Summary Notes from the Bishop Barron Conference on Preaching 2018

Talk # 1

Preaching is the first office of the priest and the key to the New Evangelization. If our primary occupation is the institutional church, then people will not hear the Word, they won’t hear about Jesus.

“At the beginning of the Church, there were no institutions, no parishes, etc… but there were preachers” (Cardinal George).

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The God of the Bible is the God who speaks. God for us is not a distant principle; God is a living Person who speaks to us: “Now the Word is not simply audible” (VD 12). Whereas our speech is derivative and descriptive, God’s speech is antecedent and creative. God speaks and things happen. It effects what it says. We need to let this Word shake us up and send us forth.

Our preaching is linked to the Eucharistic Liturgy in that it “does” something, it almost transubstantiates something.

What is preaching? Speaking about Christ, who is allowed to have seized you and that now He speaks his powerful transformative Word through you.

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We must grow in our friendship with Christ. We need to let Him seize us. This will help us be better preachers – to become an apprentice to Jesus as a preacher. We must allow the Word of God to speak through us, then it will have a life-changing power.

The Gospel has this “grab you by the lapels” quality. When you read the Gospels and Epistles – you hear people want to grab you by the shoulders because something has happened. It is like the fire bell in the night quality. It is not philosophical musings about truth but a wake-up call, an alarm bell that has gone off. Acts 2:37 – “… they were cut to the heart…” When Paul preached, there were riots; when I preach they serve me tea!”

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All good preaching should be Christocentric. Christ is the firebell of the night; he is powerful word that will change people’s lives. Everything must serve this purpose.

“Repent and believe” (Mark 1:15). This is a program for all preaching. Repentance flows naturally from the proclamation of the kingdom – it should be a natural spontaneous respond from the proclamation.

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Evangelizing is one starving person telling another starving person where there is food.

Talk # 2

Apprentice to Jesus the Preacher. Looks @ Jesus himself and apprentice with him. We need to cultivate this friendship.

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Sermon on the Mount and Preaching. Jesus gives us a new and more liberating version of the law – this new law is the condition for the possibility of real freedom. Jesus begins with “Blessed” — we should be filled with happiness. Modern understanding of freedom = do what I want (“freedom of indifference” says Pinckaers).  Classical view of freedom = disciplining of desire so to make achievement of the good first possible and then effortless.

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Studying a new language analogy to explain freedom. You feel “unfree” because you can’t say what you want to say at first. When you internalize law of the language, you feel much freer.

Golf analogy to explain freedom. I am an unfree golfer because I have not internalized the “law of golf” – into my muscles and mind so I can swing freely within the demands of the golf swing.

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Every sermon should be about true joy and happiness. Ultimate joy is purpose of trajectory of the homily. Every good homily should propose the way of true happiness. Reveal how 4 substitutes for God (wealth, pleasure, power, honour) do not bring true happiness because we are made for God. Look at Christ crucified – no wealth, pleasure, power or honour.

“Every priest is a Jacob’s ladder” (Sheen). Connected with the earth and going to heaven. Do not emphasize one or the other too much. We go up and God comes down and the holy meeting takes place – this is where sermons comes from.

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Good homilies are anti-Marcionite. (Marcion – God of NT (love and compassion) is not God OT). In road to Emmaus, Jesus then walks through everything that has to him throughout the OT. Most of Christology modern time is Marcionite in form. Who fought it – best people in our Tradition. We cannot abstract Jesus from OT – Irenaeus Jesus only makes sense in fulfilment of OT. A Marcionite reading will never be evangelical. A great danger in our preaching is to leave out the OT; to leave out the “great story” so use OT, use the fulfilment, the context.

Road to Emmaus – Lk 24. Two people going the wrong way. The whole Gospel was directed towards Jerusalem. Many people in Church are like disciples of Emmaus – they are “there” but in many ways walking in the wrong direction. Jesus is willing to walk with disciples even though they walk in the wrong way; he doesn’t tell them to stop and turn around; he listens to them. But accompaniment does not mean just “walking around with people”! Jesus intervenes and calls them out of themselves. They have all the data (Emmaus two) but they’ve forgotten the whole/big picture. Jesus points out the big picture to them. A homily is about seeing the world with biblical eyes according to “the pattern,” the big picture.

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Emmaus – culminates in breaking of the bread: they see Jesus and they go back to Jerusalem (the right way), despite dangers of road, night and physical danger of persecution they go back. Jesus burns their heart; Jesus will always send you on mission. Every good sermon will send people on mission.

