Saturday, February 20, 2010

The priest’s role to evoke a spirit of prayer - Feb 21, 2010

In this ongoing series on people’s expectations of priests, I focus on presiding prayerfully at liturgies. I have spoken previously that the priest is the presider and not the celebrant. The Mass is something the people of God celebrate together. It is the priest’s role to evoke a spirit of prayer from the heart of the congregation. The people in the pews are not observers or passive participants. All are invited to be engaged actively and consciously in prayer. This engagement is aided if the people sense the presider is standing in the holy presence of God. Does the community experience a person caught up in the praise of God? Do they sense the genuineness of the priest crying out for God’s mercy? Do they see someone rejoicing in the God who liberates and calls to life? Do they sense that this man is at prayer? One common complaint is that at times a priest resembles a runaway train rushing through the prayers of the Mass.

Perhaps the greatest challenge of all is not to allow the worship to become routine. Rote recitation of prayers can lead to lifeless celebration of the Eucharist. Liturgy challenges the presider to be present to the workings of God in his life and in the experiences of the people in the pews. The ultimate sign of an effective presider is when he leads the community into the presence of the living God. By so doing he helps people to pray in an authentic way. On the day of my ordination Bishop Gelineau handed over the paten into my hands and said: “Receive the sacrifice of the holy people, to be offered to God. Understand what you do, imitate what you celebrate and conform your life to the mystery of the Lord’s cross.” for the past 35 years these words echo in my mind as I preside at liturgy.

PS. Much of the inspiration for these recent columns has come from the writings of George Wilson, S.J. His book is entitled Clericalism: The Death of the Priesthood. (Liturgical Press)

Fr. Bob Hawkins

Priesthood from the perspective of the people Feb 14, 2010

This year merges together two important themes: evangelization and the priesthood. In this pondering I would like to focus on the priesthood from the perspective of the people in the pews.

What practices can the people of God expect from their priests? I can think of four expectations:
1) The priest will proclaim the Word of God effectively.
2) The priest will devoutly preside at the public worship of the community.
3) He will provide guidance to individual believers in their lives of faith.
4) He will lead a Christian community on the journey of faith.

Today I will focus on the first expectation. Indeed the Word of God is spoken in Scripture and in the signs of the times (contemporary experience). For the priest to effectively proclaim the Word of God a strong interior life is a necessity. The Word of God has to take root in his heart, mind and imagination. For the Word to come alive in any homily it first has to take root in the homilist. I have to be excited if I am to move and inspire a congregation. Preaching is not like reading a bed time story to a child. The preacher himself is personally engaged in the story. Like Mary, the preacher ponders in his heart the ways of God. He takes on the mind and heart of Jesus as he empties himself so that he can be filled with the wisdom of the Lord. George Wilson wrote, “The Scriptures for the preacher is not a book of recipes for soothing or even for moral guidance. The words must burn and sting and confound and convict as much as they inform. The psalms are not Hallmark cards to soothe the faithful.”

A homily is a “we” experience meant to connect us all in our journey of faith. The homilist invites people to search for the presence of God in the world around us. Along with the Bible, the presider holds the daily newspaper in his hands. The aches, pains, struggles, joys of the human family are not foreign to the preacher. Wilson goes on to write: “The widows and orphans and aliens, the pharaohs and scribes and Pharisees, the tax collectors and prostitutes, the Pilates and Marys and Zacchaeuses – these are not cardboard cutouts from a Sunday school workbook. They walk on our streets.”

In short, in presiding the Word the priest asks the congregation where God is present in our world today. Indeed “the word has become flesh and dwells among us.” Because of this, preaching is a daunting, but fulfilling task.

I am never more alive than when I’m proclaiming the Word of God.
Fr. Bob Hawkins

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Four non-negotiables - Feb 7, 2010

The Year of Evangelization has afforded us the opportunity to do some reading. Recently, I came across one of my favorite writers, William O’Malley, S.J. He has been a high school teacher for many decades and has a wealth of experience. About ten years ago I heard him speak at a Convention for Catholic school teachers. Often he speaks about the four non-negotiables of the Catholic faith:
1) Jesus is the embodiment of God. In this capacity he is the greatest sign of God’s love. He became one with us so that we could be one with our God. In his living he displayed compassion, forgiveness and integrity. With him there is no pride or ego. He is a model for all of us.

2) Jesus’ death is followed by resurrection. Therefore we are not destroyed by death and even now we experience the aliveness of God in our human living.

3) Since we belong to Jesus his values of the Kingdom (God and neighbor) are more important than the values of the world (me first). We are charged therefore not only to change ourselves
but others as well.

4) We are members of His Body, the Church. We celebrate this membership at a weekly meal of thanksgiving. This demonstrates our commitment to one another and to worship.
It is good often to be reminded of the basics. It is my hope that this special year will return us to our own roots.

Fr. Bob Hawkins