I have been a Catholic priest since 1956. Therefore, it goes without saying that literally thousands and thousands of times I have had the opportunity and the responsibility to stand up and preach to men and women as to how life ought to be lived. There is plenty about which to speak. Sin and virtue abound on all sides, but the preacher must be very careful and real courage is involved.
When you are speaking to 500 people in a church or synagogue, you can be sure that the vast majority of the people know that you are just like they are, a frail and limited human being. It is very important that the speaker always identify himself with the group to which he is speaking. It should never be you – you – you but we – we – we.
While the majority of my public speaking has been in the area of preaching, I have also had the opportunity to do a considerable amount of teaching in various areas such as history, pressing social issues, personal development and other subjects. Regardless of the subject, I think it is extremely important to keep three aspects of your presentation front and center. First of all, a speaker must know his subject well. Secondly, he or she must feel strongly about it. Finally, you must condition your remarks in the context of where your audience is. The factors involved are the information or values to be transferred, the attitude and personality of the speaker and, most especially, how that information relates to or could be of value to the listeners. If any one of those factors is missing, the speaker will bomb out. Regretfully, most of us have experienced a number of such failures.
On the other hand, when a speaker (especially a preacher) pulls all these things together- we can be extraordinarily touched and affected.
Onward through the fog.
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I was very much encouraged by the fact that a symposium for bishops and superiors of religious communities was held last month in the Vatican. The subject was sex abuse entitled, “Towards Healing and Renewal.” I am aware of the fact that there have been many such meetings, locally and regionally, but this is the first time that the Vatican took responsibility for a first-class, worldwide review based on hard data, serious research and accurate scientific knowledge. The tragedy is that it has taken more than 20 years to get around to it. Twenty years! Can you imagine that?
The abuse scandal has been an unbelievable disaster for the Church at the end of the 20th century. The sexual abuse aspect of it is disgusting, destructive and humiliating. An even bigger problem was the almost universal failure of Church leaders to properly respond and to respond in a timely manner. Twenty years is a long time to wait to mount a realistic and effective response.
This agonizing debacle is, of course, the direct response of sinful and usually sick failed priests who brought disaster on parishes and schools all over the world. However, the biggest source of making the problem infinitely worse than it had to be was the failure of leadership, a failure of the bishops, a failure of the Vatican.
Let’s prayerfully hope that this Vatican Symposium is a reflection that the people at the top have finally gotten the message. We will be observing a follow-up over the next few weeks and months. Together let’s pray for real and measurable success.
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In today’s excerpt, Jesus is taking a break from his ongoing walk towards Jerusalem. We see our Lord in a relaxed manner dealing with the dregs of that society – “tax collectors and sinners.” The Pharisees are scandalized and this brings forth one of the greatest of the parables – that of the prodigal son. You all know the story. Let me suggest a different direction.
In the wonderful book, “The return of the Prodigal Son; a Story of Homecoming” Henri Nouwan takes a very interesting approach. He says that the main issue in the parable is not the actions and failures of the prodigal son, but rather of the unloving, unforgiving older brother.
What is your take on that? Let’s listen to the readings today with a different focus, and see what we can learn.
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