Practice Preaching

David Oatney Diocese of Knoxville, Vocations

cassockIf you read Catholic blogs on a regular basis, you have probably noticed that many clergy blogs have something in common. Whether it is Monsignor Charles Pope and his official work for the Archdiocese of Washington (Monsignor Pope does the same thing in Washington that myself and Father Christian Mathis have done here at Life At 25 for the Diocese of Knoxville, in that he is one of the “official” bloggers in his diocese), or someone like Father Martin Fox at Bonfire of the Vanities, (whose ordination to the priesthood I happened to attend quite a few years ago), our own Father Christian’s Blessed Is the Kingdom, or Father Michael Cummins‘ The Alternate Path, or Deacon Greg Kandra from the Diocese of Brooklyn at The Deacon’s Benchclergy like to share their homilies online.

Why not? As simple a format as it may seem nowadays, sharing your preaching on the internet is a simple way to evangelize in today’s world. If the words of a priest or a deacon’s homily reach even one needy soul, it is worth posting and circulating. I think the Holy Father understands this reality, which is probably a big reason that he seems to insist on preaching at daily Masses in public. He knows that someone will chronicle his words and share them with the world. Many priests and deacons are using the vehicle of their blogs not only to write reflections, but to share some of the preaching and teaching they give their own flock with the rest of the world.

This past weekend was a weekend of formation for candidates for the permanent diaconate in the Diocese of Knoxville. As part of our formation, when we are together we have a rotation and a different brother leads the Liturgy of the Hours in the morning and evening. Recently, we’ve begun giving “reflections” after the scripture reading at Lauds or Vespers. We can’t call them “homilies” because we are not ordained, but they are conveniently inserted at the place where the General Instruction on the Liturgy of the Hours (47) says that a homily could be preached (after the Scripture verse and before the responsory). For all intents and purposes, it is “practice preaching.”

meretreatThis past Saturday evening (the first Vespers of Sunday) was my turn to lead and my turn to reflect. The guideline is that I had to keep my words to four minutes or less. In the spirit of others who share their reflections, and with the knowledge that my poor words are nowhere near as good as the people aforementioned, I’d like to share my reflection with the readers of Life At 25. My brother candidates who heard it may recognize that this version is slightly longer than what they were given. It is the original unedited version. I have included the relevant reading from Sacred Scripture as well. Feel free to comment and critique, as I welcome feedback since I have much growth to do in the ministry of preaching.

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Hebrews 13:20-21:

May the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep by the blood of the eternal covenant, Jesus our Lord, furnish you with all that is good, that you may do his will. Through Jesus Christ may he carry out in you all that is pleasing to him. To Christ be glory forever! Amen.

 

LectionaryIn tonight’s Scripture verse, the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews begins to close his work with a benediction. In this benediction he refers to God as “the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep.” We hear and read of God and peace spoken of together many times throughout Sacred Scripture. When Moses was given instructions by the Lord on how the Israelites were to be formally blessed by the priests, it included the words “the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace (Num. 6:26)”. ” When Jesus appeared to the terrified apostles after the resurrection he said “peace be with you.”

At every Mass before the sign of peace, we are reminded of the words of Jesus when he said “peace I leave you, my peace I give you”…. But what is meant when we speak of God’s peace? It is tempting to think of this divine peace in terms that are all too human, and say to ourselves that it means the absence of conflict, war, or strife. That kind of peace can be a real fruit of God’s divine peace, but Jesus himself said that he did not come to bring peace on earth and may very well divide even families, so we can’t presume that accepting divine peace means that we will always have “peace” as we might define it in the most overt sense. It is worth noting that in addition to giving the apostles his peace, Jesus also said “not as the world gives, do I give to you.”

Instead, the peace that our God is the God of is that peace of the soul, to be content and understand that all things work together for our good if we trust in God, and that all things will be brought to fulfillment, however good or bad our present situation might be. The world is desperately searching for this kind of peace. People try to find it in material wealth, popular culture, sports, or even within political or social movements of a given day.

Eras come and go with people searching for peace in these ways, yet humanity is still searching. But the God of peace can be the bringer of peace to us and through us if we allow him to do his work in our lives. The writer of Hebrews says as much when he asks that the God of peace who raised up Jesus from the dead “furnish you with all that is good, that you may do his will. Through Jesus Christ may he carry out in you all that is pleasing to him.” If we allow God to carry out in us all that is pleasing to him, if we do his will and not our own, his peace will be evident in our lives. We are here because we have given our lives to Christ in the truest sense of those words, and that willingness to follow wherever God’s will might take us has brought us to this time and place. Let us pray, as the writer of tonight’s text did, that we may do his will, and that by doing that will, God will carry out in us through Jesus Christ everything that is pleasing to him.