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Un-Appealing Homilies

I was impressed with Rev. William Dillard’s article in the March-April 2010 issue, “Tell the Good News, Father!”

Our pastor is a holy priest, gifted with the Holy Spirit, and we look forward to his homilies that are almost always topical and reflect the Word of God from the Bible, remaining deeply steeped in sacred tradition. We learn from these few precious moments, and depart just a little more knowledgeable, just a little bit wiser, and with a sense of thanksgiving that we attended Mass.

But there is some sadness that occurs a few times each year. It seems our local bishop requires that a homily be preached on the gospel according to “saint money.” If it were up to our pastor, these would fall by the wayside: He would rather serve God than mammon. Recently we had a couple of very precious readings—what conventional wisdom would call “teachable moments.” Instead, we endured 12 wrenching minutes on the needs of the Annual Catholic Appeal. The message in the Word of God was forgotten after the pastor’s (apologetic) first sentence.

Can’t some effort be expended to make the Mass the sanctuary from the world, the flesh, the devil? Our pastor would welcome this! I understand the need to support the church, and do so in accordance with my means, but the homily itself should not become a fundraising venue. I wonder if, on those days, that message could be relocated to a different area. Announcements are sometimes made at the end of Mass inviting participation of some parish organization or activity, and are echoed in the parish bulletin. In my opinion, funding appeals need to reside here.

Let’s restore the homily to its rightful purpose.

—Bill Berry
San Diego, California

More Tips for Homilists

Would that all priests, deacons and seminarians read Fr. Dillard’s article on homilies. I might add some points:

  1. Homilies should follow the three-step format of the one-point speech (tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, tell them what you told them). One priest I know, an excellent homilist, gives the theology and background, followed by the practical application in Step 2. Another priest I know gives homework as part of Step 3. Some books on public speaking have instructions on one-point speeches. I like Raymond Stopper’s books, which pertain to writing as well as speaking.
  2. Homilies can be sharpened if they include contrast. A homily might compare the Protestant interpretation with the Catholic, or it might compare the secular point of view to the Catholic.
  3. Homilies should include the reasons for the Church’s teaching. Many homilists only state the Church’s teaching. The basis and reasoning are needed for dogmas but especially for moral teachings.
  4. Homilies should quote the readings as little as possible. We in the pews have already heard the readings.

—Fred Costello
Via Catholic Answers’ Forums

Romance—and Anti-Catholicism

The March-April 2010 issue has a question on page 45 regarding the morality of reading romance novels. The reply given was very good. However, I would like to point out that several Protestant publishing houses produce romance novels that are chaste—but loaded with anti-Catholic propaganda. These include (but are not limited to) the Barbour/Tyndale “Heartsong” line and Harvest House. Also, Broadman & Holman published a series of adventure novels laced with anti-Catholicism in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Questar/Palisades (Multnomah Press) did the same in the 1980s and 90s.

—Marie Wolf
Prosser, Washington

Everybody Believes Something

In the last two issues discussions have referred to atheists as unbelievers (Quick Questions, January-February; Letters, March-April). But atheists are believers. An atheist maintains that God does not exist, something that cannot be proven. Thus, he believes that God does not exist. The non-existence of God is his faith.

An agnostic has faith, too. An agnostic maintains that he has no faith, because he believes neither in atheism nor in God. He tries to get around it by saying that he simply does not know. However, an agnostic has to decide to live either as if it matters or as if it doesn’t matter. The way his coin falls represents his faith.

Everyone has to believe something. We can’t get away from mystery.

—Francis J. Slama
Montgomery, Illinois

Heresy in the Anglican Use?

The establishment of a personal ordinariate for converts from the Anglican communion has little attraction for some Anglicans. As a former Anglican familiar with the theology of Thomas Cranmer, I find it difficult to accept a rehabilitated Cranmerian prayer book: The Book of Divine Worship.

I accept that the Catholic Church has maintained the validity of the Mass [for Anglican-use parishes] by insisting on the Roman Canon in place of Cranmer’s heretical Holy Communion “consecration” prayers. However, other things left in the Book of Divine Worship (BDW) disturb me.

