Who the hell is the devil (Part 3)?

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So far we’ve looked at what the Scriptures and tradition tell us about the “prince of darkness”. But is this whole “devil” thing something of the past?

I remember watching the film The Exorcist and thinking that the whole scenario didn’t seem real to me. I don’t think demons sit around behind a tree waiting for some poor little girl to go by so they can jump out to posses her. I think that people have to cooperate with evil. You have to be really far away from God for the devil to be able to attack you like that.

According to Matt Baglio, author of The Rite, possession is the result of a person moving far away from God. He says that over a period of time, if you move far enough away, you make it possible for demons to step in. It’s not hard to move away from God. We may think that we are “religious” but if in our actions and deep beliefs we refuse to give up control of any aspect of our lives to God or have a continue pattern of sin, no matter how small (and remember sin is merely saying no to God), we are, in effect moving away from God. We don’t have to specifically dedicate ourselves to evil or play with Ouija Boards to invite the devil in. However, adds Baglio, if you’ve already begun distancing yourself from God, then playing with the occult will make possession easier.

I remember the first time I baptized a child I noticed that one of the prayers during the Rite of Baptism is called “exorcism”. This of course, does not mean that we believe the child is possessed, but it does mean that we acknowledge that there is evil in the world. During that prayer, the Priest or Deacon commands any impure spirits who might be present to depart from the person to be baptised. Also, remember that Baptism removes our original sin (for more on Baptism read, What is Baptism? and in this prayer we ask that Original Sin be removed:

“Almighty and ever-living God, you sent your only Son into the world to cast out the power of Satan, spirit of evil, to rescue man from the kingdom of darkness, and bring him into the splendor of your kingdom of light. We pray for this child: set him (her) free from original sin, make him (her) a temple of your glory, and send your Holy Spirit to dwell with him (her). We ask this through Christ our Lord.”

So obviously the Church believes in the existence of the devil as real. And if you still have doubts, I’m sure you’ve been around some time when you’ve had to make a “question-and-answer” style profession of Faith, (it happens during the rite of Baptism and during Confirmation – if you’ve been to an Easter Vigil you’ve done it). After we profess our Faith, the priest asks: “Do you reject Satan and all that is evil?” (And the correct answer is “I do” in case you’re wondering.)

Not only does the Church teach that Satan is real, but we believe in demonic possession. In fact, the Catholic Church is the only Christian denomination that prayers or rituals that have to do with expelling demons. I don’t know how common exorcisms are, but I’ve read that one in 5000 cases of reported demonic possession are actually cases of real possession.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines an exorcism:

“When the Church asks publicly and authoritatively in the name of Jesus Christ that a person or object be protected against the power of the Evil One and withdrawn from his dominion, it is called exorcism. Jesus performed exorcisms (Mk l:25f.) and from him the Church has received the power and office of exorcising (Mk 3:15: 6:7, 13: 16:17). In a simple form, exorcism is performed at the celebration of Baptism. The solemn exorcism, called ‘a major exorcism,’ can be performed only by a priest and with the permission of the Bishop. The priest must proceed with prudence, strictly observing the rules established by the Church. “Exorcism is directed at the expulsion of demons or to the liberation from demonic possession through the spiritual authority which Jesus entrusted to his Church. Illness, especially psychological illness, is a very different matter: treating this is the concern of medical science. Therefore, before an exorcism is performed, it is important to ascertain that one is dealing with the presence of the Evil One, and not an illness (cf. Code of Canon Law, can. 1172).” (CCC 1673)

In 1998, The 1614 Catholic Rite of Exorcism was updated and now includes a stipulation that no exorcism is to be performed until all other avenues have been exhausted. We have to be careful that we’re not dealing with a mental illness or some other psychological problem. That means that doctors, psychiatrists, and psychologists must be consulted first in order to eliminate all medical causes before an exorcism can be considered.

One of the first books I read that had anything to do with exorcisms was M. Scott Peck’s People of the Lie. Peck was a psychiatrist who actually became a Christian after he could not medically nor scientifically explain some of his patient’s behaviours or symptoms. In fact Scott Peck diagnosed some of his patients with “demonic possession”. (Another good book by Scott Peck on this topic is Glimpses of the Devil.)

The Roman Ritual of Exorcism lists the criteria for determining whether someone is possessed and requires an exorcism: “Speaking many words in unknown languages or understanding them; revealing distant or hidden things; displaying strength beyond one’s condition, together with a vehement aversion to God, Our Lady, the saints, the cross and sacred images.”

The Church takes possession very seriously. Every Diocese has to have an official exorcist. However, in most cases this is either the bishop or the bishop can appoint a priest as the diocesan exorcist.

It’s easy to get caught up with the drama of possession or exorcisms; however, the real danger of evil is not demonic possession, but rather in being deceived. Remember, Satan is a liar and deceiver. Possession is too obvious. Satan wants to work undetected and is trying really hard to make people believe he is not real. That is probably one of his biggest triumphs. Remember he is a liar.

He also likes to confuse, like making you think that something is good, when in fact it isn’t. A good example of this is making you think that it’s OK not to go to Mass because you need to spend time with your family – and God is really a loving and merciful God who wants you to spend time with your family (which is true and a good thing) and He doesn’t really care if you go to Mass or not (which is not true) – when in fact, going to Mass is very important. (The devil is good a half-truths; things that sound true or are partly true but are not completely true, in order to confuse.)

In short, Satan always wants us to pick something good at the expense of what God has promised… which is always something better.

When thinking about evil we must remember the fact that Jesus’ death defeated Satan forever. “Why is he still around?” you may ask. Maybe we are living what the Book of Revelation says about Satan being allowed to deceive the nations for a little while (Rev 20:7-8). Scott Peck liked to say that the devil has been defeated; we’re just in the clean-up operation.

