ARCHBISHOP JEROME E. LISTECKI
Recently, I was doing a taping for my weekly Relevant Radio Show with co-host Bob Benes. The topic for our program was an interview with two priests ordained for just over a year. Fathers Will Arnold (Christ King) and Aaron Laskiewicz (St. Dominic) they were invited to share their thoughts on priesthood one year later. All of us grow in our vocations, i.e. marriage, occupations, etc. There are many things that we anticipate yet others which come as surprise. A couple celebrating their first year in marriage would definitely have stories of unforeseen consequences of their married life. A young priest, although a seminarian for sometimes as long as eight years, still experiences new what it means to be a priest to occupy that role.
As I asked various questions of these “novice” priests, it was obvious to me that the fire was still in their bellies. I was most interested in one particular question. I asked them how they prepared for their daily and weekly homilies. In almost every survey taken among Catholics who attend Sunday service, they inevitably mention the importance of the homily. Both of our young priests mentioned the importance of the homily and even in the midst of their “busyness,” the attention they pay to the readings for Sundays and weekdays. All of us acknowledged the significance of the homiletic message for all Catholics.
At that point, my co-host, Mr. Benes, interjected that at a recent Sunday Mass he attended he was particularly moved by the homily delivered by his pastor. After Mass, he felt a need to go up to his pastor and tell him just how impactful the homily was. He was surprised when the priest responded with, “What particularly do you remember from the homily?” Bob said he couldn’t respond, that he couldn’t choose one phrase or idea. It was too difficult and he was left speechless before his pastor, who was perhaps thinking that he was offering faint praise. However, I can understand that speechless response of Bob because the homily is a total package; it is not just the crafting of words, presentation of insights but it is also the delivery. One of the great homiletic presenters in the history of the Catholic Church in the United States was Archbishop Fulton Sheen.
I have watched “old” videos of Archbishop Sheen. There is little doubt in the profound insights he offers and the crafting of his words to express his thought, but what is also captivating is how he presents those ideas with timely pauses, his voice raised for emphasis and that look he gave to his audience to make a point. He presented the total package.
I understand Bob’s dilemma with the homily that he so admired. The great psychologist C.G. Jung understood the importance of the spiritual experience as the affirmation for the existence of God. The pastor’s homily touched, affirmed an experience of God speaking to Bob as a believing parishioner. Jung lamented the fact that too many theologians strive to prove the existence of God rather than helping people to realize God in their experience.
Jung says, “With a truly tragic delusion, these theologians fail to see the light that it is not a matter of theologians proving the existence of light but of blind people who do not know that their eyes could see. It is high time that we realized that it is pointless to praise the light if nobody can see it. It is much more needful to teach people the art of seeing” (Jung and the Christian Way by Christopher Bryant, page 3). My friend Bob saw the light, or call it “insight,” but it spoke to his soul and he was thanking his pastor for providing that moment.
I must admit to you that most homilies are experienced and not remembered. I remember someone saying to me when I was officiating a year later speaking to the same group worrying about repeating myself: “Hey Archbishop, don’t worry; no one remembers homilies anyway.” Testing that theory, I tried to remember the homily preached at my ordination as a bishop by Cardinal Francis George. I know that it was insightful and moving, but what little I remember was that it was about a “gift,” since it was right after Christmas, I was ordained a bishop Jan. 8, 2011.
On Tuesday, I had the privilege of installing the new bishop of Madison, who also was the former auxiliary of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and a native son, Bishop Donald Hying. I had the privilege of ordaining Bishop Hying and I tried to remember the homily I preached at his ordination. My memory failing, I retrieved a copy of the Catholic Herald from July 21, 2011. In the homily, I encouraged the new bishop to “satisfy the hunger.”
“You my brother Don, must use your position as leaders to help satisfy the hunger in all whom you serve, to bind the hurt of those who have been wronged and to heal those broken by sin. To help people understand God’s presence in his Church as he feeds them through word and sacrament.”
This would be accomplished by exemplifying three Christian traits: docility, generosity and holiness. Docility, openness to learning, especially from the people you serve. Generosity, having a servants heart expending yourself in Jesus’ name. Holiness, your personal holiness will verify all that you do. For remember what profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul. Holiness will keep you focused on the one in whose shadow we walk.
Whether Bishop Hying remembered the homily or not, he certainly has lived the spirit that called him to episcopal ordination. I am proud that we have been a small part of his journey and that the Diocese of Madison will now reap the benefits of his servant leadership.
The little-known secret of a true homily is that the deacon, priest or bishop is not preaching to the congregation but preaching with the congregation. He is preaching to himself and challenging not only the congregation but himself to experience and live the gospel proclaimed. As St. Francis said, “Preach the gospel always and occasionally use words.”