Tuesday 29th November 2022

Home » Featured Today » Currently Reading:

Rocky Homilies

May 28, 2016 Featured Today No Comments


(Editor’s Note: Deacon James H. Toner, Ph.D., serves at Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church in Greensboro, N.C.)

+ + +

The Holy Father’s admonition in Amoris Laetitia that priests must understand that the moral law should not be thrown at people as if it were so many stones (n. 305) is, or ought to be, intuitively obvious. Loveless comminations must never be confused with preaching the Gospel.
As critical as it is to be kind, though, such compassion must not be purchased at the price of truth — any more than, say, “pastoral sensitivity” ought to be practiced regardless of the jeopardy it might pose to what is morally right. There are times when honeyed homilies are as spiritually perilous as the fire-and-brimstone sermons of yesteryear, reminiscent of the psalm’s warning: “their throats are yawning graves; they make their tongues so smooth!” (5:9 Jerusalem Bible; cf. Romans 3:13).
The traditional Spiritual Work of Mercy calling upon us to admonish the sinner is out of favor today. The Catechism of the Catholic Church omits it in referring to the works of mercy (n. 2447), although “fraternal correction” is mentioned, gingerly, elsewhere (n. 1435, n. 1829). There is, in short, a time for homilies to be “rocky” (cf. 1 Cor. 10:4); there is a time for priests to proclaim Gospel truth, even if that message is inconvenient (cf. 2 Tim. 4:1-5), unpopular (cf. Gal. 1:10), or “politically incorrect” (cf. John 18:37); there is a time for the very stones of the moral law to cry out (cf. Luke 19:40), even — or especially — if homilists shirk, or shrink from, their ordained duties.
Failure to speak the truth in love — the refusal to reprove sinners — is known in theology as material cooperation with evil. To ignore evil is to facilitate it; to ignore evil over time is implicitly to endorse antinomianism. Admonition, after all, means both reminding and instructing. Another Pope, St. Peter, reminded his hearers that that they were morally blind if they stubbornly refused to conform themselves to divine virtue: “I intend always to remind you of these things” (2 Peter 1:12).
St. Padre Pio once warned a man in Confession to change his lifestyle because he was in danger of going to Hell. Surely, St. Peter and St. Padre Pio were not throwing philippic stones — but speaking the truth in love.
Knowing how (and when) to admonish, and how (and when) merely to coach, console, or converse, are the core of “verbal prudence.” St. James teaches us never to “speak evil against one another” (4:11), while assuring us that bringing a sinner back from “the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (5:19). St. Paul suggests that correction must be accomplished and sinners restored “in a spirit of gentleness” (Gal. 6:1). The stones of the moral law may be hard, but they may be thrown gently!
Complaisant and inconsequential homilies are moral failures. The Old Testament Book of Lamentations condemns such feckless homilies: “Their preaching deceived you by never exposing your sin. They made you think you did not need to repent” (2:14; cf. Ezek. 33:7-9).
St. Paul tells us how vitally important it is for us to call out to our Lord, but plaintively asks: “How can they call out to Him for help if they have not believed? And how can they believe if they have not heard the message? And how can they hear if the message is not proclaimed?” (Romans 10:14).
“Millions of Catholics do not know what their Church teaches…[and] they do not know the reasons for…Church teaching,” writes Fr. Kenneth Baker, SJ, in his fine book, Doctrinal Sermons on the Catechism on the Catholic Church. The homily is not a replacement for a vibrant and orthodox parish program in adult education (see CCC, n. 2223), but good homilies are complementary and supplementary to such a program.
Of course, not every priest is St. John Chrysostom or Servant of God Archbishop Fulton Sheen. The priest’s first duty, though, after offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, is preaching. That means hours of preparation for his ten-minute sacred talk. One of the best Catholic teacher-priests in the country told me that, in decades of preaching, he has never presented a homily without having written it out on paper. (He doesn’t read it but, instead, uses it as a “talking paper.” This helps ensure his thorough preparation.)