I don’t know if Satan is on the run. It doesn’t matter. As long as there is God; people can choose “not God”. As long as there is Goodness, Truth and Beauty, people can choose the opposite of those. There is light, but we can always choose the darkness. And sometimes we end up choosing the darkness without really knowing what we are doing.

All of us can choose God or choose the absence of God, which is evil.  But if we choose God, Satan has no real power over us. It is a battle, but in this battle, God is on our side.

That’s why Pope John Paul II asked us to add the Prayer to St. Michael to our daily prayers:

“St. Michael, Archangel defend us in battle.

Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.

May God rebuke him, we humbly pray,

and do thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Hosts,

by the power of God, cast into hell Satan and all evil spirits

who wander through the world seeking the ruin of souls.”

Who the hell is the devil (Part 2)?

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Last week we looked at the figure of the devil and why the Church teaches that Lucifer was an archangel created by God, who rebelled.

There are many names for the devil. You may have heard Satan, Lucifer, Beelzebub and Diabolos. He is also referred to as Belial, Prince of Darkness, Prince of demons, Angel of the Abyss, Father of lies, Accuser, Adversary, Evil One, Destroyer, Slanderer and Ancient serpent. Many of these titles come from Scriptures.

The word “satan” is a Hebrew word meaning “adversary” and “accuser”. Many religions describe the devil as an angel, demon or minor god. In the Hebrew Bible, Satan is an angel that tests man for various reasons. In the New Testament, Satan is portrayed as an evil, rebellious demon who is the enemy of God and mankind.

In Islam, Satan is known as “Iblis” or “Shaitan”, who was the chief of the angels until he disobeyed Allah by refusing to prostrate himself before Adam because he refused to accept Man as his superior.

If we read the Bible, we know that Satan is a “murderer from the beginning” and a “liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). We also know that Satan is a tempter – he tempted Jesus in the desert (Matt. 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13 and Luke 4:1-13). But even though Satan can tempt, believers have the power to resist (1 Pet 5:8-9) and Christ was revealed to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8). We also know that Satan disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Cor 11:14). And Christ’s death destroyed the devil (Heb 2:14-15).

There are a few instances in the Gospels when Jesus drives away evil spirits, but the one I like the best is from Mark 1:21-27. Jesus goes to the synagogue and begins to teach. Then a man who is possessed cries out, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are: the Holy One of God!”

Then Jesus responds, “Be quiet!” and, “Come out of him!” The evil spirit begins to shake the man violently and comes out of him with a shriek. The people are so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him.”

Another one from the Gospel of Mark is when Jesus’ disciples are unable to drive out an evil spirit from a boy who was possessed. So Jesus asks them to bring the boy and proceeds to expel the spirit. Afterwards the disciples ask Jesus how come they couldn’t drive the spirit out. Jesus says, “This kind can come out only by prayer and fasting” (Mark 9:14-29).

These two stories teach us that Jesus Christ has authority over evil spirits but that sometimes the only way to deal with evil is through prayer and fasting.

So it’s clear that people in the times of Jesus believed in evil spirits and Satan, but what about nowadays? Except for movies like the Exorcist (and some other really bad movies), most of us don’t have any real experiences with “the prince of darkness”. But all of us have real experiences with evil (just read the newspaper). Come back next week and find out what the Church teaches about dealing with evil today.

Who the hell is the devil?

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Recently someone asked me why Pope Francis keeps mentioning the devil, as if the devil actually existed (see Fr. Rosica’s recent post, Why in the devil does Pope Francis speak so much about the prince of this world? )This person alleged that, just as ogres and leprechauns, devils do not exist.

But the Catholic Church is clear in her teaching: The devil does exist and it’s worth understanding what the Church says about the devil and evil.

In order to help us understand it all a little better, I went to where I usually go to understand Church teaching: to the Salt + Light TV series IN YOUR FAITH Episode 10 of the first season deals with this very topic.

Let me be clear: There is such a thing as the devil. But if you think he’s a red guy with horns, a tail and a pitchfork who lives in a fiery hell, maybe you need to update your image of this character.

The figure of Satan appears throughout Scriptures. We’re all familiar with the creation story and how the “serpent” tempted Eve (Genesis 3). Christian theology interprets this serpent as being Satan. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that: “Behind the disobedient choice of our first parents lurks a seductive voice, opposed to God, which makes them fall into death out of envy.” (CCC 391) Scripture and the Church’s Tradition see in this being a fallen angel, called “Satan” or the “devil”.

Also in the Old Testament is the story of Job where Satan asks God whether Job would still be as faithful if he lost everything. God agrees to find out and allows the devil to bring evil into Job’s life. (See Job 1:6-12)

Satan is more prominent in the New Testament where he appears as the tempter of Jesus in the desert (Matt. 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13 and Luke 4:1-13) and is mentioned numerous times (we’ll look at some of these later).

The concepts of evil, hell and the devil are formed in the Old Testament. By the time of the New Testament, those concepts become an integral part of Christian theology, which describes a final victory of Christ over Satan and his dominions. And after that final victory, a final judgment will eternally consign Satan and his followers to Hell.

The Church teaches that Satan was at first a good angel, made by God. The Catechism says: “The devil and the other demons were indeed created naturally good by God, but they became evil by their own doing.” (CCC 391) Satan is believed to have been an archangel named Lucifer who turned against God before the creation of man. According to this view, Satan waged war against God, his creator, and was banished from Heaven because of this.

