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Why Preaching | The Introduction to Why Preach: Encountering Christ in God's Word | Peter John Cameron, O.P.

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"How necessary is the office of preaching without which the human heart would not rise to the hope of heaven."

— Bl. Humbert of Romans, O.P.
A Treatise on Preaching, 13th century

One Labor Day not long ago, a close member of my family suffered a devastating medical trauma. When the call came, my family and I—spread throughout the Northeast—immediately jumped in our cars in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, and Connecticut and raced to the hospital in Hartford. We hurried to the emergency room waiting area, and there we did all that we could do: we waited. And worried. And waited. From what little we knew, the situation was dire. The passing of each mute and interminable minute made things seem more ominous. We sat with our eyes glued to the door, dying for a doctor to come through it to report that the one we loved was not going to die. Our whole life, in anguished anticipation, was fixed on that announcement; our entire existence had become one huge begging for a life- giving word. We were not going to leave that place without it. And then it happened. The door opened. The physician appeared. And the announcement was made: The condition was serious—very serious. But ... he would live. The news was good.

I would venture to say that many people live their lives in more or less the same predicament. Almost every day of their lives they confront some crisis ... maybe a calamity ... at the very least some conflict (even though they may not be aware of it). And in the face of it, they feel utterly powerless. They will not give up, but they know that, on their own, they cannot conquer or quell the problem that oppresses them. They live waiting for a Word that will make a difference ... for breakthrough News. They will not leave without it. And the only thing that can give them relief, that will enable them to go on, is the arrival of an expected authority, who at long last appears, who comes specifically for them, mindful of their agony, and who proclaims to them Good News.

This is why there is preaching in the Church.

How our hearts rose up with the hope of heaven when the doctor spoke those astonishing words to us in the waiting room. With them, we could begin again. And it was not simply because we were given encouraging "information". Those words contained and communicated a reason. They quickened in us a strength, a resiliency, a resolve we never knew we had. We could go on. The doctor's words were a birth for us. Exquisitely true is the promise we read in the Letter of James: "Of his own will he [the Father] brought us forth by the word of truth. . . . Receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls" (Jas. 1:18, 21). God's people are dying for this Word.

In the eloquent expression of the Letter to the Hebrews, "the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two- edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart" (Heb 4:12). The living and effective razor of God's Word confided to the preacher penetrates our impenetrability (the root of al immorality), pierces the nihilism that suffocates us like a shroud, and slices through our debilitating sorrow, severing whatever ensnares us in desolation. By his faithful preaching of the Gospel, the preacher reveals people's hearts to themselves, gives them the power to make judgments that liberate them, and imbues them with the certainty, confidence, and gladness before which hen itself cowers.

This is why there is preaching in the Church.

But preaching is not speech-giving. No one was ever saved by a message. It would have been a waste of time for the Word to become flesh if it sufficed for the Father to send a memo instead of his Son, No one was ever saved by a mere discourse. Preaching is so much more than this. The history of civilization is rife with ingenious, mesmerizing, virtuous prophets, visionaries, and teachers . And yet, people today remain as confused, miserable, prone to malice, cynical, negative, fearful, lonely, and lost as they ever were. Something more than a good teacher is required. According to Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI), the aim of preaching "is to tell man who he is and what he must do to be himself. Its intention is to disclose to him the truth about himself, that is, what he can base his life on and what he can die for." [1] And that disclosure is not a discourse; it is an encounter.

For people in pain, a preacher has the chance to make a drastic difference. Diffidence, doubt, and despair congregate in the ordinary person's life to the point of overcrowding, The only antidote is the Presence of Someone else there. Someone whose winning attraction can dispel the prevailing darkness and completely captivate the heart.

After the Ascension of Jesus Christ, the people were spellbound at the preaching of Saint Peter (who was transformed by the grace of Jesus Christ). In response to Peter's preaching, the people begged, "What shall we do?" (Acts 2:37). In Peter the preacher, they had found an authority in whom they were eager to entrust their pitiful lives. Perhaps for the first time, the people saw that it was possible for them to change ... that they could live in a transformed, meaningful way ... that hope was a reasonable strategy. As moving as Peter's words were, something more than a sermon won them over that day, namely, Peter's presence. That is why on sunny days the people would carry their sick into the streets and lay them on mattresses arranged on the road—so that Peter's shadow might fall on them (Acts 5:15). The people recognized the power even of Peter's darkness—his shadow—to overcome their darkness.

This is why there is preaching in the Church.


[1] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, The Nature and Mission of Theology, trans. Adrian Walker (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1995), pp. 62, 63.

Why Preach: Encountering Christ in God's Word

by Peter John Cameron, O.P.

Well known for his teaching, writing, and editing of Magnificat, the widely popular monthly publication containing the Scripture readings and prayers for the Mass used weekly by several hundred thousand Catholics, Fr. Peter John Cameron, O.P., offers here expert spiritual and practical help for priests, pastors and seminarians desiring to preach effectively.

Why Preach draws from the author's rich understanding of the Word of God as the challenging, encouraging, and healing presence of Christ, as well as from his own experience as both a preacher and a teacher of homiletics. With an eye focused on the works and examples of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, Father Cameron illustrates that good preaching derives from and leads to an encounter with Christ, the Word of God made Flesh, who comes to us through the Scriptures.

The objective of the book is to help preachers to think about preaching in a new, dynamic way. Its aim is to provide a fresh and helpful vision of preaching geared to deepening a preacher's appreciation of what preaching is, and the great spiritual impact that good preaching can have on its audience, so as to increase his desire and ability to preach well.

Related IgnatiusInsight.com Articles and Book Excerpts:

What a Homily Should Be: Doctrinal, Liturgical, and Spiritual | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
Encountering Christ in the Gospel | Excerpts from Cardinal Christoph Schönborn's My Jesus
Hearing and Living the Truth | Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers
How Should We Worship? | Preface to The Organic Development of the Liturgy by Alcuin Reid, O.S.B. | by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
Foreword to U.M. Lang's Turning Towards the Lord: Orientation in Liturgical Prayer | Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
The Mass of Vatican II | Fr. Joseph Fessio, S.J.
Walking To Heaven Backward | Interview with Father Jonathan Robinson of the Oratory
Does Christianity Need A Liturgy? | Martin Mosebach | From The Heresy of Formlessness: The Roman Liturgy and Its Enemy
Music and Liturgy | Excerpt from The Spirit of the Liturgy | Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
The Liturgy Lived: The Divinization of Man | Jean Corbon, OP
The Latin Mass: Old Rites and New Rites in Today's World | Anthony E. Clark, Ph.D.
Worshipping at the Feet of the Lord: Pope Benedict XVI and the Liturgy | Anthony E. Clark, Ph.D.

Fr. Peter John Cameron, O.P., is the well-known editor of Magnificat, the best-selling monthly worship aid used around the world. His book, Why Preach, stems from his own experience of teaching homiletics at St. Joseph's Seminary, Dunwoodie; the Pontifical North American College, Rome; the Dominican House of Studies, Washington, DC; and elsewhere.

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