a normal curve, a lot of merely average homilies, a small number of really terrible ones, and a small number of excellent ones. In this the Internet age, if the excellent homilies could be identified, it would be quite a simple matter for parishioners across the United States to hear one of the most excellent homilies in the country rather than an average or poor one. I presume it is firmly embedded in Catholic thought that the local parish must have a live homily from the local priest, no matter what quality, than an excellent homily recorded in another location. If that's the case, perhaps on my proposed website (knowingcatholicism.com), on Sunday evenings there could be podcasts of the very best homilies from that morning. Why should just a small number of lucky parishioners in a small number of parish with the most thoughtful and intelligent homilists be the ones to hear what could be distributed to a potentially huge audience?

Type "Catholic homilies" in your search engine and you'll get plenty of possibilities. Add the reference to the week and year in liturgical calendar to also get homilies from 3 or 6 years ago. But doesn't everyone here do that already?

I would rather hear a homily about the scripture readings than about Catholic doctrine. The homilies that have meant the most to me have been the ones that made Jesus and his words and acts come alive. Preaching the Mystery of Faith instead sounds like indoctrination.

Claire, thank you for your assistance :-)The revelation topic is a somewhat complex one, in my opinion. It's a good illustration that homilists need to take care to get things right.

Not overlooking Fathers Komonchak and Imbelli, whom I'm willing to wager are both excellent homilists, but the late Fr. Walter J. Burghardt, S.J., was a master homilist who wrote several books on the art of preaching and many more books containing collections of his always thoughtful and thought-provoking homilies. Some of my favorites include:Preaching: The Art and The CraftTell the Next Generation: Homilies & Near HomiliesChrist in Ten Thousand Places: Homilies Toward A New Millenium

I would rather hear a homily about the scripture readings than about Catholic doctrine. Ditto, but it's a minefield. Examining the seminaries' curricula and the descriptions of seminary training written by sociologists of religion makes it clear that scripture scholarship is not something many/most priests are familiar with.Those who are must tread carefully. (Look at the commentary that the pope's recent remarks about animals engendered. Google "pope says no animals" for 28 million leads.)The spies who like tattling to bishops would not like hearing a scholarly exegesis of, e.g., the readings for Epiphany or the feast of the Holy Innocents.

Claire,Revelation did end with the death of the last apostle. Christ is the Father's definitive self-revelation. One cannot add to the truths revealed by Christ during His life and the lives of His apostles'. The riches contained in these truths can be uncovered and fleshed out by scriptural exegesis, theological reflection, the work of the Christological councils, etc, but nothing new has been revealed since the apostolic age. Can you give me an example of a post-apostolic revelation? Thanks.

The riches hidden in these truths can be revealed and fleshed out by scriptural exegesis, theological reflection, the work of the Christological councils, etc.In the usual sense of the word "revealed".

Gerelyn,Yes, I agree it's probably not easy to do a good job with the readings/scripture, but at the end of the day, that stuff is the foundation for everything else (unless Catholicism is really all about Catholicism and not about God). Parishioners (and priests) have to be willing to accept that the homilies about what Jesus said/did will be interpretations. I've read some really good homilies and sermons online - you can find ones posted that are by the early church fathers to the priest of almost any modern parish. One good resource is The Text This Week.

In our parish, back on St. Nicholas day, the Gospel reading included the parable of the two builders, one wise, one foolish, whose work had to stand up to a mighty storm. The homilist gave a brief but powerful sermon setting the parable in the whole context of Jesus' radical teaching in the Sermon on the Mount which had just preceded it. By sheer accident, our Bible study group was present, and moved on afterward to a session in which after a couple of weeks of work on the Sermon on the Mount, we were scheduled to discuss this very section of the Gospel. The group was thrilled to find itself absolutely on the same page with the homilist, for the work we had done had prepared us to appreciate the richness of his elucidation of the passage. So one point made in the document discussed here hits home very hard to me: not only does the homilist have a lot of work to do, but so does the congregation.As I read "Preaching the Mystery of Faith" I must say I also reacted as Tom Baker did in traces of a committee agenda in the list of possible contents of a homily. But of course not every homily need include all thye various suggested contents or approaches. And I do think the sections on the scriptural preparation of the presenter were well done, and even, for this sort of a document, well written.