Practice and preparation are necessary, but insufficient for preaching. They mean nothing if the preacher is heterodox or even personally churlish (cf. 2 Tim. 2:24). In Brian J. Gail’s novel Fatherless, a good priest constantly “pulls his punches” in his, well, entertaining homilies — until it finally dawns on him that his key preaching responsibility lies in the hard sayings (cf. John 6:60), precisely about those matters which may make us uncomfortable (see CCC, nn. 407-409). The prophets, after all, comforted the afflicted, and they afflicted the comfortable.
Fr. Sweeney, in Gail’s novel, comes to the realization that he had not been preaching the hard things, “because I was afraid my parishioners would turn against me.” But he realized that if he continued to preach popular, if futile, homilies, “God would hold me responsible for their sins….He would also hold me accountable for every time one of my parishioners, after committing one of these serious sins, ate and drank unworthily — lacerating His Sacred Body all over again” (p. 533). Fr. Sweeney began, at last, to throw a few stones in his preaching.
Some years ago, in another diocese and in another state, I was at Holy Mass, and the first reading concerned the fire of Jeremiah: “My message is like a fire and like a hammer that breaks rocks in pieces” (23:29). The priest’s whole homily that day concerned the next parish ice cream social. I whispered to my wife: “The fire of Jeremiah had been extinguished by ice cream.”
The desire to be liked and appreciated is natural and normal. There are times, though, to resist that desire. No preacher should ever love “the approval of men rather than the approval of God” (John 12:43; cf. 1 Thess. 2:4). This is exactly is what is done when the emphasis is on “happy” homilies that are full of entertainment but empty of parrhesia, which means “boldness in speaking.” Christian parrhesia finds its model in the way our Lord openly proclaimed His message to a hostile world (John 7:26; 18:20). Catholic preachers must follow His example.
“The necessary precondition for the development of true freedom is to let oneself be educated in the moral law,” explains the Catechism (n. 2526), in speaking of the danger and darkness of moral permissiveness.
From the time of Plato to the present, the image of darkness has been used to illustrate the moral confusion of the day. Rescuing people from the dark is a primordial Christian responsibility (n. 2105); no one should underestimate its difficulties or expect to be successful without supernatural help (cf. Isaiah 42:16).
We live at a time and in a place of grave moral chaos. Too often our thoughts, words, and deeds are influenced, if not governed, by intellectual and spiritual disorder. Too often we slip into the darkness of what is wrong rather than emerge into the light of what is right.
As Brian Gail points out, we all need fathers — but by “fathers,” he means preachers who speak the truth; he means priests — fathers — whose homilies are powerful witnesses to Christian truth in a society which, much too often, rejects the Gospel because that holy Gospel insists that we conform to it (cf. Romans 12:2, CCC n. 144, n.1269); he means fathers who, with paternal patience, will “preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort” (2 Tim. 4:2; cf. Eph. 5:6). He means fathers whose preaching has “stones” from The Rock (cf. Psalm 18:2).
In 1917, Pope Benedict XV, in Humani Generis Redemptionem (1917), wrote: “Therefore it is clear how unworthy of commendation are those preachers who are afraid to touch upon certain points of Christian doctrine lest they should give their hearers offense.” The Holy Father, even in the midst of World War I, blamed ineffective preaching by priests for the decline in morals and civilization’s backsliding into paganism.
Pope Benedict XV died in 1922; what would he say about today’s triumphant neo-paganism and the stoneless preaching which abets that evil?

