Saturday, 8 February 2014

Evangelii Gaudium: comment on two snippets

Pope Francis observes (Evangelii Gaudium n.127), in connection with the idea that evangelisation necessarily involves inter-personal communication, that:
..... there is a kind of preaching which falls to each of us as a daily responsibility. It has to do with bringing the Gospel to the people we meet, whether they be our neighbours or complete strangers. This is the informal preaching which takes place in the middle of a conversation, something along the lines of what a missionary does when visiting a home. Being a disciple means being constantly ready to bring the love of Jesus to others, and this can happen unexpectedly and in any place: on the street, in a city square, during work, on a journey.
One can see the parallel to recruitment to a trade union. It is a bit of a mantra of trade union recruitment that "most people don't join a union because no-one has asked them". Similarly, the apostolate of a Catholic organisation such as the Legion of Mary draws heavily on creating opportunities for personal contact with those whom one wishes to bring to Christ. Pope Francis (Evangelii Gaudium n.128) gives a very useful exemplification of the form that this every day evangelisation might take.

But there is an intriguing, and quite un-developed, snippet in the next paragraph. Here Pope Francis brings the question of individual personal contact back to that of inculturation:
If the Gospel is embedded in a culture, the message is no longer transmitted solely from person to person. In countries where Christianity is a minority, then, along with encouraging each of the baptized to proclaim the Gospel, particular Churches should actively promote at least preliminary forms of inculturation.
What is un-developed here is that relation between person-to-person contact and that situation where there is a communication at a (community) cultural level. I suspect that a lot more could be made of how these two elements complement each other and arise from/inform each other. The hazard of an evangelisation that occurs exclusively at the level of culture, and does not penetrate to the level of the personal, is only too apparent in those countries of formerly-strong Catholic culture and weak Catholic practice in daily life. Likewise, person-to-person contact has to impact the culture, or it becomes just "what Catholics do in private on a Sunday".

The second snippet I wanted to comment on is taken from Pope Francis' lengthy treatment of the homily (Evangelii Gaudium nn.135-159). It can be found in n.146:
The first step, after calling upon the Holy Spirit in prayer, is to give our entire attention to the biblical text, which needs to be the basis of our preaching.
Pope Francis assumes that the homily will address the Biblical text(s) provided in the Scripture readings of the Mass of the day. This is an assumption shared by a whole generation of priests and, indeed, it would be wrong not to recognise that preaching on the given texts is just as much a feature of Pope Benedict XVI's homilies as it is of Pope Francis' homilies. However, the rubric (General Instruction on the Roman Missal nn.65-66) allows a wider range upon which the homily can be based (my emphasis added):
The Homily is part of the Liturgy and is highly recommended, for it is necessary for the nurturing of the Christian life. It should be an explanation of some aspect of the readings from Sacred Scripture or of another text from the Ordinary or the Proper of the Mass of the day and should take into account both the mystery being celebrated and the particular needs of the listeners....
On Sundays and Holydays of Obligation there is to be a Homily at every Mass that is celebrated with the people attending and it may not be omitted without a grave reason. On other days it is recommended, especially on the weekdays of Advent, Lent and Easter Time, as well as on other festive days and occasions when the people come to church in greater numbers.

In my own experience, the blind insistence that a homily must be preached at a weekday Mass, and that it must be about the Scripture readings of the day, leads to some of the most dire homilies I have ever heard (cf Pope Francis' comment that "We know that the faithful attach great importance to it, and that both they and their ordained ministers suffer because of homilies: the laity from having to listen to them and the clergy from having to preach them!" in Evangelii Gaudium n.135).  Pope Francis is quite right, I think, to devote the attention to the homily that he does in Evangelii Gaudium - an effective homily impacts greatly on the manner and depth of the participation of the faithful in the Liturgy, lifting it above the "rather average" that leaves them lukewarm.

It is particularly frustrating when one turns to the Collect for the saint being celebrated on the day and can recognise in its words the particular charism of that saint .... which would provide material for a much more useful and succinct homily than a vague wandering around a (more or less) obscure Biblical text. Likewise when one encounters the text of the Preface - yesterday evening, for example, Father used the proper Preface for Eucharistic Prayer 2 which, in the new English translation, provides a wonderful exposition of the core of Christian teaching ("kerygma"), and which is fascinating for its relevance to the idea of the new evangelisation that is the subject of Evangelii Gaudium. The second reading from the Office of Readings can also provide a useful alternative source for a homily.

I suspect that, if we look at his major homilies (rather than the daily homilies at Casa Santa Martha), we will find that Pope Francis widens his scope to move from the Scripture readings to the needs of the particular celebration. This seems to be what the "three words" structure of his preaching is about.

At a human level, I feel that when I am listening to a priest preaching a homily I am entitled to expect him to (a) have something genuinely worthwhile to say and (b) to have prepared properly how and what he is going to say. (I can recognise that I am atypical of most parishioners in my expectations here; but I do see others respond positively to the more "substantial" homily when it is delivered.) The clerical collar does not provide a particular privilege in this regard. When priests insist on preaching every day at Mass, and insist on that homily being about the Scripture readings of the day, it is only the most exceptional among them who will meet these two criteria day in and day out.

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