This teaching is based on Ezekiel 28:12-19, which the Church interprets to be referring to Satan. It says:

‘You were the model of perfection,
full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.
You were in Eden,
the garden of God;
every precious stone adorned you” (28:12b-13a)

That’s why we believe that the serpent in the Creation story is Satan. It goes on to say:

“You were anointed as a guardian cherub,
for so I ordained you.
You were on the holy mount of God.” (28:14a)

Whoever it is, he was really close to God.
Until: “wickedness was found in you.” (28:15b)

It continues:

“So I drove you in disgrace from the mount of God,
and I expelled you, O guardian cherub.
Your heart became proud
on account of your beauty,
and you corrupted your wisdom
because of your splendor.
So I threw you to the earth;
I made a spectacle of you before kings.
By your many sins and dishonest trade
you have desecrated your sanctuaries.
So I made a fire come out from you,
and it consumed you,
and I reduced you to ashes on the ground
in the sight of all who were watching.
All the nations who knew you
are appalled at you;
you have come to a horrible end
and will be no more.’” (28:16b-19)

Next Sunday, let’s look at how the figure of the devil is found in the New Testament.

In You Faith features Byron, Chantal and Rosanna, as they explore the Church’s teachings in a fast-paced and fun way, offering you a practical message, and giving you an opportunity to discuss what you have to say about what the Church has to say. In Your Faith can be purchased here.

Proclaiming the Word: Part Four

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Proclaiming the Word: Part Four

Last time we looked at why a homily must be scriptural, pastoral, catechetical and liturgical and that there should be one key message (focus) and one suggestion as to how we can respond to that message (function). These are great suggestions for organizing your text. However, no matter what, the preacher must ultimately stand in front of a group of people and communicate. This is where I see most homiletics courses failing (and I’m sad to say was missing in the preaching conference at St. Augustine’s).

Being a great writer of homilies and a great reader of texts, does not make one a great preacher. The first talk at the conference was by Fr. James Sullivan, OP. I will never forget when he said that, “to read someone else’s text is not preaching.” He added, “don’t read at all, even if it’s your own text.” I will deal with this during our last installment of this series.

Before we get to that, after we’ve zeroed in on a focus and function and have an idea of how to make it scriptural, catechetical, pastoral and liturgical, we still need to be able to communicate this message in a way that people will listen and can relate.

Fr. Guerric DeBona, OSB uses another homiletic model that he has taken from best-selling business and executive education writers, Chip and Dan Heath that is labelled, “SUCCESs.” This model is one that makes sense to me and so I’d like to explore how I can prepare a homily to make sure that all  (or most ) of the SUCCESs elements are present.

S – Simple: I have addressed this above. Focus on one point. This is the purpose of having a key statement or a focus. I must add that it does not need to be complicated. Sometimes the fact that it is just one idea does not guarantee that the message will be simple. I am a great fan of children’s homilies. I think most people are. The children understand. The teens understand. The parents understand. By force, these homilies have to be simple. It’s not a bad idea to keep this in mind.

U – Unexpected: This is a classic communications strategy. It is important to keep in mind that it is not done for the purposes of being gimmicky. It can only be done if it makes sense with the focus and function. I think the best example of using something that is unexpected is when a preacher does not have an answer, or begins a homily with, “I don’t understand…” or “I hate this about Christianity…” (I can see how I can “hate” having to love everyone, or the fact that being a Christian means that we will be criticised or persecuted, or that we have to carry our cross.) This can be an effective tool, because many people sitting in the pews will identify with our struggles.

C – Concrete: Again, having a clear focus will help with this. To me, being concrete means that the images and examples that I use have to be tangible. It is not very easy for people who are listening to grasp nebulous, abstract ideas or concepts. We have to give them concrete examples, things that they can relate to. For an idea or image to be concrete it has to be specific. It’s not enough to say, “In some countries they deal with some challenges when it comes to education.” That is too general. Tell them which countries and what the challenges are: “In Panama, most kids quit school before they get to highschool…” for example. Furthermore, it is my experience working in drama and as an actor, that when we have a concrete image of what we are talking about (as when speaking about something personal), it gets communicated best. It is as if the image that we have in our mind, is formed in the minds of the listeners. A good question to ask is, “how does this look, smell, feel, taste or sound.”

C – Credible: To me credibility has to do with the authenticity of the preacher and with the language he uses. If I am using words that no one can understand or language that is condescending or authoritative, I will not be credible. If I am not able to bring myself into my preaching (not that I have to talk about myself), then it will be hard for the listeners to believe me, to relate to me. In many ways, communication is about relationship and as such, a homily is not a monologue but a dialogue. People in the congregation may not verbally respond, but they are listening, reacting; images are forming in their minds. A good preacher is looking at them, his non-verbal language nuancing how his message is being received (this is why I don’t believe that reading a text, no matter how brilliant the text is, is good enough). The CATH White Paper suggests as one of the Preaching Competencies that a homily must be personal. I believe that this is what it means. It has to be authentic and loving.

E – Emotions: This is why movies, TV, music, video games, pictures and advertising are so effective: They are not intellectual; they are emotional. A good movie or song may have an intellectual message, but what makes it connect with people, what makes it move people, is that it speaks to the heart. Advertising works because people are not supposed to think about the ad. If people think about the ad, it no longer works. A good documentary or even newspaper story is most effective when it incorporates something emotional. The easiest way to use emotion is to be specific and to tell stories.

S- Stories: People love stories. Jesus himself used stories to explain ideas that cannot be explained. Some of the most memorable homilies for me have been stories (another reason why children’s homilies are effective).

The CATH White Paper lists that one of the Preaching Competencies, is “Clarifying.” While I have already covered elements of this category (doctrinal, pastoral, simple), I’d like to expand a bit, since this is an important goal of a homily: A homily needs to make a point that is worth making. It is not just giving good advice or a good bible study. A good homily helps the Word come alive in people’s lives and does so responsibly, pastorally and theologically. This is good news. It should be life-changing. People should leave the Church moved to action, like the wise men who “went another way” after they met the Christ, or the disciples of Emmaus whose hearts were burning within them.

