Preaching in America Print
Written by Michael Fones   
Tuesday, 02 December 2008 17:07
Fr. James Moore, OP, a young, newly ordained Dominican friar who lives with me in Tucson, and I went on a hike in the Santa Rita mountains the day after Thanksgiving. Hiking up to a saddle below Mt. Wrightson, not too far from my parents' home, the conversation turned to preaching, as sometimes happens among members of the Order of Preachers. Fr. James mentioned that he was receiving some great comments on his preaching, but also some negative ones as well. In the course of the discussion, he pointed out that Dominicans were known for their doctrinal preaching, and that's when it hit me (or, better, when the Holy Spirit enlightened me).

St. Dominic and his early compatriots lived in a very different society than we do today. The Order of Preachers formed out of a preaching mission to heretics. These were people who were interested enough in the spiritual life and the question of how a disciple of Jesus is to live that they were willing to "buck the trend" and formally leave the Catholic Church, which was, at least in Europe, pretty much the only spiritual game in town. For them, doctrinal preaching was exactly what was needed. They needed to hear the Church's doctrine explained clearly and logically, as well as how the Albigensian/Cathar interpretation of scripture was incomplete. They also needed to hear this message proclaimed by men who were living simply - even poorly - since they were rejecting the goodness of created things and saw any trappings of wealth as a kind of spiritual degradation.

The challenge for Dominicans - and for all those who have the office of preacher in the Church in the US and the rest of the developed world - is quite different. Rather than preaching to people who are passionate about questions of God and how to live according to God's will, we face congregations with many individuals for whom religion is not much different than belonging to a club. According to the recent Pew Foundation study on religion in America:

43% of Catholics surveyed say religion is "somewhat important" or "not too/not at all important" (and the younger you are, the less important religion is to you)
48% of Catholics are absolutely certain that God is personal
45% of Catholics are certain in the existence of an afterlife
42% of Catholics attend Mass at least once a week.

These statistics do not indicate a great deal of religious zeal in our parishes, and while all of those four points have to do with doctrine, perhaps the more important emphasis in preaching today needs to be on the question of how does one relate to God? I would propose that preachers today need to be more transparent regarding their own relationship with God: Father, Son and Spirit. If I, as a preacher, never speak about my relationship with God - the struggles, joys, disappointments, hopes - my congregation may simply think of faith as simply a set of ideas that are not terribly interesting or pertinent to daily life.

Gotta board a plane. More later, perhaps.