Share Button

2019 The Wanderer Printing Co.

Twitter Feed

Seems Biden is warning us of another Democratic sweep tonight? Hmmm!

Load More...

Vatican and USCCB leave transgender policy texts unpublished

While U.S. bishops have made headlines for releasing policies addressing gender identity and pastoral ministry, guidelines on the subject have been drafted but not published by both the U.S. bishops’ conference and the Vatican’s doctrinal office, leaving diocesan bishops to…Continue Reading

Biden says Pope Francis told him to continue receiving communion, amid scrutiny over pro-abortion policies

President Biden said that Pope Francis, during their meeting Friday in Vatican City, told him that he should continue to receive communion, amid heightened scrutiny of the Catholic president’s pro-abortion policies.  The president, following the approximately 90-minute-long meeting, a key…Continue Reading

Federal judge rules in favor of Gov. DeSantis’ mask mandate ban

MIAMI (LifeSiteNews) – A federal judge this week handed Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis another legal victory on his mask mandate ban for schools. On Wednesday, Judge K. Michael Moore of the Southern District of Florida denied a petition from…Continue Reading

The Eucharist should not be received unworthily, says Nigerian cardinal

Priests have a duty to remind Catholics not to receive the Eucharist in a state of serious sin and to make confession easily available, a Nigerian cardinal said at the International Eucharistic Congress on Thursday. “It is still the doctrine…Continue Reading

Donald Trump takes a swipe at Catholics and Jews who did not vote for him

Donald Trump complained about Catholics and Jews who did not vote for him in 2020. The former president made the comments in a conference call featuring religious leaders. The move could be seen to shore up his religious conservative base…Continue Reading

Y Gov. Kathy Hochul Admits Andrew Cuomo Covered Up COVID Deaths, 12,000 More Died Than Reported

When it comes to protecting people from COVID, Andrew Cuomo is already the worst governor in America. New York has the second highest death rate per capita, in part because he signed an executive order putting COVID patients in nursing…Continue Reading

Prayers For Cardinal Burke . . . U.S. Cardinal Burke says he has tested positive for COVID-19

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — U.S. Cardinal Raymond L. Burke said he has tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19. In an Aug. 10 tweet, he wrote: “Praised be Jesus Christ! I wish to inform you that I have recently…Continue Reading

Democrats Block Amendment Banning Late-Term Abortions, Stopping Abortions Up to Birth

Senate Democrats have blocked an amendment that would ban abortions on babies older than 20 weeks. During consideration of the multi-trillion spending package, pro-life Louisiana Senator John Kennedy filed an amendment to ban late-term abortions, but Democrats steadfastly support killing…Continue Reading

Transgender student wins as U.S. Supreme Court rebuffs bathroom appeal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday handed a victory to a transgender former public high school student who waged a six-year legal battle against a Virginia county school board that had barred him from using the bathroom corresponding…Continue Reading

New York priest accused by security guard of assault confirms charges have now been dropped

NEW YORK, June 17, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) — A New York priest has made his first public statement regarding the dismissal of charges against him.  Today Father George W. Rutler reached out to LifeSiteNews and other media today with the following…Continue Reading

21,000 sign petition protesting US Catholic bishops vote on Biden, abortion

More than 21,000 people have signed a letter calling for U.S. Catholic bishops to cancel a planned vote on whether President Biden should receive communion.  Biden, a Catholic, supports abortion rights and has long come under attack from some Catholics over that…Continue Reading

Bishop Gorman seeks candidates to fill two full time AP level teaching positions for the 2021-2022 school year in the subject areas of Calculus/Statistics and Physics

Bishop Thomas K. Gorman Regional Catholic School is a college preparatory school located in Tyler, Texas. It is an educational ministry of the Catholic Diocese of Tyler led by Bishop Joseph Strickland. The sixth through twelfth grade school provides a…Continue Reading

Untitled 5 Untitled 2

Attention Readers:

  Welcome to our website. Readers who are familiar with The Wanderer know we have been providing Catholic news and orthodox commentary for 150 years in our weekly print edition.

