Father Stefan reflects on Pope Francis ‘Joy of the Gospel’ Preparing to Preach

Pope Francis writes, “Trust in the Holy Spirit who is at work during the homily is not merely passive but active and creative. It demands that we offer ourselves and all our abilities as instruments (Rom 12:1) which God can use. A preacher who does not prepare is not ‘spiritual’; he is dishonest and irresponsible with the gifts he has received….Preparation for preaching requires love. We only devote periods of quiet time to the things or the people who we love, and here we are speaking of the God whom we love, a God who wishes to speak to us. Because of this love, we can take as much time as we need, like every true disciples: ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.'”( 1 Sam 3:9)

Father Tom Forrest had an inspiration to have an international retreat for priests in Rome. Thousands of priests came from all over the world. The Speakers were John Paul II, Mother Theresa, Father Reniero Cantalamessa and many others. Father Cantalamessa talk was titled, ‘How to preach in the Spirit.’ He advise priests when you start preparing for your homily first ask the Holy Spirit what He wants the people of God to hear. Whatever word or image that the Holy Spirit gives the priest trust that this is the ‘Now Word’ that the people of God need to hear. Only after you have spent several days and hours with this single image or word only than begin to read commentaries on these scriptures. The priest has to first allow the Holy Spirit to speak to him and only than should he consult human words. Often we do the very opposite of this. We first consult the commentaries to see what the so called experts say about God’s word. If our first impulse is to first see what the human authors say about a certain verse in scripture we are preaching in the flesh rather than in the Spirit, regardless of how beautiful and well constructed the homily might be. 

Origen speaking to the early Christians said, “You who are accustomed to talking part in the divine mysteries, you know, when you receive the body of the Lord, how to protect it with all caution and veneration, lest any small part of it, lest any of the consecrated gift be lost. For you believe, and correctly, that you are answerable if anythings falls from there by neglect. But if you’re so careful to preserve his body – and rightly so- how do you think these is less guile to have neglected God’s Word than to have neglected his body.”

I always like this story from the life of Saint Anthony of Padua, ” If intellectual men sometimes ignored his preaching, God intervened to show that was worthy of respect, giving signs through dumb animals. In the area near Padua, there was once a group of heretics who criticised and ridiculed his preaching; the saint were to the edge of the river, looking in the distance, and said to the heretics so that everyone would hear: ‘From the moment in which you proved yourself to be unworthy of the Word of the Lord, look, I turn to the fish, to further confound your disbelief.’ And filled with the Lord’s Spirit, he began to preach to the fish, elaborating on their gifts given by God: How God had created them, how he was responsible for the purity of the water and how much freedom He had given them, and how they were able to eat without working. The fish began to gather together to listen to this speech, lifting their heads above the water and looking at him attentively, with their mouths open. As long as it pleased the Saint to talk to them, they stayed there listening attentively, as if they could reason. Nor did they leave their places, until they had received his blessing.”

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