Using the above model, in preparing for a homily, I will always ask myself, is it simple, is it unexpected, is it concrete, is it credible,  is it emotional and did I use stories. Lastly, I will ask myself, is this a message that I would like to hear and that is news to me. I have amassed quite a list of questions to help me prepare, but I think that it is a good way to stay focused on the purpose of a homily.

Come back next time and I’ll give you some tips that I learned in Theatre school about communicating a message and bringing a written text to life.

Proclaiming the Word: Part Three

Last time  I wrote about what makes a good homily and what is an image of a preacher.  At the preaching conference, most of the presenters dedicated their talks to how a homilist should prepare. “Prepare the homilist; not the homily” was a phrase used by Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto during the keynote opening address. This, of course, does not mean that a preacher should not prepare the homily. Here’s how I think a homilist should prepare.

A good preacher must first be a person of the Gospels. Both Fr. Guerric DeBona, OSB in his book Preaching Effectively, Revitalizing Your Church as well as the USCCB publication, Fulfilled in Your Hearing speak of being “listeners of the Word” and “listeners of the people.” Not only do I have to be knowledgeable of Scripture, but I must pray the Scriptures. I must let the Scriptures speak to me – not just while preparing a homily, but all the time. The practice of Lectio Divina and the Office of Readings as is the Liturgy of the Hours, are an integral part of this. In fact, out of the eight presenters during the conference, five of them spoke of the importance of Lectio Divina.

When I approach the Scriptures I am not just reading and/or praying. I also go to the Scriptures to look for hope. I must ask myself, where is the hope in this reading? Where is the good news? Fulfilled in Your Hearing suggests that preachers go to the Scriptures asking four questions:

1-What is the human situation to which these texts were originally addressed?

2-To what human concerns and questions might these same texts have spoken through the Church’s history?

3-What is the human situation to which they can speak today? And

4-How can they help us to understand, to interpret our lives in such a way that we can turn to God with praise and thanksgiving?

In order to help the People of God find meaning for themselves in the Gospel message, I must ask these questions. I must ask these questions every time I read Scripture, so that they become second nature to my relationship with the Scriptures.

But, I began last time, by defining a homily as a witness that is honest, truthful and authentic. It needs to be clear, simple and concrete. It also needs to be pastoral, sacramental, liturgical and doctrinal. And so, I need to ask myself all these questions. I also need to zero in on the key message that I hope to share. This will force me to have one message and not a confusion of ideas. I need to think of concrete ways to share and interpret this message. It may require research. It may require looking at current affairs or examples from popular culture. The key message needs to be something about Christ or God. It is not enough to say, for example, that “today’s message is that we need to go to confession.” That is not Christ-centred. The Christological message about confession is that Christ forgives all our sins! That is good news! But, it may not be sufficient to say that Christ forgives all our sins – how do we respond to this good news?

And so an important approach for me is to find a key message. Fr. DeBona calls it the “pearl” or “focus.” The focus has to be about Christ or God. Then I have to find what Fr. DeBona calls the “function.” The function has to be an action with which the congregation can respond to the “focus.” For example, if the focus is that Christ forgives all our sins, the function can be that we need to be repentant and approach the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

In 1999 the Catholic Association of Teachers of Homiletics (CATH) updated its 1992 “Report on Homiletics Curriculum and Preaching Professor Certification”. The resulting document is titled, Roman Catholic Homiletic Preaching Competencies, but is referred to as the “CATH White Paper”. According to the “white paper” the homily needs to be sacramental and liturgical. One way of achieving this is to find part of the “function” (the response to the “Focus”) in how we respond through the Sacraments and through the Liturgy. It is always appropriate to lead out of the homily inviting people to enter into the next movement of the Liturgy. This should not be hard if the homily is indeed inviting us to praise and thanksgiving.

Lastly, I think that the homily needs to be doctrinal. This can simply mean that the truths that are being shared are not the preacher’s personal truths, but the truths of the Church. We have to be sure that what we are sharing is part of the Teaching Office of the Church. And so, to use the above example – to tell people that Christ will forgive our sins in the quiet of our bedroom, may need some further explanation if we are to be true to the fullness of the Church’s Teaching on the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Being doctrinal may mean, on occasion, that the preacher has to teach an important point of doctrine. This sometimes takes place on a special feast, where it may be appropriate to share briefly about a historical point (why we celebrate the Triumph of the Cross, or the Chair of Peter, for example). It is important, if we do so, that this is not the main focus of the homily. We have to remember that the focus needs to be Christ or God-centred.

And so we agree that the preacher has to be a man of prayer and a man of the Gospels. I spoke the first time that the preacher has to also be a listener of the people; the preacher must know his congregation. Today we looked at some ways a preacher can help focus on what the message of a particular homily is. Next time we will look at some more tips for making your homily effective and memorable.

Proclaiming the Word: Part Two

As I wrote last Sunday, last week I attended a preaching conference as part of St. Augustine’s Seminary 100th anniversary events. It was a who’s who in preaching, with all the talks by homiletics experts from all over North America.

I think about homilies all the time. Not so much because I have to prepare one at least once a month, but because I have to listen to one at least once a week. I’m also a public speaker, and TV and radio host, so I am thinking about communication all the time.

After the conference I dug out a paper I wrote when I was in formation for the Permanent Diaconate for our homiletics course. One of the main questions we had then (and that I still have now) is “what is a homily?”. How would you respond to that question?

Here’s my definition: A homily is a joyful, loving, passionate, clear, simple and concrete teaching/learning, challenge and witness that empowers and encourages to action and to growth the people of God through the power of the Word. A good homily needs to be truthful, authentic and honest, as well as sacramental, liturgical, scriptural, pastoral, doctrinal and Christological. Our homiletics professor, Deacon Peter Lovrick thought that was a tall order.