Talk # 3: The Life of the preacher

We need to allow Jesus to transform us; people want to hear from someone who has been transformed by Jesus.

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The real Jesus fires people; people are cut to the heart; makes people make a decision.

“The whole of a preacher’s life should be a preparation for preaching” (Bl. Humbert of Romans). We should always be looking for material. Sheen prepared his whole life for any and all of his homilies.

A preacher must first and foremost a biblical person. Sheen – first principle for a preacher must be biblical (not self) person – steeped in it, saturated by it. Always see the whole of the biblical “story” the narrative thrust of the bible … the great thematic thrust of the bible. St. Augustine said before being a priest: “I need to go away for a year and read the scriptures.” St. Aquinas was locked away in a room for a year and memorize the entire bible!

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Do our people know the biblical story? They know the “story of the world” all too well. Children – yes, they can know the story. We so underplay what children can and will learn. Flannery O’Connor read the bible cover to cover on her knees 27 times. And she says “that changes you.” “Well, Catholics have eyes and brains, don’t they? They should pick up the bible and read it.” (Flannery O’Connor)

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Key to preaching to having analogical preaching. That story is like what is happening right now. Give people the stories of scripture that will help them in their specific situations and experiences.

Lectio Divina. Compels you to slow down and let the Scriptures sink in. It is slow and time-consuming but worth it. We must make the time to do this. We need to see the world with biblical eyes.

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Preachers should be men of Scripture and Tradition. Scripture is like a great seed that grew into the great oak of the Church and Tradition.

Preachers should be cultivated people. Preachers should have the habit of theology – we should be hungry to read, to be fed so that we can feed others. We should be in the habit of reading good/fine literature. Preachers should subscribe to a range of good/fine journals.

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Preachers should be men of words – words are the tools of our trade. Those who are good at their trades love the tools of their trade; we need to be lovers of our trade – scripture, words, etymology, etc. Preachers should be lifelong students of great preachers. Martin Luther King Jr

Talk #4 by Dana Gioia (American Poet)

We have for the most part discarded beauty in the intellectual life. The absence of beauty as a positive concept has left a huge hold in our thinking – in all studies and aspects of life… it has doomed most of things we do in society. Beauty is misused so much today (beauty pageants) – it has become a marketing concept, a surface level fabrication of the self.

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The presence or absence of beauty is central to our society and Church.

“Man is hungry for beauty” (Oscar Wilde).

4 stage process.

  1. Arresting if our attention – stillness, to saturate ourselves with whatever phenomenon
  2. Thrill of pleasure – disproportionate to what is seen or heard. Giving personal inner joy. A strangely disinterested quality. What B gives us is joy (vs pleasure) which is beyond our power to possess.
  3. Heightened perception of meaning and shape of things. Looking beyond our normal seeing of things. Linked to a sense of the truth. It is al like vision of order in a fallen world
  4. It is fleeting – we go from joyful elevation to normal landscape of life. It is just beyond our reach.

Classical and Christian notion of Beauty: is the pleasure we get in recognizing true nature of reality. “Beauty makes us delight in the very act of knowing” (Thomas Aquinas).Art participates in beauty – forms, structure and relationships in the world. “The world is charged with the grandeur of God” (Hopkins). People transfixed by beauty know that something significant is in their presence.

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One of the major problems in the Catholic Church – is the many ugly buildings were built for practicality but not for beauty. The Church is so practical it cuts off people from the beauty they hunger for. The Church no longer offers people a beautiful vision of God’s plan for them. Jesus did not ask us to think our way to salvation but to taste and see that the Lord is good. Art is one the ways God’s message has been heard by the world. When the Church abandons art and beauty – it loses one of the most important ways it message is heard in the world.

Beauty inspires to transforms ourselves. “Beauty will save the world” (Dostoyevsky) – he was uttering a prophecy. When there is no beauty there is no practical way to change the world.

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Talk #5 – Q & A with Bishop Barron

Storytelling in homilies: strive to craft stories that tie in with the Scripture. Some priests are not good at story telling. As long as stories tie into the great biblical stories then you can bring all things Catholic to Christ.

I recommend feedback from laity – they can help a great deal … if trusted and constructive.

Preaching form pulpit vs walking around. Theologically speaking – pulpit. A constant pacing like a tiger in a cage. Depends somewhat on geography of the place.

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Fear-based preaching. Start with beauty – of the faith: von Balthasar. Spiritual physics – if you refuse the love of God it produces w/I you a hellish place, a hellish mind. The Lord wants to get us out of hell. Don’t read language of fear in bible – remember spiritual physics. If you open to divine love it becomes a paradise; if you are closed it becomes a fire of punishment.

