Saturday, April 17, 2010

Priests and Preaching

Domenico Ghirlandaio (original name Domenico di Tommaso Bighordi)
1449 -1494
Preaching of St John the Baptist
Cappella Tornabuoni, Santa Maria Novella, Florence

Cosimo Roselli
1439 -1507
Sermon on the Mount
Fresco, 349 x 570 cm
Cappella Sistina, Vatican
(The Sermon on the Mount is filled with masses of people. The twelve disciples huddle close together behind Christ and to the right. Farther back we see them approaching with their master. On the right side Christ is seen healing a leper)

David Vinckboons
1576 - ca. 1633
Sermon of Christ at the Lake Genezareth
Oil on panel, diameter 22 cm
The Hermitage, St. Petersburg

1400 - 1447
St Peter Preaching
Fresco, 255 x 162 cm
Cappella Brancacci, Santa Maria del Carmine, Florence

Raphael ( Raffaello Sanzi or Santi)
1483 - 1520
St Paul Preaching in Athens
Tempera on paper, mounted on canvas,
390 x 440 cm
Victoria and Albert Museum, London
(The man on the right at the front, with the ecstatic look on his face, is probably Dionysius Areopagita, who is said to have been converted to the Christian faith by this sermon.)

Giovanni Bellini
1426 - 1516
Sermon of St Mark in Alexandria
Oil on canvas, 347 x 770 cm
Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan

Pietro di Sano
1406 - 1481
St Bernardino (Bernardino Albizzeschi ) Preaching in the Campo in Siena
Tempera on panel, 162 x 102 cm
Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, Siena
(The saint is holding up the IHS monogram (an abbreviation of the Greek word for Jesus), a symbol that Bernardino made famous across Italy in his preaching.)

Agnolo degli Erri
Italian, active 1440s - 1497
A Dominican Preaching, c. 1470
tempera on panel
Overall: 43 x 34 cm (16 15/16 x 13 3/8 in.) framed: 65.1 x 55.6 x 7.6 cm (25 5/8 x 21 7/8 x 3 in.)
The National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

Hyacinthe Rigaud
1659 - 1743
Bishop Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet
Oil on canvas
H. : 2,40 m. ; L. : 1,65 m.
Musée du Louvre, Paris

Print made by Pierre Imbert Drevet 1697 - 1739
After Hyacinthe Rigaud 1659 - 1743
Portrait of Bishop Jacques Benigne Bossuet, after Rigaud; in clerical dress, standing holding a book before a tall column. 1723
509 millimetres x 347 millimetres
The British Museum, London

Ernest Henri Dubois
1863 - 1930
Monument to Bishop Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet, Preacher
Meaux Cathedral, France

(The Catholic Encyclopedia (1913) calls Bossuet (1627-1704) the greatest pulpit orator of all time, ranking him even ahead of Augustine and Chrysostom. Bossuet's funeral orations in particular had lasting importance and were translated early into a variety of languages, including English. Such were their power that even Voltaire, normally so antagonistic toward the clergy, praised the giftedness of Bosseut as an orator)

Théodore Chassériau
1819 - 1856
Reverend Father Dominique Lacordaire
Oil on canvas, 146 x 107 cm
Musée du Louvre, Paris

"The first task [of the ordained ministry] of which I wish to speak today is the "munus docendi," namely, that of teaching.

Today, at the height of the educational emergency, the "munus docendi" of the Church, exercised concretely through the ministry of each priest, is particularly important.

We live amid great confusion about the fundamental choices of our life and the questions about what the world is, from where it comes, where we are going, what we must do to carry out the good, how we must live, what are the really pertinent values.

In relation to all this there are so many contrasting philosophies, which arise and disappear, creating confusion about the fundamental decisions, how to live, why we do not know more, ordinarily, from what thing and for what thing we were made and where we are going.

Fulfilled in this situation is the word of the Lord, who has compassion on the crowd because they were like sheep without a shepherd (cf. Mark 6:34). The Lord had made this confirmation when he saw the thousands of people who followed him in the desert because, in the diversity of currents of that time, they no longer knew the true meaning of Scripture, what God was saying.

The Lord, moved by compassion, interpreted the word of God, he himself is the Word of God, and thus he gave guidance. This is the function in persona Christi of the priest: to render present, in the confusion and disorientation of our times, the light of the Word of God, the light that is Christ himself in this our world.

Hence the priest does not teach his own ideas, a philosophy that he himself has invented, has found and that pleases him; the priest does not speak of himself, does not speak by himself, to create perhaps admirers or his own party; he does not say his own things, his own inventions, but, in the confusion of all the philosophies, the priest teaches in the name of Christ present, he proposes the truth that is Christ himself, his word, his way of living and of going forward.

