I started writing this web page, and especially the meditations on the Sunday readings, in part as a kind of solidarity with my seminarian students. I am helping teach them to be priests, and one of the central things they will do – and one of the central things my teaching will help them do – is to preach.
I tell my students my least favorite liturgical gesture – even though I know it is often only symbolic – is when the priest begins his preaching by closing the Lectionary. “Enough Bible, now here’s what I have to say!” At least symbolically, I’d like them to preach with their finger on the Lectionary, always leading themselves back into the Sacred Page.
I began writing these reflections to see if it’s as easy as I make it out to be. A new priest recently told me that one of the hardest parts of his priesthood is having to come up with homilies for daily Mass. What’s he going to talk about? I thought, let me see what it’s like to try to say something about Scripture, and to talk about grace while I do it.
I’ve found it a wonderful experience. Scripture is endless, the depths unfathomable. If priests don’t have enough to say, it’s because they are plumbing the depths of their own shallow minds, not because the Bible has gotten boring.
The first few years of this web site I tried to focus on grace, and ended up talking a lot about the readings from my beloved St. Paul (or the other Epistles). These are men who grow taller the closer we come to them. They are wonderful.
About a year ago I set myself a new goal, to try to focus on the Sunday Gospels. I had a spiritual intimation, from reading great authors, that the Gospel readings were great. But I wondered if now I’d set myself too hard a task. The real meat, I thought, is often in the Epistle. The Gospels give us lovely images, but beyond picturesque stories, is there enough to preach on?
I’m happy to say that the Gospels surpass my wildest dreams. The more I press, the richer they get. I set myself a word count, trying to keep these posts short and readable – but there is so much more to say than ever I could write.
A sidenote: I’ve been doing some work on John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. I don’t think people sufficiently appreciate that the whole book, some 600 pages, never goes beyond a commentary on seven verses in Matthew 19. (He does use other parts of Scripture to help him explicate those seven verses – he doesn’t use philosophy.) Or how that focus on Matthew focuses John Paul’s gaze on Christ the Redeemer and the Gospel of grace. For historical reasons, and because of the deficiency of their own discovery of Scripture, Jesus, and grace, people confuse this Scriptural commentary with an older, philosophical work that is radically different and deficient. But JPII’s real witness is his radical devotion to commentary on the Gospels.
Perhaps you will be scandalized to learn that I don’t put much prayer into this web site. I do try to have a rich life of prayer, liturgy, and sacraments, and I do try to use the liturgy of the day on which I’m commenting to help me enter in. But what I am proposing here is, you might say, a less prayer-centered approach to preaching.
Instead what I use is great Bible software. (I love e-sword, which you can download on your computer, and as mySword on your phone – maybe it’s iSword on Apple? It gives me easy access to various translations and original languages, greatly supplementing my shaky Greek and non-existent Hebrew.) Yup, when it comes to preaching, I would recommend more time with the computer and less time in prayer.
I know that sounds scandalous – but let me explain.
Augustine says something like, “I speak to God through prayer, God speaks to me through Scripture.” God has spoken to us in Scripture. In the liturgy, we say, “the word of the Lord,” but I don’t think most Catholics believe that. Instead, people think there’s some other way around, as if in silence God will speak to you a word that he hasn’t said in Scripture. That he will enlighten you if only you stop reading the Bible. It’s almost funny to see how modern Catholics try to come up with versions of Lectio Divina where they can spend less time reading the Bible.
I think that’s incorrect. I think it’s contrary to the teaching of the Catholic Church, to the example of the saints, and to my own experience. Silence is golden, to be sure – but what we need is sufficient silence to listen to his Word, spoken on the page of Scripture. What we need is to get serious about reading the Gospel, digging into the Gospel, seeing how profoundly supernatural is the Gospel’s ability to enlighten our darkness and speak into our emptiness.
The only thing I really want this web page to promote is your own love of Scripture.
How can you better listen to God’s Word?