Sunday, February 10, 2013

Teaching that Speaks to the Needs of the Listener

How often have we heard the complaint that sermons are dull and boring, that they do not address the daily life concerns of the parishioners, that they are concerned with theological issues having little meaning for many? A priest writing in a pastoral bulletin mentions the typical example of the well-meaning but overly scholarly sermon of a priest, having recently returned from studies overseas with a doctorate, talking at length on issues of little interest to the parishioners.

The writer mentions hearing of a similar incident recently. A young man working in a textile factory, when preparing for baptism class, was told about the sacredness of work. He quickly disagreed, saying, "Those are the kind of words you only find in books. For me, work is difficult and tedious. Those who talk about the sacredness of work would not be using the word 'sacred' if they had the experience of doing tedious and painful work." Without understanding the difficulties of workers, teaching catechism to workers, without presenting both the negative and positive aspects of the work environment, will be difficult, the priest said.

"Blessed are the poor" is another example of a Gospel truth that we have difficulty explaining to those who see nothing good about poverty. Those who have not known poverty but speak about the benefits of poverty, the priest said, will find their words not accepted. In his experience, those who have known poverty can see its positive contributions to a fulfilling life but know the serious problems that come with the lack of material goods.

Those who have experienced the small basic community environment--where discussions start with the truths of Scripture and extend into the practical affairs of their daily lives--frequently see a great deepening in their faith lives. This was also Jesus' method of teaching. Even those who did not have any education could understand what he was saying. This was also the way the wise of the East taught in the past. Today we have, he says, the Greek method of teaching, with its abstract reasoning and speculative meanderings.

He concludes his article by acknowledging that a theological presentation of the truths of the Church needs the input of people who are committed believers and are willing to delve more deeply into their faith experience. He feels we have a movement in Korea that is trying to bring this into being, but for a lack of leaders it seems to be losing steam. In the meantime, let us be content to speak in a language that is readily understood and practical, consigning our dull and boring sermons to the nearest wastebasket.  

Happy Lunar New Year!

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