True for the priest is what Christ said of himself: "My teaching is not mine" (John 7:16); that is, Christ does not propose himself, but, as Son, is the voice, the word of the Father.

The priest must also speak and act like this: "My doctrine is not mine, I do not propagate my ideas or what pleases me, but I am the mouth and heart of Christ and make present this unique and common doctrine, which the universal Church has created and which creates eternal life."

This fact -- that the priest does not invent, does not create and does not proclaim one's own ideas inasmuch as the doctrine he proclaims is not his, but Christ's -- does not mean, on the other hand, that he is neutral, almost like a spokesman who reads a text which, perhaps, he does not appropriate.

Also in this regard Christ's example is applicable, who said: I am not of myself and I do not live for myself, but I come from the Father and I live for the Father.

That is why, in this profound identification, the doctrine of Christ is that of the Father and he himself is one with the Father.

The priest who proclaims the word of Christ, the faith of the Church and not his own ideas, must also say: I do not live from myself and for myself, but I live with Christ and from Christ and because of this all that Christ has said to us becomes my word, even if it is not mine.

The life of the priest must be identified with Christ and, in this way, the word that is not his own becomes, however, a profoundly personal word.

On this topic, St. Augustine said, speaking of priests: "And we, what are we? Ministers (of Christ), his servants; because all that we contribute to you is not ours, but we bring it out from his storeroom. And we also live from it, because we are servants like you" (Discourse 229/E, 4).

The teaching that the priest is called to give, the truth of the faith, must be internalized and lived in an intense personal spiritual journey, so that the priest really enters into a profound, interior communion with Christ himself.

The priest believes, accepts and tries to live, first of all as his own, all that the Lord has taught and the Church has transmitted, in that journey of identification with the very ministry of which St John Mary Vianney is an exemplary witness (cf. Letter for the proclamation of the Year for Priests). "United in the very same charity -- affirms again St. Augustine -- we are all hearers of him who is for us in Heaven the only Teacher" (Enarr. in Ps. 131, 1, 7).

Consequently it is not rare that the voice of the priest might seem the "voice of one crying in the desert" (Mark 1:3), but precisely in this consists his prophetic force: in not ever being homologated, or homologable to some prevailing culture or mentality, but in showing the unique novelty capable of bringing about an authentic and profound renewal of man, namely that Christ is the Living One, and the nearby God, the God who operates in the life and for the life of the world and gives us truth, the way to live.

In the careful preparation of his Sunday preaching, without excluding the weekday preaching, in the effort of catechetical formation, in schools, in academic institutions and, in a special way, through that unwritten book that is his own life, the priest is always "docent," he teaches.

But not with the presumption of one who imposes his own truth, rather with the humble and happy certainty of one who has found the Truth, who has been gripped and transformed, and because of this, can do nothing less than proclaim it.

In fact, no one can choose the priesthood for himself, it is not a way to arrive at security in life, to win a social position; no one can give it to him, or seek it by himself. The priesthood is response to the call of the Lord, to his will, to become heralds not of a personal truth but of his truth.

Dear brother priests, the Christian people ask to hear from our teachings the genuine ecclesial doctrine, by which to be able to renew the encounter with Christ who gives joy, peace, salvation.

Sacred Scripture, the writings of the Fathers and doctors of the Church, the Catechism of the Catholic Church constitute, in this regard, indispensable points of reference in the exercise of the munus docendi, so essential for conversion, the journey of faith and the salvation of men.

"Priestly ordination means: being immersed [...] in the Truth" (Homily for the Chrism Mass, April 9, 2009), that Truth which is not simply a concept or a whole of ideas to transmit and assimilate, but which is the Person of Christ, with which, by which and in which to live. And thus, necessarily, is also born the timeliness and comprehensibility of the proclamation.

Only this awareness of a Truth made Person in the incarnation of the Son justifies the missionary mandate: "Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15). Only if it is the Truth is it destined to every creature, it is not an imposition of something, but the opening of the heart to that for which it is created.

Dear brothers and sisters, the Lord entrusted a great task to priests: to be heralds of his Word, of the Truth that saves; to be his voice in the world to carry that which helps the true good of souls and the authentic journey of faith (cf. Corinthians 6:12).

May St. John Mary Vianney be an example for all priests. He was a man of great wisdom and heroic strength in resisting the cultural and social pressures of his time to be able to lead souls to God: simplicity, fidelity and immediacy were the essential characteristics of his preaching, the transparency of his faith and of his holiness.

The Christian people were edified and, as happens with authentic teachers of every era, recognized in him the light of Truth. Recognized in him, in a word, was that which must always be recognized in a priest: the voice of the Good Shepherd."

Pope Benedict XVI, General Audience 14th April 2010: "The Priest`s Mission as Teacher"