Woe to Me if I Don’t Preach the Gospel

If I preach the Gospel, this is no reason for me to boast,
for an obligation has been imposed on me,
and woe to me if I do not preach it!

That sounds pretty serious, doesn’t it?  Woe to me.  According to the dictionary, woe means : grievous distress, affliction, or trouble.  When I was ordained, the Archbishop had me put my hand on the book and proclaimed that I was now a herald of the Gospel, but he didn’t say anything about grievous distress, affliction, or trouble if I didn’t preach.  But here it is, in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians.  It must be true.

I know some of you probably think “whoa”, as in stop, when I start to talk up here.  But I have no choice.  It says right here that I have to preach.  But we also have the famous quote from Saint Francis, a deacon by the way, speaking to his monks.  He told them to always preach the Gospel and if necessary to use words.  Saint Francis doesn’t trump Saint Paul, but he has a point.

Here’s the thing.  Saint Paul wasn’t just speaking to deacons and priests.  His letter was to everyone in the church at Corinth.  He’s calling on all of us to preach the Gospel, not just those of us who’ve been called to Holy Orders.  When you look at it that way, Francis’ words make perfect sense.

We preach the Gospel every time we we interact with another human being.  At least we’re supposed to.  Our actions speak louder than words when we help someone who’s in trouble; when we give to charity; in all the little things we do every day.

Remember what Paul said, woe to us if we don’t preach the Gospel.

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Saint John Mary Vianney

Today we remember Saint John Vianney, the patron saint of priests.  Like Forest Gump, Vianney wasn’t a smart man.  He had a very hard time in school.  In fact, it was only after private tutoring that he was able to pass his exams to become a priest.

His first, and only, assignment was to Ars-en-Dombres, a remote place with only 230 people.  Through Vianney’s hard work, he was able to turn the place around and make it a site for pilgrims from all over the world..

He was strongly against blasphemy, profanity, and obscenity and he let the people know it in his homilies.  He crusaded for a return of holiness to the Lord’s day; not just getting people to mass, but also to get them to stop working on Sunday.

He was also very much against dancing. calling it an occasion to sin.  Clothing was also an issue with him and he spent years fighting against immodesty.  It took him many years, but he finally won the people over.

Amazingly, Ars became a place for pilgrimages, not because of any particular holiness of the place itself, but because people wanted to see and meet the good Father.  From 1830 to 1845 more than 300 people per day came to visit. From 1858-59 more than 100,000 pilgrims visited Ars.   Apparently 18th century Catholics were just as hungry for the truth as 21st century Catholics are today.

A travel office was set up in Lyons to handled all the travelers wanting to visit Ars.  Tickets were issued for 8 days because there was no way you could hope to see Vianney in any less time than that.  He spent from 12 to as many as 16 hours per day hearing confessions.  Think about that!  Today most parishes hear confessions for 30 minutes to an hour every WEEK.  No wonder Pius XI canonized him in 1925 and made him the patron-saint of priests in 1929.

It’s too bad that most priests (and deacons) don’t follow John Vianney’s example of speaking out on the important moral issues concerning all of us today.  When was the last time you heard a preacher speak out on the evils of blasphemy or profanity in a Catholic church?  I imagine it’s been a long time.  In the so-called Protestant mega-churches, they hear it all the time and their numbers continue to grow.

It’s obvious that Vianney’s homilies, speaking out strongly against sin, attracted thousands of pilgrims to his little church.  It would be good if all of us who have the great gift of being allowed to speak from the ambo would follow his example.

Saint John Vianni, pray for us.

Getting Stoned (No, it’s not what you think)

When I was in formation one of the instructors told the class that we should always keep today’s first reading (Acts 7:51—8:1a) in mind.  Steven, the first deacon, was doing just fine until he opened his mouth.  Then he was stoned to death.

People are seldom stoned to death, at least not in the United States, but the point is still well taken.  The thing is, the words Steven spoke to the people were all true.  They were “a stiff necked people.”  They had “received the law as transmitted by angels, but (they) did not observe it.”  Sometimes, the truth hurts.

So where does that leave modern-day deacons and priests.  Do we tell the truth risking the wrath of the congregation, or do we just sugar-coat everything, give the folks what they want to hear, and become everybody’s friend?

Sadly, I’m afraid many of us chose the former and I’m afraid that’s what’s wrong with the Church today.  Jesus’ message hasn’t changed but many of the messengers just aren’t up to the task, your’s truly included.

Being only human, it’s nice to stand in front of church after mass and have people say “nice homily”, but is that why I was ordained?  I don’t think so.  Is it my job to make people feel good or to make people be good?

When I stand in judgment before Jesus is He going to look me in the eye and ask me why I didn’t use my preaching faculties to help His people get into heaven?  If He does, how will I answer Him?

Since Vatican II, I’m afraid we may have gotten too warm and fuzzy in our preaching.  Want proof?  Just watch the 10:00 news or read your local paper.

Maybe it’s time to bring back “fire and brimstone” preaching.  Maybe it’s time to remember that the tablets Moses brought down from the mountain weren’t the Ten Suggestions.  Maybe it’s time to point out that Satan is alive and well and walking among us.  Maybe it’s time to go back to literally scaring the hell out of people in the pews.

Here we are, in the midst of the Easter season, just sixteen days since we celebrated the Lord’s resurrection.  The huge crowds that filled the churches on Easter Sunday have gone back to playing golf or sleeping in on Sundays.  For those of us who have the privilege of speaking from the ambo, it’s time to get serious about the souls that have been entrusted to us.

If we end up getting stoned, we’re in good company.