A long day of discussion of homiletics and not a single previous mention of application to living the Christian life. I think both Scripture study and catechetics belong in educational forums in which way too few US RCs participate. It is part of the error of trying to jam everything into just going to Mass on Sunday, and then insisting that the Mass last under one hour. The homily needs to address, briefly and directly, how to apply the words of the Scriptures and of our liturgical prayer to the ways these people in this demographic area live day to day.How does Christianity apply to driving and parking, shopping and recycling, sports and entertainment, school and work? If one homilist out of a thousand actually gets to these sorts of issues, I would be surprised. I am sick of "glittering generalities" preaching, which reiterates some doctrinal point or some comparative distinction without having anything to do with living the Way of life given by Jesus. I am sick of mere re-phrasings of the parables of and hearing priest after priest repeat the most obvious possible elements which are mentioned 75% of the time when each particular passage is read.I know enough about seminary education to know that the emphases on orthodox theological specifics and canon law leave little room for teaching Scripture or the skills of preaching and presiding. The seminary system and segregation of the clergy leave them with little real world experience, either. Any priest or group of priests who are humble enough to accept some coaching at reasonable rates can contact me at practical.liturgist@gmail.comor via the blog http://practical-liturgist.blogspot.com/Nevertheless, the point of the homily is to APPLY the words of the Scripture and Liturgy to the lives of the community. This is hard so long as preachers think they are supposed to teach from the pulpit instead of lead, to exercise authority instead of leadership.

A page for yesterday's gospel readings ... http://www.textweek.com/mtlk/matt2a.htmA few other places, all Jesuit ... Creighton University's Daily Reflections, Sacred Space, Pray-as-you-go

I wonder if, with comunications the way are today, are there any parishes that ask for feedback from the the people in the pews on the homily preached? It might be a way of knowing the level of understanding doctrine, and knowledge of the scriptures that exist in the parish. It also might be a way for the laity to ask questions about the homily etc.

Crystal: there's also http://jakomonchak.files.wordpress.com/2013/01/epiphany-homilies.pdfI agree with Susan about the amount of preliminary work needed to appreciate a homily. To try to help with that, I often prepare 20 questions for my catechism class. Last week's sample:#5 Were the Magi Jewish?#7 In what chapters and verses do we read about the Magi in the other Gospels?#19 Who were the first few groups of people to see Jesus after his birth? What does that tell you about who Jesus Christ came for in the world?#20 The story of the Magi is a legend. It did not happen in reality, but it has meaning that is both true and important for Christians. What is the take-home message of this story?(My favorite twentieth question: "What do you think will be the main point of the homily this Sunday?")

Thomas Baker: Your characterization @01/07/2013 2:19 pm of "remedial catechesis" is rather heavy-handed editorializing on your part.Scripture-based homilies have their place.But let's back up. Pope Benedict XVI is the ring leader of the Catholic bishops. Rightly or wrongly, he fears that many Catholics do not understand the Catholic faith.So the U.S. Catholic bishops are falling in line with their ring leader's observation.To be sure, the Catholic Catechism is supposed to be a synopsis of the Catholic faith.To be sure, teaching key points from the Catholic Catechism could be understood as "remedial catechesis," as you say.But catechesis can also be more than remedial.

Never read the Catechism - don't recall it from RCIA - thank you, God :)

Years ago, I had the honor of serving as the senior editor (with Paul A. Soukup) of a wide-ranging anthology of essays titled COMMUNICATION AND LONERGAN: COMMON GROUND FOR FORGING THE NEW AGE (Kansas City: Sheed & Ward, 1993; now distributed by Rowman & Littlefield).Sister Carla Mae Streeter of the Order of Preachers contributed a fine essay that is relevant to the present discussion of preaching: "Preaching as a Form of Theological Communication: An Instance of Lonergan's Evaluative Hermeneutics" (pages 48-66).

