What a Homily Should Be: Doctrinal, Liturgical, and Spiritual | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J. | December 9, 2005
"A certain artificial opposition between the homilies with a doctrinal characteristic and those with a liturgical one impeded the catechetical formation of the faithful in order to carry out their faith in the modern secularist world. This false dichotomy can be surpassed only by showing how the doctrinal aspect is what takes the most profound sense from the Sacred Scriptures, similarly to what the liturgy itself does: making us meet Christ the Redeemer." Archbishop William Levada, Synod of Bishops 
When the General Catechism was originally published, but still only in French, I wrote an essay in the Homiletic and Pastoral Review, entitled, "The Church Explains Itself: The New Catechism" (June, 1993). In it, I suggested that one of the major problems in the Church was the basic ignorance of most Catholics about just what were the basic teachings of the Church and why they made sense. I can still ask a large class "who was the Good Samaritan?" or "who wrote the four Gospels?" or "what does the Incarnation mean?" only too often to receive back little but blank stares.
The Catechism, obviously, is a very basic text designed precisely to meet this doctrinal need. It is a basic guide and reference for Catholics, learned or unlearned, to know and understand the reasonableness of the faith. As a means to accomplish this purpose, I had suggested that bishops inaugurate a five-year program (my "five-year plan"!). Each parish and religious jurisdiction should address itself in regular sermons to this end. The basic teachings of what Catholics actually held and taughtno more, no lessought to be presented in a clear and forthright manner.
As far as I know, no one immediately leaped on this proposal as the greatest apostolic idea heard in years. Yet, clearly the Catechism has itself found its way into many a sermon since its final publication in English. This topic of the doctrinal content of sermons was, in fact, the subject of the short intervention that William Levada, the current Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, gave at the recent Synod on the Eucharist. Archbishop Levada noted the possibility of a tension between sermons or homilies based on the Scriptural reading for the day and the orderly dogmatic understanding of Church teachings that originate in Scripture. This tension often produced an "artificial" dichotomy leading us to have two sorts of views of what the Church is aboutone based on the historical sequence of Scriptural presentations, the other on a more systematic doctrinal presentation. The liturgy itself is based both on a Scriptural understanding of our encounter with Christ and a doctrinal understanding of what this encounter means.
To remedy this situation, Levada proposed the publication of a pastoral programme"not to be imposed!"that would "link the proclamation of the doctrine of faith to biblical texts in which such truths are well-rooted." For this purpose, both the General Catechism and its more recent Compendium would be the standard reference points. Now while I think this might be a more difficult task than may at first glance appear, still, it is certainly one of the fundamental needs of the Church in its active life in parishes, schools, universities, and religious communities. We are in, I would say, desperate need of a much more attentive realization of the meaning or intellectual nature of Catholicism and the grounds on which it is based. At the extreme is the pastor I heard of recently who managed to draw out a teaching on birth control from every scriptural reading of every Sunday in the year, over against a parish that has not heard anything preached but the opposite of "tough love" for the past quarter century.
The principal coordinator or director of the original project to write and publish the General Catechism was the Dominican scholar, Christoph Cardinal von Schönborn, who is currently the Archbishop of Vienna. On November 5, 2005, with Cardinal von Schönborn present, the Bishops of Austria held their ad limina visit with the Holy Father in his Private Library in the Vatican. Benedict XVIs address, which touched on this very topic of doctrinal teaching in the local church, was rather straight-forward, even blunt at times (LOsservatore Romano, November 16, 2005).
Pope Benedict XVI, after referring to the Austrian presence at the World Youth Day in Cologne, was concerned to "analyze calmly and confidently the situation of the Austrian Dioceses in order to identify the key points that require our particular attention for the salvation and good of the flock." The first step in righting something is to know that it is upside down. The spirit the Pope wanted called for the bishops to "look courageously into the eyes of reality without letting optimism, which always attracts us, become an obstacle to calling things by their proper name with full objectivity and without embellishment." For not having the reputation of being a practicing Thomist, this "full objectivity" indicates an outlook worthy of the method of the Angelic Doctor. And of course it is very Augustinian, something closer to the Popes habitual way of seeing thingscalling them by their proper names, with no embellishment.
"Grievous events are occurring." What are these? The first mentioned is not something peculiar to the Austrian scene alone. "The secularization process (is) constantly gaining momentum in Europe at this time." Recalling Austrias history and its special relation to the faith, Benedict frankly adds that "it has not been halted at the gates of Catholic Austria." Many people no longer identify themselves with the faith. The consequence of this erosion is that "the certainty of the faith and reverential awe for Gods law are lacking." The bishops are "aware" of these and other internal problems in Austria, the Pope acknowledges, or, we might add, at least if they werent before, they are now!
Other IgnatiusInsight.com articles by Fr. Schall:
The End Times: The Secret Hidden From the Universe
The Brighter Side of Hell
Dialogue Is Never Enough
The Inequalities of Equality
On Praise and Celebration
Making Sense of Disasters
Martyrs and Suicide Bombers
On Learning and Education: An Interview with Fr. James V. Schall, S.J. | Part 1 of 3
On Writing and Reading: Interview with Fr. James V. Schall, S.J. | Part 2 of 3
Chesterton, Sports, and Politics: Interview with Fr. James V. Schall, S.J. | Part 3 of 3
Wars Without Violence?
Chesterton and the Delight of Truth
The One War, The Real War
Reflections On Saying Mass (And Saying It Correctly)
Suppose We Had a "Liberal" Pope
On Being Neither Liberal nor Conservative
Is Heresy Heretical?
Catholic Commencements: A Time for Truth to Be Honored
On The Sternness of Christianity
On Teaching the Important Things
Fr. James V. Schall, S.J., is Professor of Political Philosophy at Georgetown University.
He is the author of numerous books on social issues, spirituality, culture, and literature including Another Sort of Learning, Idylls and Rambles, On the Unseriousness of Human Affairs: Teaching, Writing, Playing, Believing, Lecturing, Philosophizing, Singing, Dancing, and A Student's Guide to Liberal Learning.
Read more of his essays on his website.
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