Preacher's Woes

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To Preach or Not to Preach

I was sorely tempted not to preach this morning. Preaching seven days a week is a huge investment of time and energy; at the same time it is an inestimable grace. I believe that the Word of God sanctifies the preacher's heart and his lips so often as he delivers it in the grace of the Holy Ghost.

A Necessity Lieth Upon Me

All the same, there are days when everything in me wants to slack off. And then I hear Saint Paul saying, "For if I preach the gospel, it is no glory to me, for a necessity lieth upon me: for woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel" (1 Cor 9:16) — and so I "preach the word, being instant in season, and out of season: reproving, entreating, and rebuking in all patience and doctrine" (cf. 2 Tim 4:2).

The Grace of Holy Preaching

A stellar French Dominican of the last century used to say that the grace of la sainte prédication, holy preaching, was given to the preacher in proportion to the spiritual desire and openness of his hearers. Most priests have experienced this. There are situations in which the grace of the Word seems blocked by an almost perceptible resistance to it in the assembly. There are also situations in which the grace of the Word flows abundantly under the anointing of the Holy Spirit, causing the preacher's heart to "overflow with a goodly theme."

A Cast of Characters

On any given day, I am faced, while I preach, with a poor disgruntled soul who mutters disapproval in a stage whisper or noisily turns pages. That hurts. And it's rude. Another uses the time of the homily to read the commentary in Magnificat. (Shouldn't the editors write something about not reading Magnificat during the homily, at least when one is seated under the priest's nose?) Especially discouraging to me is the defiant sour puss whose entire body is a study in passive aggression. Nearly every day I see one or two dear souls who doze while I speak. That doesn't really annoy me. Sleepiness is a weakness that I fully understand. There are also those who register a benign indifference. I can cope with that. And, thank God, there are a few who listen attentively, giving the occasional indication that something has touched their hearts.

Visited by the Word

This morning I battled with the temptation not to preach. The devil uses all his tricks to silence a preacher of the Word: discouragement, wounded self-love, a sudden onslaught of inexplicable weariness, the fear of rejection, and the insinuation that it is all useless. The power of the Holy Name of Jesus, today's glorious feast, triumphed over my reluctance and fears, and so I preached in spite of myself. As I was walking to my car after Mass, a lady with a lovely smile stopped me and said, "Father, thank you for your words today." By the light shining in her eyes, I knew that the Word had visited her. And I gave thanks.

21 Comments

Father---don't EVER give in to the temptation...the VAST majority of us NEED your words...not because they are yours, but because they come straight from the Lord. Anyone who has ever had the blessing to hear you knows this without any doubt. The evil one can and does use all sorts of ways to tempt us...even sometimes (most sadly) 'holy people' to discourage us...but don't let even let that weaken your resolve! Preach in season and out...correct, rebuke and exort never losing patience (which, as I am witness) you never do! Preach to the ONE of us who needs it...or the two or three...or (more likely than not) the MANY! Remember the demon who cried out, "What have you to do with us Jesus?"---and drive out the 'legion' in our midst with your words/sword of truth.

May the Lord strengthen you and give you courage to preach ALWAYS and EVERYWHERE...and the grace to speak out LOUDLY in fact.

In His great mercy,

+Fr. Pius, who prays for you always!

Courage, Dom Mark! The Holy Spirit is with you.

Am reading Dom Lehodey and I can't help but think he'd smile at the make up of your congregation---what a sign that God loves you and is mindful of your spiritual advancement!
Keep up the good work! :>

padre mark:

que alegria volver a escucharlo hablar desde lo mas profundo de su alma...
opino lo mismo que fr pius.
que dios le sigua colmando de eternas bendiciones..
y mil gracias por saber ser instrumento de gracia y bondad..
no se desanime y sigua luchando la buena batalla..
nosotros necesitamos que dios lo sigua fortaleciendo
para que sigua siendo luz que ilumina y y sal que da sabor.. pero especialmente
que su mensaje sigua siendo la palabra de dios que libere y lleve las almas a dios...
gracias por su existencia bendita..
rezo por ellos que se duermen en misa.
rezo por ellos que no entienden la misa..
rezo por ellos que no tienen paz y se mueven y se distraen y son irreberentes ante esa presencia que esta presente y nos mira y sufre nuestra indiferencia ..
cuidese mucho y mil gracias por tanta bendicion,
estoy contenta. la prueba fue dificil pero gracias a dios ya he vuelto a escribir..
dios es bueno con nosotros
su bondad no tiene limites..
y usted es la alegria de su corazon..
gracias.
mary

God blesses you with the gift of perseverance – and confirms the rightness of your actions by providing you with words of thanks from a grateful heart.
How blessed you truly are!

