Monday, July 15, 2013

A modest proposal

Something occurred to me yesterday morning at Mass. The homily was the usual fluff: "Jesus was a nice guy so we should all be nice people too." Catholic priests are notorious for being the worst preachers of any Christian church. Poor or shallow preaching has real world consequences for Catholic laypeople. Catholics who crack a book or open a website about the faith after confirmation are exceedingly rare. Rarer still are those who seriously study the faith whether on their own or through parish adult education courses. In other words, the Sunday homily is the only time many Catholics ever learn anything about the faith as adults.

There's nothing in canon law or even the small "t" tradition of the Church which dictates that all priests much preach on the readings every week. That's the way they are formed in the seminary these days however. To be sure, there's nothing wrong with preaching on the readings. It's laudatory in fact. There are two problems with the current practice: 1) Most priests simply aren't very good at it, hence the heavy reliance on easy platitudes such as "Jesus was a nice guy, etc;" and 2), they end up ignoring the other two pillars of the Catholic faith: the Magisterium and Tradition.

One of the best homilies I ever heard - a homily that significantly influenced my spiritual life - all but ignored the Sunday readings and focused on the subject of indulgences. Father explained a little about their history, about what they are, about how to acquire them, and about what they can do for us in the Church Militant and for the holy souls in Purgatory, the Church Suffering. We can obtain one plenary indulgence per day and as many partial indulgences as we please. If we made a serious effort to obtain as many indulgences as possible per day, which would include practices such as confession, communion, praying for the Holy Father's intentions, praying the rosary in a public setting, reading Scripture for at least thirty minutes per day, etc., then we would be on the road to sanctity in no time at all.

The doctrinal sermon used to be a staple of Catholic parish life. St. John Vianney was a simple man but he preached eloquent homilies on the Four Last Things, on Confession, on the Eucharist, on the Commandments, on the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, of the Seven Deadly Sins and their contrary Virtues, and about the intercession of the saints. Reverend Fathers, your Excellencies and Eminences, for the most part American Catholics are woefully ignorant of even the most basic catechetical doctrines. If the polls are trustworthy, less than half of American Catholics believe in the Real Presence and less than one third fulfill their Sunday obligation every week. Half of all Catholics voted for the most virulently anti-Catholic and pro-abortion president in American history last November. Baptized and confirmed Catholics were at the forefront of efforts at imposing same-sex "marriage" upon the nation. I guaran-damn-tee that baptized and confirmed Catholics are going to enforce the HHS mandates which compels Catholic institutions to provide contraception to its employees.

Every Catholic is ultimately responsible for his own formation. Our subjective culpability for our sins is between us and God. I would ask that our shepherds ask themselves some very hard questions about how they've been teaching and preaching the faith. I want the Church to succeed in her mission of saving souls. But the reality is our priests and bishops have been failing miserably at passing on the faith to their native born flock. Even if our traitorous political overlords succeed in passing amnesty, the flow of illegals from Mexico won't last forever. Eventually you gentlemen will have to figure out a way to keep asses in the pews. Preaching a good old fashioned doctrinal sermon once in a while might go a ways toward solving this problem.

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