But I think that an outstanding homily has to be authentic, personal, loving and honest. If I want to be an outstanding preacher, I need to speak with authority and joy. I have to use concrete images, stories and other tools, such as music or art to share the Good News.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has a very helpful little document on preaching called “Fulfilled in Your Hearing”. According to that publication, a preacher is a “mediator of meaning, representing both the community and the Lord”. This makes sense to me. It means that the preacher is so much more that someone who interprets Scripture: “The preacher acts as a mediator, making connections between the real lives of people who believe in Jesus Christ but are not always sure what difference faith can make in their lives, and the God who calls us into ever deeper communion with himself and with one another.” The document continues, “Especially in the Eucharistic celebration, the sign of God’s saving presence among his people, the preacher is called to point to the signs of God’s presence in the lives of his people so that, in joyous recognition of that presence, they may join the angels and saints to proclaim God’s glory and sing with them their unending hymn of praise.”

To me, while the above deals with the purpose of a homily at a higher level (that a preacher’s job is really to lead people to thanksgiving and praise) the role of the preacher is much more specific. Homilies that move me are ones that are personal and spoken with honesty and truth. They are pastoral in that they help me make connections between the realities of my life and the realities of the Gospel. A good homily doesn’t always give answers, but helps us see how God is present and acting in our lives, in the midst of whatever reality we may be facing. Fulfilled in Your Hearing clarifies this: “What the Word of God offers us is a way to interpret our human lives, a way to face the ambiguities and challenges of the human condition, not a pat answer to every problem and question that comes along.” In this way, in order for a homily to be pastoral, it has to be scriptural and also Christological.

I was eager to meet Fr. Guerric DeBona, OSB at the conference because we studied with his book Preaching Effectively, Revitalizing Your Church. In it he offers four models of preaching, as described by Robert Waznak (who has written many books on preaching, the most popular, An Introduction to the Homily). The four models are: The Herald; the Witness; the Teacher and the Interpreter. (Preaching Effectively, pages 156-162)

HERALD: The word herald is taken from the New Testament Greek word, “kerusein”, which literally means, “to proclaim”. I like the image of the proclaimer (more so than the word herald) which really does not mean much to me. After all, Jesus himself sent us to the ends of the earth to proclaim the good news (Mark 16:15) and the Second Vatican Council Document, Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests, states clearly that the primary duty of priests (and deacons) is the proclamation of the Gospel to all. (Chapter II, Section 1, #4)

John the Baptist is the image of the herald for me. While other prophets, like Isaiah or Jeremiah are also proclaimers of the Word, John the Baptist literally proclaims THE Word, who is Christ. He is the voice crying out in the wilderness. (Mark 1:2-3) Like John the Baptist, a proclaimer is more than just someone who speaks. To proclaim is to announce passionately; to declare publicly. Proclaim it from the housetops  (Matthew 10:27) was Pope John Paul II’s message in 2005 to those responsible for Communications. (Apostolic Letter, The Rapid Development, John Paul II) and a message he repeated to pilgrims at World Youth Day 2002. To proclaim requires something important that has to be said. We cannot proclaim in secret. Proclamation requires a large voice, for the message is monumental. If proclamation required a musical instrument, it would not be a flute, but a trumpet!

WITNESS/TEACHER: If the Gospel of Mark ends with Jesus‚ command that we are to proclaim the good news to the whole creation, (Mark 16:15) the Book of Acts tells us how we are about to do this. The author of the Book of Acts describes the same event slightly differently: Before his ascension, Jesus tells the disciples, that they will be clothed with power from on high and they will be his witnesses throughout the ends of the earth. (Acts 1:8) If Mark says that we are to proclaim, Luke in Acts tells us that we are to do so by witnessing! Fr. DeBona uses a wonderful explanation of the power of witness, taken from Paul VI’s On Evangelization in the Modern World. Paul VI wrote that people are looking for authenticity, truth and honesty and therefore they respond more to witnesses than to teachers. In fact, if they respond to teachers, it is because these teachers are witnesses first. While the image of teacher is not entirely a bad one for me, sometimes we associate teachers with someone who is authoritative and who speaks above the listeners. Sometimes teachers are more concerned with being heard and with teaching than they are with relating. It is because of this that I prefer to use the image of proclaimer and witness, than that of teacher, although, I do believe that there is a place for teaching during a homily.

INTERPRETER: The last image Robert Waznak proposes is that of an interpreter. This is an image that is also found in Fulfilled in Your Hearing, as we saw above. While the meaning of the word may be accurate, it is not an image that for me conjures up warmth and relationship. To me, an interpreter is merely someone concerned with meaning and ideas. I think that a preacher is much more. A preacher interprets the Gospel into the realities of the listeners, but more importantly does so in a spirit of hope.

ANOTHER IMAGE: The end of the Gospel of Luke leaves us with a wonderful image of a preacher: Jesus himself. On the road to Emmaus, Jesus opens up the Scriptures to the two travellers. (Luke 24:13-35) At the end, they were left with hearts burning within them. (Luke 24:32) Every outstanding homily has left me with my heart burning within me. How do we do this? I think that first of all the preacher’s heart has to be burning. Fr. Guerric DeBona offers a wonderful image: John Wesley was once asked about the source of his effective preaching. Wesley said, “I set myself on fire and people come to watch me burn.”