  Our daily version offers only some of what we publish weekly in print. To take advantage of everything The Wanderer publishes, we encourage you to su
bscribe to our flagship weekly print edition, which is mailed every Friday or, if you want to view it in its entirety online, you can subscribe to the E-edition, which is a replica of the print edition.
  Our daily edition includes: a selection of material from recent issues of our print edition, news stories updated daily from renowned news sources, access to archives from The Wanderer from the past 10 years, available at a minimum charge (this will be expanded as time goes on). Also: regularly updated features where we go back in time and highlight various columns and news items covered in The Wanderer over the past 150 years. And: a comments section in which your remarks are encouraged, both good and bad, including suggestions.
  We encourage you to become a daily visitor to our site. If you appreciate our site, tell your friends. As Catholics we must band together to rediscover our faith and share it with the world if we are to effectively counter a society whose moral culture seems to have no boundaries and a government whose rapidly extending reach threatens to extinguish the rights of people of faith to practice their religion (witness the HHS mandate). Now more than ever, vehicles like The Wanderer are needed for clarification and guidance on the issues of the day.

Catholic, conservative, orthodox, and loyal to the Magisterium have been this journal’s hallmarks for five generations. God willing, our message will continue well into this century and beyond.

Joseph Matt
President, The Wanderer Printing Co.

Untitled 1


Today . . .

Cardinal Zen found guilty in Hong Kong trial

CWN Editor’s Note: Cardinal Joseph Zen, the retired Bishop of Hong Kong, was found guilty on November 25 on charges of failing to register a charitable fund that provided legal help for defendants accused of violating China’s draconian new “security” law. The cardinal and five co-defendants will be required to pay a fine equivalent to $500. After his conviction, Cardinal Zen said that the case should not be seen as a violation of religious freedom.…Continue Reading

Kansas Judge Blocks State Law Banning Doctors From Providing Abortion Pills to Patients Online

A Kansas judge has blocked a state law that banned doctors from providing abortion pills through telemedicine. Shawnee County District Court Judge Teresa Watson granted an abortionists request for a temporary injunction

Archbishop Broglio elected USCCB president

BALTIMORE (LifeSiteNews) — Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA, was elected Tuesday to serve as the next president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). The U.S. bishops elected Archbishop Broglio, the current secretary of the USCCB, to a three-year term as president by a vote of 138-99.

Michigan Legalizes Abortions Up to Birth After Leftist Billionaires Spend Millions Buying Votes

Michigan will become the next state to legalzie abortions up to birth after voters approved the dangerous and radical Proposition 3 to would elimiate every single pro-life law in the state, including parental consent. The 55-45 result in favor of the pro-abortion amendment was not surprising given the millions of dollars leftist billionaires pooured into the state to buy votes with false and misleading television commercials that lied about the effects of the measure. Rich,…Continue Reading

Cardinal Burke and Bishop Schneider Restate Concerns About Restrictions on Traditional Liturgy

VATICAN CITY — Cardinal Raymond Burke has questioned the basis of papal-led efforts to restrict and eventually eliminate the traditional Latin Mass, while Bishop Athanasius Schneider has said the “millennium-old treasure” cannot be destroyed, as it is the work of the Holy Spirit. The cardinal and bishop kindly shared their comments as part of a talk I gave the Latin Mass Society in London on Oct. 21. As concerns deepen over this pontificate’s

Divine Mercy Shrine In Wisconsin Defaced With Graffiti

By JONAH McKEOWN ST. LOUIS, Mo. (CNA) — A Catholic parish in southern Wisconsin suffered a graffiti attack overnight on Sunday, November 20, that saw a large tiled display of the Divine Mercy image defaced with green spray-painted letters.Run by the Stockbridge, Mass.-based Marian Fathers, St. Peter Parish is located in Kenosha, on Lake Michigan…Continue Reading

A Book Review . . . Theism Reconsidered

By GARY BULLERT Paul Herrick’s latest book, Philosophy, Reasoned Belief, and Faith (University of Notre Dame Press, 2022, 459 pages, $45.00), constitutes the capstone of a forty-year career as an instructor, professional philosopher, and author. It augments more synoptically his earlier book, Think with Socrates: An Introduction to Critical Thinking. Like Socrates, philosophy is a…Continue Reading

