A sermon in a smile

Yes, it’s another Friday the 13th.  The day/date conjures up an ominous image for those who entertain such superstitions.

Yet even for realists times can be dark.  This includes Christians as they confront the tensions and confess the sins of life in today’s world.

Pope Francis is both a realist and a Christian!  But his is not an ominous view of things.  In fact, his recent exhortation on “The Joy of the Gospel” emphasizes just the opposite.

The realist in him acknowledges how “the hearts of many people are gripped by fear and desperation” such that their “joy of living frequently fades” (no. 52).  He knows that the unhappiness of some who do the Lord’s work leads to a stifling of the Church’s joyful mission (no. 79).  He confesses that even some can be paralyzed by acedia and view “the task of evangelization (as) a dangerous poison rather than a joyful response to God’s love which summons us to mission and makes us fulfilled and productive” (no. 81).

Put simply, the temptation for all Christians these days is to look like “sourpusses” (no. 85).  Sadly, that lack of a smile comes with and from preaching.  Holding his tongue only slightly in cheek, the pope acknowledges that “both they (the faithful) and their ordained ministers suffer because of homilies: the laity from having to listen to them and the clergy from having to preach them!” (no. 135.)

Evangelii-Gaudium-ImageFortunately, the Christian in him recognizes the joy of the Gospel despite the tediousness of its proclaimers.  Thus, he offers us a different vision.  Though not a step-by-step guide, the papal exhortation indicates some key ingredients to a more joyful life … and thus a more joyous proclamation.

Even when “God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades” (no. 2), the Christian can know joy because of the gift of salvation.  It begins on the inside, with an interior life of prayer that transcends personal interests and concerns.  It proceeds by way of “grateful remembrance” (no. 13), first and foremost for that “great stream of joy” (no. 5) proclaimed in the Gospels, into which we can always enter.  It also remembers and celebrates all those “throughout history who were filled with joy, unflagging courage and zeal in proclaiming the Gospel” (no. 263).

In sum, the enduring Word of God – narrated in the biblical texts, lived in saintly lives, and mercifully experienced in the sacraments – remains a constant source of the joy all people want and need.

Perhaps this is why the pope dedicates such an extensive portion of his exhortation specifically to those who preach the Word (nos. 135-159).  Without saying so explicitly, he tells them quite frankly and in pointed prose that they should give far greater priority to preparing and delivering their homilies.  In terms of content, preachers should link what they say to real-life situations through images that appeal more to people’s hearts than to their heads.  In terms of form, homilies should be marked by simplicity, positivity, and brevity!

Done well, a homily makes abundantly clear that the Lord, not the preacher, is the center of attention and that there is truly Good News to share.

If preachers would take to heart the papal exhortation, and lead listeners to realize that “With Christ joy is constantly born anew” (no. 1), perhaps then we will see more people in Church and more smiles on their faces … no matter what the day and date.

Featured image from hauntingreview.com

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