The Spirit always consoles when we need consolation most, and encouragement when we need that too - and moves with amazing swiftness.
That lady speaks for me in regard to what I read here in Vultus Christi, and it is surely a combination of the Word and your words that puts the light in your readers' eyes.

Father Mark, as a (mostly) parish priest, I understand full well the enormous responsibility of preaching. I fear most of your readers will respond to your comments with encouraging words - as if your self-revelation this morning were an invitation to them to offer their support. I think, instead, that your words are a kind of revelation - an epiphany before the feast - of the power and the goodness of the good God. What you write is not about you, but about Him. And rather than encourage you to perseverance, I will tell you simply that I share with you the holy fear that comes to the preacher when he knows he is become God's voice.

I agree with Monsignor Branklin wholeheartedly because the Lord manifests Himself to us in reality of our lives and saves us through our humanity. Many understand the plight of which Dom Mark speaks. From regular experience of hearing Dom Mark I can say that he is a very good preacher; the content is always appropriate to the liturgical life of Mother Church and so very often he speaks directly to me and to the needs of my heart. Here I think Dom Mark and the monsignor are tackling the "both-and" of Catholic preaching from different approaches. Let's be frank, there are moments in the life of the preacher that the congregation can be nasty, cruel and brutish even in the face of God's word proclaimed, preached and sacraments dispensed. This, however, means that with Grace we keep on preaching the Truth.

Re: people who look at books instead of you

I find it hard to consecrate on a speaker, unless I have something besides the speaker to look at. This is especially difficult in a church without much in the way of pictures on the walls or ceiling. I pretty much have to resort to staring at the book and flipping idly through the pages if I want to hear. Otherwise I end up falling back into my own thoughts and not paying attention at all, although I'm sure my expression is much more outwardly attentive!

A lot of people have similar problems with listening unless they have something to do with their hands. Hence all the people who knit or doodle in classes.

So honestly, there's no reason to believe that the person flipping through the book or apparently sleeping isn't listening on tenterhooks, just as the scowling person may just have a naturally dark expression whenever he's thinking hard. (Which is why introverts are always being misunderstood.) In fact, the whole looking at the congregation thing is overrated. It does give you some useful information about half the people; but hardly everyone. (Of course, the extroverted half would feel unhappy and misunderstood if you didn't look at them, so I guess the rest of us have to bear being stared at by speakers.)

Very interesting comments here!

Oftentimes during a homily I'll find that I have my eyes closed....because I'm wrapped up in the words and want to filter out the other distractions. I'm definitely not asleep or bored, quite the contrary - I'm engrossed in loving the Lord in the words of the priest to the exclusion of all else.

Fr. Mark, I just love your writing here and hope someday to be able to hear you preach. Your words excite my faith and put a smile on my face every time I read them....

Fr. Mark

I am reminded of a Presbyterian minister in a church I attended regularly (before my conversion)in Texas. He was a Scot, from Glascow no less, and had been at the church for nearly 20 years. He once got up to preach and began by saying he often wished he could just say that everyone in attendence had probably already heard everything he had to say on any given subject, he had nothing more to add, and just sit down.

I guess I can understand the temptation, but please don't give in. I can't imagine someone attending Mass with the attitudes you describe -- why bother? But they are the very folks who most need to hear what you have to say. You may not see the fruit now, but who knows, you may some day.

Happy New Year

Well, this was a pathetic post! LOL!

Just thank the Infant Jesus that he doesn't allow you to rejoice vainly in your preaching. You do not know how blessed you are.

Hugs! Terry.