Writers block. No – he does not. I pray and ask the Lord to guide me. I force myself to write; it is a steady practice; my “intellectual workbench.”

“The only way to properly interpret the whole bible is Christ crucified – the lamb in Revelation who opens the scrolls.”

Preaching in a society of political correctness. Jordan Peterson – he doesn’t play to games of PC He “lays it out” which appeals to young people. We won’t have a free country with the PC mindset gone wild. We could probably take a “page from Peterson” and speaking boldly and confidently. Peterson – does psychological reading of scripture … but not the other senses.

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Everything in one sense is the will of God; engage reality through love. The call of the moment is a call of love – properly understood. We have been derelict when it comes to fraternal correction – we need to get in our “brother’s face” when they are doing something not right.

Talk #6: The Art and the Act of Preaching

Find your “own voice” – you have to be “you” and not someone else.

You cannot be “too busy” to prepare … if you are then you are too busy. In other words – it needs to be a priority.

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Proximate prep – should commence Sunday afternoon/evening. Let the Readings be in your mind and heart – images are percolating.

Read the Gospel of the particular Cycle – e.g., this year be cycling through Mark so as to see themes, what is before and after a particular passage.

Tuesday or Wednesday – preliminary preparation. Lectio. Homily construction. Read the text aloud. Every single biblical author would have assumed you’d be reading SS out loud even when you read it by yourself. Approach the Reading as if you’ve never read it before — as best as you can. Fresh ears and eyes.

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After Lectio comes Meditatio – a ruminating animal … “chew the cud”. Go over and over it, “chew on it”, take the juice out of the language. Ask questions about what strikes you or puzzles you or delights you. Slow down. Ask questions. Ponder out loud. Let ideas, images etc “tumble out of bed” – look for patterns, let you mind go. The Fathers talked about the rhyming in the Bible itself. There is a lot of “poking out the window” going on here – in preparation. Don’t ‘let homiletic musings tumble out of your mouth (as the sermon) but use them in prepping.

Constant Q & A back and forth. What is “their question?” What is going on in heart at the women at the well? Find the question and then notice how Jesus define himself as the answer. All the strands come together — the question meets the answer.

Do not skip over the Psalm (as we frequently do). Sometimes even preach on the Psalm or the Liturgy – on the Liturgical text.

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Preaching on the Preface – sometimes it is articulated (good) theology. Ruminate on the liturgical life.

“LOGOS. PATHOS. ETHOS.” (Aristotle).
1. LOGOS (reason).

A good homily should be smart – organized, coherent and logical. Logos is a key part of our faith; Jesus is the Logos.

Move to the Outline Stage – Create an Outline. About 800 words. A beginning, middle and end. This should be no longer than a page. We should be able to summarize our homily in 2 or 3 lines. Write homily word for word, then after memorizing it, throw the text away… “for why should I, made in the image likeness of God, be held captive to a piece of paper.” (Sheen)

Now – it is Wednesday and then talk it out loud. Putting parts of the speech in different “house of memory” (on TV of old). This is NOT off the cuff style – it actually takes more preparation than just reading the text. Sharing it with trusted colleagues. This can help perfect, correct things

Time of sermon? Barron’s 13 ½ minutes. Less than 12 is not sufficient – so 12-13 ½

2. PATHOS (Feeling).

People finally only listen to an excited speaker. If you can’t get excited about the topic, then how can you expect others to get excited. It doesn’t mean we are gushing our feelings; feeling can be expressed in a quiet and intense way. The Lord truly enjoyed talking to his people; the preacher should communicate this enjoyment as well.

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Notional Assent vs Real Assent. NA – to abstractions. RA – is given to the particular, to the sense, the felt, the concretely imagined. Focus on Real Assent not Notional Assent. If you want to move people to action then appeal to Real Assent – Bl Newman

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Understand your voice and know how to use it well – to go low, high and middle. Mark in homily where you want it to reach its pitch and then recede after that.

Use your body well. Billy Graham – was good at using the “whole person” in his preaching. Watch him or Sheen use their body. John Wesley said: “When I preach, I set myself on fire and people come out to watch me burn.”

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3. ETHOS (character).

Of the three, Aristotle thought this was the most important. Needs to be logical, and with passion but must be character – your character has to inform your speech or people will see through us.  Devote ourselves to ETHOS – develop friendship with Jesus, holy hour. Intimacy with the Lord and everything else is a footnote. Most powerful means for effectiveness is the preacher.

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