My lack of enthusiasm for the BDW is based on my awareness of the historical and theological context of these prayers. I feel their retention mocks the Holy Sacrifice.

Is it legitimate to overturn Cranmer’s theology and adapt it for Catholic worship? It was the Catholic Church who handed Cranmer over to the civil authorities to be burnt—for the very heresies which are now still included within the BDW. Among them are the phrase “in sure and certain hope,” which appears in the burial office and reflects Cranmer’s belief in the assurance of salvation.

Although the BDW has failed to attract American Anglicans (considerably less than one tenth of one percent of U.S. Anglicans), the [Anglican use] attracts many cradle Catholics. It is sold to them, as one Anglican-use priest describes, in this manner: “Cranmer’s work seemed to mould the piety and spirituality of Anglican Christians and for that reason the preservation of this liturgical tradition is an important part of the life of the Anglican use.” Another advocate of the BDW states, “Archbishop Cranmer wrote lovely prose . . . the familiar cadences of the Book of Common Prayer served as a vehicle for beautiful worship for generations of English-speaking Christians.”

Yet it was that same Cranmer who robbed them of the Sacrifice of the Mass, the priesthood, apostolic succession, prayers and veneration of the saints, prayers for the dead, and the sacrament of Extreme Unction. No worship that excludes the Sacrifice of the Mass and the gift of our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament is in reality true worship—no matter how beautiful the language!

The BDW is at best a hotchpotch of Cranmer and the Mass. It is neither authentic to ancient Catholic liturgy or the Protestant theology of Cranmer’s prayer book. It is a rehashing of Cranmer, who never intended his liturgy to be used in a “Popish” context, and cannot be described as Anglican liturgy. For if the patrimony of Cranmer is so good, why has it had to be so mutilated to fit the Mass? The real patrimony of Anglicanism is surely not in the heresies of Cranmer, but in men such as John Keble, C.S. Lewis, and a host of others, who through no fault of their own found themselves out of communion with the Catholic Church and who tried to live out Christian lives according to their lights.

—Robert Ian Williams
Cardiff, Wales

Fr. Dwight Longenecker replies: First, we are not in the 16th century now, but the 21st. If the phrases which offend can bear a Catholic meaning, then let them be interpreted in a Catholic way. Mr. Cranmer is not here to insist on how we interpret his words. Indeed, we have the magisterium and the whole teaching of the Church to interpret his words properly. More importantly, I understand that along with the new translation of the
Novus Ordo that a new version of the Book of Divine Worship will also be produced, and Mr. Williams’ points of detail may well be addressed.

Intelligent Design, Mysterious Ways

The enlightening interchanges over the past couple of years centered around Intelligent Design (ID) have been very helpful. As a teacher of theology and biology at the high school level, I face an annual challenge, both personal and professional, to reconcile my understanding of God’s creation of life. Romans 1:19-20 tells us that the existence of God and certain of his characteristics can be know without special revelation. ID seems to confirm that creation is full of design elements. Yet evolutionary scientists’ evidence-based speculations outline ways in which what looks like design can arise by the operation of chance.

Here’s an insight that may help: God made us in his own image, with free will and an intellect. He will do nothing to force us to believe in him or acknowledge our responsibilities toward him. If there were unequivocal evidence in nature of his existence and providential care, that would constitute a kind of intellectual coercion that would immobilize the freedom of our wills, and our imaging God himself. So, in his loving providence, he has made the universe to speak equivocally to us. I suspect that sometime, probably sooner rather than later, some evolutionary scientist will come up with a plausible theory that, for instance, explains how complex biochemical systems like the operation of the retina or the Krebs cycle could evolve “all at once.” That would probably win him a Nobel prize and praise from all the diehard atheists, but, as your writers ought to agree, would prove nothing about God other than that he works in subtle and mysterious ways in his dealings with us weak and sinful humans.

—Deacon W. Patrick Cunningham
San Antonio, Texas

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