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