The Blessing And Its Counterfeits

By DONALD DeMARCO The blessing, whether it is formal or informal, administered by clergy or laymen, performed in church or at home, is an everyday occurrence in Catholic life. It is a way in which God’s grace is invoked to benefit its intended recipient.We bless our house, our food, our religious articles, people who are…Continue Reading

Putin’s “Winter War” On Ukraine

By PATRICK J. BUCHANAN Winter has often proven an indispensable ally of Mother Russia.The impending winter of 1812-13 forced Napoleon’s withdrawal from Moscow, a retreat from which his Grande Armée never recovered.The winter of 1941-1942 sealed the ultimate fate of the invading armies of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich.Vladimir Putin’s new strategy in the war he…Continue Reading

But The Catholic Bishops Just Rebuked Her… Nancy Pelosi Claims She’s a “Devout Catholic”

By STEVEN ERTELT WASHINGTON, D.C. (LifeNews) — During her farewell address as Speaker to fellow Democrats on November 17, Nancy Pelosi called herself a “devout Catholic.” But nothing could be further from the truth.“I stand before you as Speaker of the House, as a wife, a mother, a grandmother, a devout Catholic, a proud Democrat,…Continue Reading


Our Catholic Faith (Section B of print edition)

Conforming Ourselves To Christ

By FR. ROBERT ALTIER Second Sunday Of Advent (YR A) Readings: Isaiah 11:1-10Romans 15:4-9Matt. 3:1-12 In the first reading today, we hear about a shoot that will sprout from the stump of Jesse. Jesse, recall, was the father of King David. The promise made to King David was that one of his sons would sit on his throne in perpetuity.…Continue Reading

Catholic Replies

Editor’s Note: This series on the Bible is from the book Catholicism & Scripture. Please feel free to use the series for high schoolers or adults. We will continue to welcome your questions for the column as well. Contact us at the addresses provided below. Special Course On Catholicism And Scripture (Chapter 8) To get the people away from worshiping…Continue Reading

When All Seems Lost

By FR. KEVIN M. CUSICK As I look around and survey the general situation, things seem very bleak, as I’m sure they do also for many others. The world is at war, fighting and killing consuming lives, as well as livelihoods, homes, and wealth. Civilization is lost under the rubble as barbarism reigns. A war is waged in the womb…Continue Reading

The Not-So-Nice Origins And Meanings Of The Word “Nice”

By MSGR. CHARLES POPE (Editor’s Note: Msgr. Charles Pope posted this article on November 13 and it is reprinted here with permission.) + + Words can change meaning over time — sometimes dramatically. For example, “manufactured” originally meant “handmade” (manu (hand) + facere (make)). The word “decimate” used to mean “to reduce by a tenth” (decem = ten); now people…Continue Reading

A Very Blessed Place To Be

By FR. ROBERT ALTIER First Sunday of Advent (YR A) Readings: Isaiah 2:1-5Romans 13:11-14Matt. 24:37-44 As we begin a new Church year today, we find ourselves balanced on the summit of a mountain. From our perch on this height, we look one direction and we see what is behind us, we look the other direction and we see what is…Continue Reading

Catholic Heroes . . . St. Padre Pio And The Poor Souls

By DEB PIROCH Part 2 “Oh, my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of Hell, lead all souls to Heaven, especially those who are in the most need of Thy mercy” — Fatima prayer. + + This week we continue to discuss the special closeness St. Pio had with the suffering souls in Purgatory. Yes, he…Continue Reading

Catholic Heroes . . . St. Francis De Sales, Author And Apologist

By DEB PIROCH Anger is not a sin. It is how one employs anger that can lead to sin, but Christ Himself was justifiably angered when His house of prayer was transformed into a “den of thieves.” What did Christ mean?A church is for praying, for celebrating the Sacrifice of the Mass, for the distribution of the sacraments. It is…Continue Reading