Tom: I don't accept your counterposing a preacher's teaching to his leading, his authority to his leadership. Christian living (imperatives) derive from Christian beliefs (indicatives): we are to do what we are to do because God has done for us what he has done for us. So I think the first duty of the preacher is to preach that Good News, to fulfill Jesus' command to "Teach all nations" and then to try to show that our Christian lives are supposed to be responses to unmerited grace. I think one of the main weaknesses of many preachers is that they either psychologize Gospel passages--"How do you think that older son really felt?"--or reduce religion to ethics, which is what I think I would be doing if I were to use the homily to address the questions you want the preacher to address: "How does Christianity apply to driving and parking, shopping and recycling, sports and entertainment, school and work?" For driving: obey the speed limits; for parking: don't park in a handicapped zone... Nothing particularly Christian about such injunctions. Perhaps there's more that could be said about some of the other ones you mention.

I guess now that the bishops want to return to preaching dogma rather than proclaiming the scripture, we may as well go back to talking about money all the time. Discipleship is in following the way of Jesus. Not explaining fine points of doctrine and what makes a sin venial or mortal and how the Trinity works. The truth is no one has the faintest idea of the Trinity tho it is touted as more important than the crucifixion. My my. Now that the bishops have profoundly catechized us in saying "and with your spirit" rather than "also with you", we can go back to ignoring scripture which we were forbidden to read at one time. Jesus made it very clear that his anointing was to set the captives free. Now the bishops pretend they are the captives because federal funding is not the way they want it. Yet the captives are still not free. In fact they are being abandoned more and more as the bishops pay Indian and African priests to come here while those priests leave serious captives in their own homelands. So the bishops remain in palaces as they maintain they want to catechize while "the poor do not have the gospel preached to them."

Can you give me an example of a post-apostolic revelation? Frank Gibbons,St. Margaret Mary Alacoque and devotion to the Sacred Heart. Only public revelation ended with the death of the last apostle.

Your characterization @01/07/2013 2:19 pm of remedial catechesis is rather heavy-handed editorializing on your part.Sorry you feel that way, but I think that's clearly the "news" of this particular document. It calls for a renewal of the catechetical mission of the homily, and it feels that this is a particularly opportune moment because of widespread misunderstanding and ignorance of the church's teaching.Yes, as you point out and as the document makes perfectly clear, this directionfrom the bishops is very much a product of Benedict's "New Evangelization," and the bishops are eager to make that connection. The document is loaded with approving references to the N.E. as their inspiration for asking preachers to move in this direction.

#20 The story of the Magi is a legend. It did not happen in reality . . . Claire,Pope Benedict XVI disagrees. See Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, p. 118. In my humble opinion, he is wrong, and the story of the Magi is theological. But if the story of the Magi is theological, then the story of the Holy Innocents is, too. Many Catholic bloggers made references to the Holy Innocents in trying to say something comforting about the school shootings in Newtown. And the bloggers all assumed the killing of the Holy Innocents was a historical fact. I just began reading Jesus of Nazareth: What He Wanted, Who He Was, by Gerhard Lohfink, and in his introduction he says there were four books on his desk as he was writing that he frequently consulted. Two of them were volumes of Benedict's Jesus of Nazareth. I was taken aback, because brilliant as Benedict is, he is not a Biblical scholar, and from what I know of his thought, he is out of synch even with most contemporary Catholic Biblical scholars. My point is that if anybody (including a priest giving a homily) says anything very interesting about a Biblical matter, unless he or she puts it forward tentatively, anyone reasonably well versed in such matters can argue that the Bible is being misinterpreted. And probably a lot of people will be upset.

Agree, David Nickol, about the great number of private revelations over the centuries. Mariology: A Guide for Priests, Deacons, Seminarians, and Consecrated Persons, which Raymond Leo Burke, Cardinal Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, believes should be a "standard textbook in seminaries," and which Scott Hahn says is a "'must read,' especially for our priests and seminarians," is full of accounts of private revelations. The most important recent ones must be those imparted to St. Faustina Kowalska.Enter "revelations" in the search box for many examples and for details about the role of authentic private revelations in the "Church's ongoing development of doctrine."http://books.google.com/books?id=ez0VRbQi1i4C&printsec=frontcover&dq=Mar... rich source of material for some interesting sermons.