MY IMAGE OF PREACHER: To me, a preacher is like a bon-fire that signals to a great distance and also gives warmth and invites people to gather. A preacher is also like a trumpet playing a warm melody. It carries importance and royal authority. His message is moving and touches the heart. It proclaims and witnesses to the good news. For these reasons, the word that best conjures up the image of a preacher for me is evangelisor.  The word evangelisor, by definition, is someone who shares or spreads the good news, the Gospel. An evangelisor is a proclaimer and a witness. An evangelisor sometimes teaches and sometimes interprets (as Jesus did on the road to Emmaus). I hope to be a preacher who, first and foremost is the bringer of good news. But not just any good news: the Good News of Jesus Christ. I hope to proclaim it, as it is the most important news there is to share. I hope to do so passionately and with joy. I hope to be a voice crying out in the wilderness. I hope to set myself on fire with the Word and, by the Grace of God, this fire will spread to those all around.

Come back on Sunday to find out how I think all homilists should prepare and please, tell me what you think. What do you think defines a good homily? What is your image of a preacher? Share your thoughts with us.

Proclaiming the Word: Part One

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Pope Benedict wrote in the Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini that “the homily is a means of bringing the scriptural message to life in a way that helps the faithful to realize that God’s word is present and at work in their everyday lives.” (VD 59) Add to that the 18 pages that Pope Francis dedicated to preaching in his Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium. In it he writes: “The homily is the touchstone for judging a pastor’s closeness and ability to communicate to his people. We know that the faithful attach great importance to it, and that both they and their ordained ministers suffer because of homilies: the laity from having to listen to them and the clergy from having to preach them!” (EG 135) It was with these thoughts in mind that I attended the preaching conference held at Toronto’s St. Augustine’s Seminary last week. The conference was titled, “How to Make Catholic Preaching Better.”

I’m a deacon. I am the minister of the Word. I think homilies are important. But before I was a deacon, I thought homilies were important (I went to theatre school and have spent the last 30 years of my life doing live theatre, film and TV, so I’ve always been a bit critical of public speakers in general) and I suspect that most of you “attach great importance” to the homily, but did you know that according to the Church, preaching is the main duty of deacons, priests and bishops? Fr. Guerric DeBona, OSB of St. Meinrad Seminary made this point very clear. In the Vatican II decree on the ministry and life of priests it says, “The People of God are joined together primarily by the word of the living God. And rightfully they expect this from their priests. Since no one can be saved who does not first believe, priests, as co-workers with their bishops, have the primary duty of proclaiming the Gospel of God to all. In this way they fulfill the command of the Lord: “Going therefore into the whole world preach the Gospel to every creature” (Mk 16:15) (Presbyterorum Ordinis #4) On the last day of the conference, Toronto Auxiliary Bishop, John Boissoneau reminded us that since the Council of Trent it has been the primary duty of Bishops to proclaim the Word of God.

So why is it that so often we come out of the Liturgy of the Word uninspired and unmoved? When was the last time you heard a good homily? Or better yet, what is a good homily? Toronto Deacon Peter Lovrick, who organized the conference began by telling us the results of a survey of  conference participants: 50% said that generally in North America preaching needed improvement; however 43% of the respondents claimed that their preaching was “good”. Fr. James Heft, SM of the Institute for Advanced Catholic Studies of the University of Southern California also shared the results of a survey he used to do with seminarians. Commonly they would say that 90% of homilists were poor preachers. At the same time, 90% of these same seminarians would often claim that they were good preachers.

When Cardinal William Levada was Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith I heard him say that a good homily had to be scriptural, catechetical, pastoral and liturgical. That means that first, it has to be based on the readings of the day. Not necessarily that they have to be a Bible study, but it should be rooted in the readings. But it also has to be an opportunity for teaching us something about our faith and our relationship with God. They need to be pastoral because everything we do as ministers of the Word (which is not just preaching, by the way) is pastoral. That’s why Pope Francis keeps reminding us that we need to smell like the sheep. The pastoral component of the homily is the part that connects with the listeners, helping them make sense in their lives what is being proclaimed. Lastly, the homily is not separate from the liturgy. There’s a reason why the homily happens in the Mass; it’s not just a speech, lecture or sermon. The homily should invite us to respond to the Word through the Sacraments and through the Liturgy. It is always appropriate to lead out of the homily inviting people to enter into the next movement of the Liturgy. This should not be hard if the homily is indeed inviting us to praise and to thanksgiving. Outgoing rector of St. Augustine’s, Mons. Robert Nusca reminded us in his talk that a homily is not an academic exercise; it is rather a conversation between Christ and the people. The homily should lead to prayer, but also to thinking. Many of the other presenters said the same thing.

In Verbum Domini Pope Benedict also wrote: “[The homily] should lead to an understanding of the mystery being celebrated, serve as a summons to mission, and prepare the assembly for the profession of faith, the universal prayer and the Eucharistic Liturgy.” (VD 59) I guess that’s why I’ve been trying to say.

Several of the speakers at the conference made the point that while the preacher must be a listener of the Word, he must also be a listener of the people. A preacher must know the congregation. A preacher must be with the people; a shepherd must be with the sheep. Fr. Guerric DeBona who is also the author of the homiletics book that I studied with, Preaching Effectively, Revitalizing Your Church (Paulist Press), said that the shaping of your homily text must be determined by who is listening: “If the text is not geared to the particular congregation, the word is not “fulfilled in their hearing.” He added that the text needs to be brought to life. The preacher needs to put flesh and bones to the message for that particular congregation. It sounds like something I would have learned in Theatre school.

The opening keynote address was given by Toronto’s Archbishop, Cardinal Thomas Collins. One of his comments was that we must prepare the homilist before we prepare the homily. In fact, most of the speakers dedicated their talks to this very thing: helping prepare the homilist. The homilist has to be a man of prayer. The homilist has to in relationship with Scriptures. The homilist must be in constant study and prayer with the Word. As well as Cardinal Collins, four other of the eight presenters spoke about Lectio Divina and how important such type of prayer is for a homilist. Lastly, as I just wrote above, the homilist must be with the people.

