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The Value of Memorization

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In reflecting on the distracted hearer, I had intended, but then failed, to make mention of a valuable practice that can be used to battle that problem: memorization of Scripture. It was going to be a brief point yesterday, but, thanks to its omission, merits something of an excursus. Yesterday’s article talked about the enabling role of technology in fostering a distracted mind (with its notable effect on preaching, for both the preacher and the hearer). However, this same technology can be used to develop mental focus.

One of the best ways is through memorization of Scripture and of the prayers of the Church. Before I say any more, just think about your favorite music. Choose any you like, as long as it has lyrics. When you hear the opening parts of a familiar work, the mind almost immediately recalls the lyrics. If listening to an album, the end of one song immediately prompts the memory of the next. Recall is the basis of old game shows like “Name that Tune” and new games like SongPop. Memorization has long been an important component of literature classes. How many can recite some portion of Shakespeare or Chaucer from a high school English class from long ago? Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Fr Basil Biberdorf

July 16th, 2013 at 11:11 am

Posted in Preaching

The Distracted Hearer

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The day jobThere are two sides in this matter of preaching (the topic I started last time), which means there are ultimately two primary sources of difficulty. The first side is, of course, the preacher himself, and the second is his hearer. I’ll tackle the second one first for no other reason than that I think it conditions the first.

 In our time, the hearer presents a mix of issues, broadly speaking:

  1. A short attention span
  2. A desire for entertainment and exciting topics.
  3. An expectation that preaching be a boost for self-esteem, or motivational according to the popular definition.

These are not entirely new phenomena (see the citation from St John Chrysostom in the preceding post). There has long been a bias in the direction of flattery, which is why it is so effective for politicians. There are, nonetheless, some differences in this early 21st century. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Fr Basil Biberdorf

July 15th, 2013 at 10:01 am

Posted in Preaching

The Tightrope of Preaching

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His best scene everI’ve been working my through St John Chrysostom’s treatises on the priesthood, not having read them in some time. See the end of the article for details about the translation. (Some words are amended for precision.)

One of the greatest challenges the priest faces is that of preaching, and it’s not a new problem. Even Christ’s words, which were life from Life himself, were not always received (cf. the rich young ruler, Matt 19:16ff). Thus John Chrysostom gives his own perspective on the delicate balance that must be achieved by the faithful preacher.

Chrysostom’s first caution to the preacher is the description of the state of his “audience”:

For most people usually listen to a preacher for pleasure, not profit, like [critics] of a play or concert. The power of eloquence, which we rejected just now, is more requisite in a church than when professors of rhetoric are made to contend against each other. (On the Priesthood, V.1)

I would add that the contemporary listener is heavily conditioned to be this way. The majority of pastimes – whether sports, or television, or books and magazines, or games – are aimed at pleasing us. That is to say they are not in the least intended for us to elevate our souls or minds, or to have them grasp at something better. Thus, many listeners have an unspoken, and perhaps even unknown, desire to be entertained by the preacher. There is no greater evidence of this than the difficulty with which even pious believers have in listening to a homily that exceeds 15 (or 10!) minutes, even as they can watch hours of television without moving from a recliner. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Fr Basil Biberdorf

June 25th, 2013 at 10:22 am

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