Revelation with a capital "R" ended with the last apostle. Nothing new has been added since to the Deposit of Faith. I'm just finishing Julian of Norwich's "Revelations of Divine Love". I've also read Theresa of Avila's "Interior Castle", John of the Cross' "Dark Night of the Soul", and Sister (Saint) Faustina's "Dairy: Divine Mercy in My Soul" among other spiritual works that have greatly enriched my faith. But none of the insights that these holy people received or were "shown" add to what was fully revealed in Christ. Nor do the messages of the approved apparitions of the Blessed Mother add to the content of the faith. We're not required to believe in private revelations. So when people say that Revelation ended with the Apostolic age they don't mean that God has stopped teaching us or has stopped speaking to us. They just mean that nothing new has been added to the Deposit of Faith.

David: you're right. Fixed.Frank: that goes to Jim's point. Homilist in question did not define "revelation", and there was no capital "R" in his voice. Could he do it in 7 minutes, and is that a good use of his weekly allotment of people's attention? Does "Preaching the mystery of faith" have any advice on that?

Inasmuch as the topic of revelation has been broached, and it seems fitting, during this octave bookended by Epiphany and Baptism of the Lord, to discuss it, I'll share a couple of thoughts.David Nickol's correction is what I had in mind when I remarked that revelation was somewhat complicated, and a homilist needs to get it right. The Second Vatican Council, which thought the topic of revelation so important that it gave us a full-blown dogmatic constitution on it, qualifies the formula even further by noting, "... we now await no further new public revelation before the glorious manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ (see 1 Tim. 6:14 and Tit. 2:13)." One could note, too, that although Jesus Christ is the culmination and key to all divine revelation, he does not exhaust it. The same VII document notes, "God, the beginning and end of all things, can be known with certainty from created reality by the light of human reason (see Rom. 1:20)"; and it's certainly arguable that both created reality and human reason are still under development.And beyond all that, there is the question, "If God reveals himself, and we're not paying attention, has revelation actually happened?" Well, I suppose it has, but it does seem that it is in our reception of divine revelation, and our cooperating in its work in us, and our passing it along to the next generation, that it reaches its fullest flower. This is one good reason to celebrate Epiphany and Baptism of the Lord every year, and indeed to go to mass every Sunday. I have to admit that I'm not much of a fan of homilies that give us pat little formulas like, "Revelation ended with the death of the last apostle" - it doesn't seem much better to me than the one that goes, "Jesus Christ founded the Catholic Church." Both are kinda/sorta superficially true, and both generally are trotted out in service of a tendentious point. I think we can do better than that in our preaching.

A gentle suggestion and hint on revelation: over on Pray Tell, Fr. Jan Michael Joncas has been leading a group consideration and discussion of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. Wouldn't it be really cool if a qualified person were to do the same here with the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation? And it's only 26 paragraphs.

With all the 'revelations' the Vatican got it wrong on the Jews, the rites issue, women, private masses. Doctrine is such a treacherous field. Being a disciple is what Jesus stressed. To paraphrase Mae West: "Dogma had nothing to do with it." We are witnessing the vast migration of African and Indian priests to these shores and no one is taking issue with it. Just what we need more intellectualization and theorizing (Catechetics) while the captives are still suffering. The new evangelization should deal with the Good News. Not treatises.

A question ... if the deposit of faith is frozen with the last of the apostles, how were infallible new statements about Mary made and accepted?

Thanks, Tom, it is a privelege to know you! The church we love so well and so much is hidden in the details of sad, sad men who need to be loved into life and Commonweal and you are so respectful in giving your lives to civil and loving remarks on issues that are complicated but so simplified by that sadness that they are an embarrassment to thinking Catholics.

