Bishop Fulton Sheen was famed for saying,
There are not over 100 people who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions, however, who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church.
A self-evident truth: one of the great challenges facing the U.S. Catholic Church is effectively communicating a persuasive, attractive, coherent, truthful and unified Catholic vision of sexuality that is accessible and can compete, in the imagination of the faithful, with the highly evangelical Cosmopolitan model of sex that has long held sway in popular culture.
In response to this challenge, especially in the last 20 years, lots of new and culturally savvy programs have been developed, books and articles written, conferences held, talks given, retreats offered, CDs, DVDs and MP3s sold — but according to a recent study done on Catholic women, it’s the Sunday homily that stands out as the master medium, the prime-time spot for infusing the moral imagination of Catholic Americans with chastity’s fresh, life-giving and vibrant colors.
In a recent study that I include below, the researchers conclude that ‘the weekly Mass homily seems to represent a lost opportunity when it comes to conscience formation on the contraception issue.’
The silence can be deafening.
Such a homily, though, requires great prudence, real-life experience and keen wisdom. I have personally heard homilies on contraception, or sexual ethics in general, that were oppressive, unappealing and yukky; and others that were powerful, beautiful and convicting. Merely presenting the truth in content-accurate verbiage is not enough, since preaching does not work transformation inexorably, ex opere operato.
I recall one time about 12 years ago at a Saturday evening Vigil Mass when the presider, a new priest in the parish, began the Penitential Act by asking a packed congregation of mostly retired-aged folks, ‘Let us begin by acknowledging our sins of masturbation, fornication and adultery.’ The gasps were audible!
Preaching’s effectiveness always relies on suffered and prayed for grace, extensive preparation, good rhetorical skills, engaging analogies, real world examples, attentiveness to the particular needs of the audience, awareness of human frailty, clear interrelating of the day’s Biblical texts with the homily-thesis, and a heartfelt delivery.
Every good chastity homily I’ve heard over the years has been characterized by five basic qualities: (1) Centered on Christ and his life-empowering grace, (2) Well organized and well thought out ahead of time, (3) Attuned to the audience, (4) Persuasively proposes, not imposes, the Catholic vision, (5) Concludes with practical steps and promised support needed to translate faith’s ideality into life’s reality.
Good homilists are good artists, capable of unveiling the seductive beauty of goodness and the compelling splendor of truth. And we who sit as beneficiaries of their preaching must pray for them far more than we criticize them!
Here’s the article:
Back in February this year, when the battle between religious leaders and the Obama administration over the latter’s contraceptive mandate reached a new pitch of intensity, the White House defended its policy by alleging that 98 per cent of Catholic women had used contraception. If that was the case, we were meant to ask, what on earth were the Catholic bishops, for one, making a song and dance about? Hadn’t their own female constituency effectively deserted them on this issue? Read more…