Hvordan kan katolsk forkynnelse bli bedre?

Jeg skrev for ei stund siden om ordinasjonen til Alvin Kimel, som før han ble katolske prest i lang tid hadde vært anglikansk/episkopal prest – se her. For noen år siden hadde han en svært aktiv blog, som jeg leste med stor interesse, men nå gjør han mindre av seg på internett. Men for en måneds tid siden skrev han noen svært innsiksfulle kommentarer til et innlegg om katolsk forkynnelse (se her), kommentarer som også har bli oppdaget og kommentert av flere mange – bl.a. av First Things.

Innlegget om katolsk forkynnelse i Inside Catholic påstod at man sjelden opplevede skikkelig dårlige katolske prekener, selv om mye kunne ha vært bedre. Fr. Kimel mener at det står dårligere til enn som så, og spesielt negativ er han til en nokså ensidig moralisme, som bare fokuserer på de menneskelige relasjonene. Slik skriver han:

Mr. Mills is fortunate indeed if he can say that he has never heard a genuinely bad Catholic homily. During my four years as a Catholic, I have heard many bad homilies–not just mediocre, not just poor, but truly dreadful. I do not know if they are any more dreadful than typical Protestant homilies–I spent my 25 years as an Episcopal priest preaching sermons, not listening to them–but I must say, with great sadness, that the average Catholic priest preaches badly.

Part of the problem is simply technique. The Catholic preacher often thinks he has to comment on all the lessons–so-called liturgical preaching. But more often than not, what one gets is a minimum of three disconnected homilies wrapped up as one. This problem is easily solved. Ever preacher should be able to state the theme of his homily in one sentence. If he can’t, then he has not prepared properly. Every word the preacher utters must serve this theme. No extraneous stories or funny anecdotes. No departures into other topics that might be of interest to the preacher. He must stick to his topic, ruthlessly and tenaciously. Homilies that bounce all over the place do not (as a general rule–there are always exceptions) change people’s lives; they aren’t even remembered thirty minutes later.

But perhaps the critical problem of the Catholic preacher is his innate moralism. Instead of proclaiming «good news» that elevates and transformers his hearers, he ends up telling us, again and again and again, that we must strive to be good people. Sometimes he has some good advice on how we can be good people; sometimes he doesn’t. But invariably, Sunday after Sunday, the Catholic preacher descends into a dreary moralism.

The solution for this problem is difficult to articulate. Somehow the Catholic priest must begin to understand the homily as akin to giving the Eucharist. It’s not just a matter of saying things ABOUT God or Jesus or morality or whatever. Preaching is communication of Jesus Christ himself. It is a word, the Word, that enables us to live our lives in faith and hope. The preacher must not just speak about the gospel: he must do the gospel to his hearers. «The preaching of the Word of God,» Martin Luther said, «is the Word of God.» This is what the Catholic preacher must begin to understand and practice.

Han får mange svar på denne kommentaren, bl.a. en kristisk en. «Fr. Kimel, I’m afraid you’re mistaken. There’s a point to telling people that they must be «strive to be good people.» Homilies are not only about proclaiming the Gospel and transforming the listeners; it’s also about what follows from that. It’s a synergy, not one or the other. That’s Catholic theology. It’s not the Gospel or works – it’s both.» Han svarer slik på denne innvendingen:

It is, of course, more than possible that I am mistaken. I am often mistaken on most matters. But on this particular subject, I do not think so. In my 28 years of pastoral ministry and experience, I have learned that Church-going, Mass-attending Christians do not need to be constantly informed that they «should» be good people; they do not need to be harangued to avoid sin and do good works. They already know all of that. They know the difference between right and wrong, good and evil. They just choose, for any number of reasons, not to change, not to repent, not to pray, not to do the good.

The central task of the preacher is to so proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ that the the lives of his hearers are re-framed and transformed and thus empowered to do what they either could not do or did not want to do before. New life precedes good works. Exhortation does not raise people from spiritual death. Only the gospel of the risen Christ can do that.

Moral exhortation will always have a place in preaching. Given the appointed lessons of the day, it may appropriately dominate the homily. But woe to the Church if the summons to good works becomes the primary word spoken by the Church to the Church. The preacher only has 52 Sundays and a handful of holy days to proclaim the gospel. The limited time given to him is precious and sacred–hence the urgency to speak a Word that truly is Jesus Christ.

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