Fr. Komonchak and Thomas Burke's ongoing discussion and analysis has helped to illuminate what I found missing in the Thomas' initial blog. Having Professor Komonchak's course on Vatican Ii and hearing him preach at my local parish, while two quite different settings, I received both instruction and inspiration faith at the same time. By this I mean, in class his goal was instruction and not necessarily to inspire, but it so often was. Likewise, his preaching was both inspiring in faith and education in our faith. I find that Thomas is trying to create a dialectic where none need exist. Having been an educator for many years first as a high school teacher of religious studies and then at the college and university levels, I find the majority of my Catholic students sorely in need of basic Catholic instruction on the meaning and worship of the sacraments. Furthermore, I remember very well an important point made in one of my theology classes in the study of liturgy and ritual, that good liturgy feeds the soul and inspires faith; unfortunately, bad liturgy can be the reverse. Having been to many different parishes over the years, I have found this to be proven true. If I do not find a good faith community that includes good liturgy--ritual, music, and homilies--I have left mass with a sense of being unfulfilled and it is so much harder to return to mass the next time. I am saddened that all of this discussion, my own included, has not been based on research that has evidence of whether or not Catholics are leaving the church based on lack of knowledge, understanding; bad liturgies; or other reasons. My current research, based on CARA (Center for Applied Research) and the Pew Forum on Religion and the Public Life shows some trends about why Catholics might be leaving the church but more research is needed. I am afraid that many of our church leaders are making assumptions about individuals in the pew and what is needed based on their world-view, which may be quite disconnected from the lives of average parishioners.

I think Pius X offered an interesting solution:Since it is a fact that in these days adults need instruction no less than the young, all pastors and those having the care of souls shall explain the Catechism to the people in a plain and simple style adapted to the intelligence of their hearers. This shall be carried out on all holy days of obligation, at such time as is most convenient for the people, but not during the same hour when the children are instructed, and this instruction must be in addition to the usual homily on the Gospel which is delivered at the parochial Mass on Sundays and holy days.Require all adults to spend an hour at Church, in addition to attending Mass with its homily, on all holy days. Wouldn't everyone here have been glad to get an hour of instruction this past Christmas? The bishops' advice in their recent letter is perhaps a little more practical, but not much.

"The bishops advice in their recent letter is perhaps a little more practical, but not much."Hey, Jim, I see the new doc's focus on catechesis as being of a piece with something I've witnessed many times at a parish level over the years: the irresistibility of the captive audience.One starts with an idea: "I've got this really important thing to communicate to the people of the parish. Everyone needs to know about this." The specific content could be anything from a program of adult catechesis, to the need to raise funds for the parish school, to an announcement of the date of the parish picnic.Then, one ponders method: "What is the best way to get this critical information out to the people whom I want to hear it?" The solution practically suggests itself: "Nobody reads long, dull articles in the parish bulletin. We could mail stuff to people's homes, but that costs postage, and only half of our mailing addresses are any good. The only large gathering of people in our community is at mass. Therefore, we will communicate this at mass."Once the method is settled, objections are raised: "But the homily is supposed to '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' [SC 35/2]". This presents an obstacle, but not for long: "Let's see, does my screed against Democrats, or anecdotes from my recent vacation, or a presentation of our building plan, meet these criteria? Close enough."

The new Catechesis is perhaps a euphemism for control or preserving the hierarchy/empire. Is the new evangelism going to give us homilies on "consubstantial with the Father" and the revelations of Sr. Faustina? Not far from advocating declaring Mary the Mediatrics of all graces. Again. Then maybe it is a question of who needs catechesis. Bernard of Clairvoux certainly needed catechesis because he advocated the killing of infidels as he along with the pope declared the remission of all sins for those warriors who on the way to Jerusalem plundered and ruined most of the towns they passed through. Or perhaps Athanasius of Alexandria who pranced around Egypt and Constantinople declaring that he had the right to be bishop of Alexandria. Or Augustine of Hippo as he advocated soldiers to force people to become Catholics while telling married people that it was a sin to enjoy marital love making. And what about the Fathers of the Church presiding over the massive adulteration of the Christian faith? Or perhaps Pius XII, and too many German Catholic bishops who kept silent about the massacre of the Jews. .....etc.Ah yes. The New Evangelisation. Pretty soon it will be declared again that it is at least a venial sin to criticize a bishop and probably a mortal sin.

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