The main question that I still have is what makes a good homily. I’m curious to know what you think. Do you believe that content is more important than style; that the medium is the message? Is it enough to have a great message if the preacher is not a good communicator? To read or not to read? To walk around or to stand behind the pulpit? If you are a preacher, how do you prepare? Write a comment; share with us what you think.

Attending the conference made me go back to a paper that I wrote for our homiletics class while I was in formation for the permanent diaconate. Come back on Wednesday and I’ll share with you what I found.

 

To listen to a conversation I had with Fr. Guerric DeBona on this very subject, listen to the May 31, 2014 edition of the SLHour.

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Photo credit: Jesuit Father Gregory C. Chisholm, pastor at St. Charles Borromeo Church in the Harlem section of New York, delivers a homily at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

Respecting End of Life: Part 5

Resident Priest blessed centenarian at Little Sisters home in Washington  (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec) (Sept. 30, 2009)

Resident Priest blessed centenarian at Little Sisters home in Washington (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec) (Sept. 30, 2009)

We’ve spent the last month looking at what it means to have euthanasia and/or assisted suicide legal in our country (see part 4, part 3, part 2 and part 1). Let me conclude by giving you some definitions to help you have this conversation with your family and friends.

  1. Passive Euthanasia: Some will claim that this is disconnecting someone from medical life-support equipment without which they cannot live. This is NOT euthanasia. Disconnecting someone from an artificial life support system is not euthanasia, passive or otherwise. It is called withholding extraordinary care. Disconnecting someone from a respirator without which their lungs (or heart) would not naturally function is not killing them. They are already dead without the machine. This is different than ordinary care, like a feeding tube. In the case of Terri Schiavo, the courts considered that she was receiving extraordinary care, even though she was breathing on her own and her heart was beating on its own. The “extraordinary care” in Terri’s case was a feeding tube. But feeding someone is not giving them extraordinary care – it’s feeding them. It’s no different than feeding a baby who can’t feed herself. Terri Schiavo didn’t die because they removed a medical life-support system without which she could not live. She died because she was starved to death. Tube or no tube, no one was even allowed to wet her lips with a towel. There’s no dignity, freedom or choice in that.
    NOTE: It is permissible to have someone on life support (extraordinary care) if there is hope of their recovery. It is permissible to withdraw extraordinary care if there is no hope of recovery.
  2. Self-Deliverance is suicide. It’s taking your own life.
  3. Assisted Suicide is Physician Assisted Suicide. A doctor prescribes drugs and then you take them yourself. He doesn’t assist you in taking them, he assists you by prescribing them. But you have to be able to take them yourself.
  4. Active Euthanasia: This is the only kind of Euthanasia there is (as opposed to passive euthanasia, which is not euthanasia). This is when the doctor (or someone else) injects the lethal drugs, because you can’t do it yourself. The current law in Canada calls this murder under the Criminal Code. Euthanasia can be voluntary (you asked the doctor to do it), or involuntary. Take note: 2400 or so cases of euthanasia and assisted suicide are reported each year in Holland. But in 1991, the Dutch Government conducted a study that found that there were actually closer to 12,000 assisted suicides that year. Of these, the patient did not request or consent to being killed in close to 6,000 cases. One of the doctors explained that it would have been “rude” to discuss the matter with the patients, as they all “knew that their conditions were incurable.” This is what could easily begin happening now in Quebec.

The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition in Canada defines Euthanasia as: to intentionally cause death by action or omission of an action, for allegedly merciful reasons. And Assisted suicide is to knowingly provide the means for a person to kill him or herself.

I’m sorry this is so long but we need to let Canadians know the dangers of having a euthanasia mentality. Once we legalize something, it becomes part of our collective belief system. I truly believe that. So, legalizing it today, means that three generations from now, it will be commonly accepted that it’s ok to resort to killing in order to deal with difficult situations. That’s the slippery slope. And there are no safeguards that will work. Once we accept that killing is OK in order to relieve suffering, killing will be the norm. Once we accept that killing is OK under certain circumstances, we’ll soon begin to think that killing is OK under ANY circumstances. And next thing you know, killing will be acceptable to rid us of other inconveniences.

For more information you can contact the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, the International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide or the Catholic Organization for Life and Family

Respecting End of Life: Part 4

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Priest offers Communion to elderly man in Chile (CNS photo/Ivan Alvarado, Reuters) (April 15, 2010)

 I had been explaining some red-flags that I found in the book Final Exit by Derek Humphry (see Part 3, and also Part 2), and ended up talking about relativism: You may not want euthanasia for yourself, but don’t impose your beliefs on someone else, which is the number one flaw with this book, and with the thinking of anyone who is actually considering that euthanasia or assisted suicide are viable options. We can’t all come up with these things on our own. Your personal autonomy shouldn’t be permitted to trump the safety and well-being of society. In the words of disability-rights-activist Catherine Frazee (she used to be the chair of the Ontario Human Rights Commission), “It’s not about the particularities of a law and what it prevents and prohibits. It’s much more about the messages of the law and how those messages get translated into a social and cultural order.” (Catherine is featured in our documentary on Euthanasia, Turning the Tide, which I produced for S+L Television back in 2006.)

I spoke to Derek Humphry at the Right to Die Conference in Toronto in 2006. I said to him that I found his book compelling (which is true). But I had one difficulty and that was his use of the word “dignity.” I said that when people who believe in God use the word “dignity” I understand what they mean. But when someone, who doesn’t believe in God uses that word, it’s meaningless. I don’t know what they mean. So I asked, “what do you mean when you say “dignity?” He couldn’t answer me. He said that we all have to come up with our own definitions.

