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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

Spiritual Leadership, Part IV: The Parish

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[Read the previous section, part III, here.]


The sphere of our spiritual leadership then extends further, to the realm of the parish. Up front, I’ll say that I have no intention of telling others how to lead their parishes. Ultimately, the decisions made by the priest in exercising spiritual leadership over his parish must be made in close consultation with his bishop.

The parish poses a different situation when compared to exercising spiritual leadership over one’s self or over one’s household, and it comes about because the faithful of our parish are there of their own volition. The priest is appointed as the spiritual leader of the parish, but that does not mean that the faithful of the parish will place themselves fully under his leadership in every instance. In practical terms, this means that extending spiritual leadership will require healthy amounts of suasion and trust. The priest who attempts to lead by giving directions accompanied by “because I am the priest” will almost certainly fail. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Fr Basil Biberdorf

November 17th, 2011 at 11:30 pm

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