I’m surprised to be here. I didn’t set out to be a homiletician, nor even a theologian and teacher at all. In fact, of all my Holy Cross classmates, I would have been thought to be the least likely of the bunch to devote the better part of my years as a priest to the academic life at the University of Notre Dame. I just wanted to be a parish priest. Yet here I am. One of the graces of our religious life in Holy Cross is to be surprised, called, invited in unexpected ways to do things that weren’t in the plan. And in the process we meet God in ways we didn’t anticipate either.
As a seminarian I didn’t think much about preaching at first, except that the thought of it scared the heck out of me. In six years of parish ministry I was surprised to learn that Catholics really do listen, that they really hunger for good preaching, for a word that connects the Word of God to their lives. I still don’t consider myself a great preacher. But I do care about it, and about people’s hunger for God and meaning along the journey of life.
The Church cares about that, too. In fact, one of the gifts of the Second Vatican Council has been a renewed emphasis on the Word of God, including preaching. As the Council Fathers said, “The primary duty of priests is the proclamation of the Gospel of God to all” (Presbyterorum Ordinis #4). Later the U.S. bishops would emphasize the point, saying, “The other duties of the priest are to be considered properly presbyteral to the degree that they support the proclamation of the Gospel: (Fulfilled in Your Hearing 1). The forthcoming new document from the bishops on preaching will be another occasion to remind ourselves how essential is the task given to us.
Yet that emphasis on the importance of preaching is embedded within an even larger claim that still challenges all of us: “The proclamation of the Word of God is the responsibility of the entire Christian community by virtue of the sacrament of baptism” (FIYH 2). I try to preach, and to teach preaching, in a way that bears this in mind. I want to animate others to see life the way God sees it. I invite people to fall in love with Jesus. I want to inspire them to share that Good News with others.
To be a preacher is to be not only one who knows and loves the Scriptures, but one who knows and loves people, their joys and sorrows, challenges and graces. It is to stand with them before God, pleading for a word of enlightenment, encouragement and mercy. The Word is no stranger to the full range of human experience and human longing. For me, standing before the assembled People of God is still terrifying, a shouldering of the Cross – yet also a joy and a life-giving privilege. To be used by God, to be part of the announcement of God’s nearness, goodness and compassion, to point to a future previously unseen and not of our own making – this is enormously humbling.
Nearly all of my preaching students share the terror I felt in their shoes long ago. They feel unworthy, just as I did and still do. I remind myself, and them, that God chooses earthen vessels, and even our limitations can be spaces open to God’s dwelling. If the Word burns within us, we will not fail to have something to say. God will take it from there. And we will share in the joy of “making God known, loved and served.”
Fr. Mike Connors, C.S.C., professed Final Vows in the Congregation of Holy Cross on September 3, 1983, and was ordained a priest on April 28, 1984. He received a Doctorate in Pastoral Theology from Regis College, Toronto School of Theology, in 1997. As the Director of the Marten Program in Homiletics and Liturgics at the University of Notre Dame, Fr. Mike helps oversee the formation of the Church’s next generation of preachers, including the next generation of Holy Cross priests. He wrote this post for the Spes Unica Blog as part of our wider series on Holy Cross scholars educating in the faith. To learn more about the art of preaching, check out the videos from the preaching conference the Marten Program hosted this past summer entitled “We Preach Christ Crucified”.