If preaching is a kind of teaching, you are far from alone in your difficulties of trying to reach and have responses from your "students." The question comes to mind then: is your "teaching" geared to the level of your students, or are you beyond them? The "cast of characters" you describe can be found if many classrooms of both children and adults. If my students are stuggling with basic math or physics concepts, introducing calculus would be ill-advised if not inappropriate regardless of how compelling or interesting I might find it! Now I understand Jesus did not simplify his teaching for the masses - yet they flocked to him because they understood He was talking about their lives: their experience of prodigal relatives, lost coins and valuables etc. He still taught what was true and some did turn away and leave when he pronounced his Eucharistic teachings. But I also recall that when he fed them by the thousands as they came to hear him preach He used bread and fish. The familiar staples of their diet. He used something they already had with them. He used the familiar and transformed it. As a shepherd guides his flock to more fertile pastures by taking a slow, gentle climb and being sure to leave none behind, so must the preacher who seeks to guide his sheep to the Word.

I understand your circumstances, maybe it is God's way of saying to preach more! To a wider audience, who can appreciate you. How about the radio????Podcast???
Love & Prayers
Mary

I find myself agreeing with both Clare and cousin Mary on this one.
Without wavering one bit from the truth it is possible to bring the sheep into the pen or at least onto the road that leads to the pen, while still having the compassion to go out searching in the dead of night( publication to a wider and unseen congregation) for the lost.
Take heart, Fr. Mark, you are after all doing the Lord's will, can there be a more noble undertaking?

Cousin Mary's suggestion of podcasting is a wonderful idea. The technology is easy, not that expensive and fun to do. The problem is bandwidth and whether your blog provider can host podcasts.

See examples at www.kofc.org/cispodcasts...

Dom Mark, look into it.

I am overwhelmed at the outpouring of love for our Padre. Here, I thought I was merely one of a few. It is comforting in the darkness to know I am in the company of the saints and angels. Bless you Father Mark and forgive me, for I have sinned. I have many times been seen flipping through the pages of the Holy Text...during the Sermon no less, and while operating the sound board. Alas, may the Lord forgive me that He created my mind to wander the fields of His words and to ponder His great mysteries.
Even now, come Lord Jesus and give us your Light!

padre mark:

lo puede traducir for favor....

Rick:
mi dia fue dificil, aveces no sale el sol y pareciera que la noche se quiere estacionar...pero al leer su comentario mi alma brinco de alegria, de esperanza.
la sencilles de su alma es de inspiracion y su humildad para reconocer el error me motiva a seguir combatiendo la batalla..
pues al entenderlo a usted entiendo que nunca es tarde para comenzar de nuevo ....nunca dejara de darme alegria la humildad, sencilles y la educacion de un hombre que permite a su alma hablar.

solo basta un corazon sencillo que sepa reconocer, aceptar y abandonarse asi como un nino ..
Rick, gracias por traerle alegria a mi vida..que dios y nuestra madre lo bendigan hoy y siempre
lo mantengo en mis oraciones..
mary

Bless you Father for your overly kind words. I understand what you mean about the Sun, but our Hevenly Father has shown me how to love even the darkness and quietness of the night as I contemplate God's mysteries into the early morning hours. I would ask your blessing Father for this one thing. I feel as though I have started anew and have much to learn...but are the old things not important now? I feel conflicted between the old life and the new. The old is familiar and small, and still contains much I don't understand, whereas the new is so grand and overwhelming. Again, bless you for your kind words. I pray that the Almighty will strengthen you in this present darkness. Soon shall come the light and the Forest leap anew with life.
-Rick

My utmost apologies Sister Mary, I am still working on Controlling my tongue and my stomach. Lack of sleep makes it difficult to make the eyes focus, but now I see a bit more clearly this AM after a bit of sleep and realize that it was you who wrote. I R ead somewhere That you had been Feeling Worse since last we spoke. I Was Frightfully sorry To here this news. You will be in my prayers.

Here's yet another piece of the Mystery at work in the mission of what we Dominicans call "the holy preaching." Very often when I have prepared a homily to the point that I am quite pleased with it - and I might even give in to the temptation to imagine that it will touch souls in some profound way or perhaps impress people with my preaching abilities - I will hear almost no comments about the preaching or its perceived efficacy from the people after Mass! But on those days that I'm somewhat ashamed because I didn't make enough time for adequate preparation (or for whatever reason I feel that the homily is woefully underdeveloped or inadequate) I am often amazed at how many people express appreciation for it and might mention how it touched their souls! This is, of course, anecdotal, and the affirmation or lack of afirmation that a priest receives after preaching isn't necessarily an accurate reflection of the grace that is at work DESPITE the priest's effors, or is it...?

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About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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