But I looked it up:

Dig•ni•ty Pronunciation: ‘dig-n&-tE Function: noun Etymology: Middle English dignete, from Anglo-French digneté, from Latin dignitat-, dignitas, from dignus 1 : the quality or state of being worthy, honoured, or esteemed 2 a : high rank, office, or position b : a legal title of nobility or honour 3 archaic : DIGNITARY 4 : formal reserve or seriousness of manner, appearance, or language

I don’t think he means “high rank, office or position” or anything about manner or language. He means “the quality or state of being worthy.”

If you don’t believe in God, from where does your dignity come? Nowhere. That’s where. There is no reason to consider human life has any value whatsoever if we believe we are the result of an accidental primordial blast and if we don’t believe there is anything after this life. I’m not saying you have to believe in God or in the afterlife, but if you don’t, don’t go around pretending that human life has value and worth. I’ve said this before, without God, we would be subject to entropy, which only leads to disorder and death. As soon as you accept that there is dignity in life, you have to accept that there is dignity in all life. I’m not going to decide which life is valuable and which one isn’t. Is Teague Johnson’s life valuable? Is Tracey Latimer’s not valuable? Was Terri Schiavo’s life not valuable (her brother, Bobby Schindler is also featured in Turning the Tide)? Are we suggesting that laws can be formulated to tell us whose life is valuable and whose isn’t? I currently working on Creation, a six-part series looking at the Catholic Church’s teachings on the environment and ecology. What I’ve discovered while working on Creation is that we can’t even come to the point of believing that we must care for the environment if we don’t first treat human beings and all creation with respect and all life with the dignity that comes with being created.

This leads me to my last point which has to do with the concept of quality of life. According to Humphry, self-deliverance should be an option when our quality of life has been reduced to mere existence. What are the criteria for life? Are some lives more valuable than others?

If you have life, then you have quality and value. Is it right for a depressed teen-ager that believes his life has no quality to kill himself? When I worked at Covenant House-Toronto, we did everything we could to help that teen-ager. We offered counseling and help. If we tell a person who is terminally ill that it’s OK to end their life, then we are actually saying that their life is not as worthy as another life. Your quality of life does not come from what you are able to do or not do; it comes from who you are. It comes from your relationships; how you relate to others. It comes from your ability to love and be loved. Compassion means giving them the proper emotional and physical pain control and being with them, loving them, caring for them, making them feel worthy. What we need in Canada is not legalized euthanasia or assisted suicide, what we need is better palliative care.

Come back next week for some final thoughts and definitions that will help you have this conversation with your family and friends.

Respecting End of Life: Part 3

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An extraordinary minister of holy Communion, visits with patient for World Day of the Sick (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz, Long Island Catholic) (Feb. 10, 2012)

In Part II, I gave a background on the author of the book Final Exit, Mr. Derek Humphry and a bit about the Right-to-Die movement. I do believe that the book is very compelling, but it contains some red flags. Here are some of them:

Choice: We have been brought up to believe that freedom means choice. But freedom doesn’t mean choice. Freedom means not being imprisoned. Recently I watched a wonderful documentary, Irreplaceable, produced by Focus on the Family. In it, one of the experts explained that the three generations have been the most permissive and “free”. It is not coincidence that it is these three generations that also have been the most addicted and depressed. That’s because we think that freedom is doing whatever we want when in fact the one thing that holds us most captive are our own desires. That’s the problem with freedom and choice. And when it comes to life and death, once we accept that it’s legally OK to kill another human being, it is not a long way until we will claim that it is our basic human right to have options in how we kill each other.

For those of us who believe in God, ultimately choice is about control and the minute we take control, we take control away from God. If you don’t believe in God, of course that it makes sense that you should have control over everything that you do. But I can’t even think of one aspect of my life over which I should have control. In all things, God should be in control.

A Good Death: This is what Humphry says the dilemma is: “should you battle on, take the pain, endure the indignity and await the inevitable end, or should you take control of the situation and resort to some form of euthanasia which in modern language means, ‘help with a good death’?” According to Merriam/Webster, euthanasia is defined as “the act or practice of killing or permitting the death of hopelessly sick or injured individuals (as persons or domestic animals) in a relatively painless way for reasons of mercy”. I guess a “painless” way for reasons of mercy, equals a “good death”. I would claim that a good or bad death is directly related to whether you lived a good or bad life, not to the manner in which you die.

Suffering: Ask yourself this question, says Humphry, “Is your God willing to accept your suicide as a justifiable escape from further terminal suffering?” I suppose a non-Christian could consider this question. But if you call yourself a follower of Jesus Christ, find a crucifix and look at it. Is God willing to accept any human-controlled escape from any suffering? (Not to mention that there is only one God, not “your” god or “my” god).

Compassion: “This is compassion.” Humphry compares it all with putting an animal “out of its misery.” Someone endorsing the book is Isaac Asimov who says, “it’s cruel to allow humans to live in pain in hopelessness, in living death.” The truth is that compassion means, “to suffer with.” Killing you so you don’t have to suffer is not compassion.

Freedom and autonomy: This is one of the most common arguments for euthanasia: If you don’t want it for yourself, that’s OK, but don’t impose your set of beliefs on those who would want it for themselves. But if we applied that argument to everything, what kind of world would we have? Or does it only apply if it’s doing something to your own body? Humphry says that “life is personal responsibility” and “we must decide for ourselves”. But truth is not relative. Truth is absolute. Whether killing (or suicide or self-deliverance or whatever you want to call it) is right or wrong is not relative. Either it’s wrong for everyone, no matter the circumstances, or right for everyone, no matter the circumstances. We can’t make that decision by ourselves. And you certainly can’t draw out a charter delineating when it’s ok to kill and when it isn’t. That would never work.

I’ll continue in a couple of days. Again, for more resources on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide visit our Turning the Tide page, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, or the Catholic Organization for Life and Family site.