By Cindy Wooden
In learning to preach, seminarians should look to the homilies of the fathers of the church, where they will discover how eloquence and humility lead to “beauty and delight,” said Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston.
“If we could get at least part of this demeanor in our preaching and homiletic activity,” the cardinal said, referring to a homily by St. Augustine, “the very energy of the Word of God will find a place in our lives of ministry and make our ministry a harmony of doxology and wisdom.”
The cardinal delivered the annual Carl Peter Lecture on Preaching Jan. 13 at the Pontifical North American College, the U.S. bishops’ seminary in Rome. Earlier in the day, he instituted 55 NAC seminarians into the ministry of lector, a step on their way toward ordination to the diaconate and priesthood.
In the lecture, Cardinal DiNardo said he wanted to offer practical, pastoral observations as a preacher and one who loves the great early church theologians.
Almost all of the theologians recognized as fathers of the church were bishops who preached regularly, the cardinal said, and scholars continue to study their sermons today.
“There is great vitality in their homilies,” he said. “The only exception I can think of being St. Cyril of Alexandria who is very repetitious, a practice that is wearing.
“There is a droll comment from St. Augustine about the need to avoid being boring even to oneself in preaching, the sure sign that one is boring the congregation,” he said.
The patristic homilies, like the best homilies given today, “seize the hour and time, the place and the tenor of a congregation, and bring the ever new Word of God to the situation at hand,” Cardinal DiNardo told the seminarians.
While the fathers of the church were accomplished theologians, preachers and orators, he said, readers can see how often they simplified “their style and vocabulary to fit the artless but beautiful form that the expression of Christian faith demanded,” especially when preaching to catechumens and to the uneducated.
Modern Catholic preachers also are called to ensure, like the fathers of the church, that their preaching is biblical, theological and sacramental, the cardinal said.
“It is God-talk,” he said, and “always leads to spiritual and moral discernment” and is concerned about bringing people into closer union with God. – CNS