About That Sermon
By Fr Paddy Clarke
Preaching in Japan
I worked as a Columban missionary in Japan for thirty years. My first parish was a small one in a place called Shingu. Each Sunday when I looked down at my small congregation and began to preach I could see one lady up front who looked up with great expectations in her eyes, waiting for my words...Then as I went on and on...and on, I noticed a body change. She began to list to one side, like a sinking ship and I noticed both her eyes were closed. Then there was Mrs Okada whom I had baptised as an adult. She had a note book and was busy writing down every word I uttered. Then there was this big man in the very last seat who when the Gospel was read, promptly sat down, put his two hands on the seat in front of him and went to sleep even before the sermon began!
Priests and Sermons
Priests are often praised for the work they do: Fr A. is great for the sick;
Fr B. loves the poor; Fr C. is great for collecting money etc. How often are Frs A, B, or C praised for their sermons? Rather we are likely to hear sermons being pronounced ‘too long’...’too short’...’boring’...’the priest does not know what he is talking about’ or ‘his sermons are not connected to real life’.
A Priest’s Perspective
Now I would like to speak from an old priest’s point of view. There is truth in what is said about priests’ sermons. However in 50 years of priestly ministry I can say that the majority of priests take their preaching seriously. Nowadays I find most young priests have had better training that we had in communications and I personally enjoy listening to them. However I would like to share a story with you that gave me a new understanding of preaching. Fr Vinnie Power (who was later murdered in Jamaica) told me about listening to a sermon he heard in a church in Tokyo. The priest was preaching on prayer and Vinnie admitted that he found it boring. "He just went on and on" said Vinnie, "until I just tuned him out". As time went on he once again began to listen. Then he did something he had never done before, he began to pray for the preacher. He thanked God for the man’s goodness, for his priesthood and so on. The sermon did not suddenly become better, but something changed in Vinnie. He became more open and he said he was able to listen to the end of the sermon and even get something from it. Praying for the preacher did not change the sermon, but it did change Vinnie.
Ever Tried That?
Before I heard that story I never did. Now I always do. There are all kinds of priests: some have many talents, some have less, but each one is used by God in the service of His people. Their service does not depend on their gifts/talents. It depends on their allowing God to work through them. And when you pray for your preacher, you are allowing God to touch your heart through these very fragile instruments, his priests. Any priest can tell you stories about how God works through his weakness. People sometime come to the priest and say "Father, when you said so and so your words helped me". And the priest says to himself: "I don’t know what you heard, but I know I did not say that because I was reading my sermon..."
So whenever you attend Mass, say a short prayer for the priest as he begins to preach; if it does not change him (and I believe it will) it will help you. Every time each one of us participates in the Eucharist, God has some blessing for each of us. It can occur any time during the Mass - even during the sermon. And if you are helped by a homily, tell the priest. He will be grateful to God and to you; there is little danger he will be conceited.
Fr Paddy Clarke, now retired, served in Japan for fifty years.