• Acts 3:13-15, 17-19
• Ps 4:2, 4, 7-8, 9
• 1 Jn 2:1-5a
• Lk 24:35-48
Archbishop Fulton Sheen, who knew a few things about preaching, once wrote, “The preacher who bores others in the pulpit is a bore before he even gets into it.” Why? Is it because the preacher hasn’t worked on his delivery? Or because he has failed to be relevant in his words? No, Sheen wrote, it is due to a much deeper reason: “He is not in love. He is not on fire with Christ. He is a burned out cinder floating in the immensity of catchwords. … Some other source than Christ is behind the sociological platitudes, moral chestnuts and political bromides of the preacher.”
Strong words, but words to be taken seriously. The Church and the world both need good preaching—and preachers who are in love with Christ.
Today’s first reading describes the second powerful sermon delivered by a man who would not ordinarily, as men gauge such things, be considered a candidate for “great preacher” status. Although the Apostle Peter had been a successful fisherman and businessman, he likely possessed a modest educational background; he certainly was not a theologian in the sense of having studied in academic halls and having earned degrees. In addition, Peter often displayed a rash, petulant personality ill suited for the responsibility of preaching.
But not only was Peter—who had denied Christ three times not many weeks prior!—not a boring preacher, he was a preacher who spoke with power, authority, conviction, and words cutting to the heart. His sermon on Pentecost (Acts 2:14-41) was a masterful and moving declaration that Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, is Lord and Messiah. It centered, as all true preaching does, on the kerygma—the proclamation of salvation for mankind through the death and glorious resurrection of Christ, “the Holy and Righteous One”.
At the end of both sermons, Peter exhorted his listeners to repent and convert so sins might be removed, or “wiped away”. The removal of sin is through baptism, by which the Holy Spirit cleanses and purifies man, bringing him into intimate communion with the Father through the person of the Son. As the Catechism explains, “From the very day of Pentecost the Church has celebrated and administered holy Baptism” (par 1226), and, “Also, Baptism is the principal place for the first and fundamental conversion. It is by faith in the Gospel and by Baptism that one renounces evil and gains salvation, that is, the forgiveness of all sins and the gift of new life” (par 1427).
St. John, in his first epistle, provides further theological insight into this saving work. The Son, he writes, is a righteous and holy Advocate for us before the Father, as we cannot merit any favor or grace by our natural efforts. Jesus “is expiation for our sins”, that is, he took upon himself the punishment we deserved for our sins, and therefore made divine reparation as only the Incarnate Word can do. Now made children of God, we are called to keep the commandments—not as mere duties, but as active and willing participation in the love of God.
These saving truths are communicated in various ways, and preaching is an essential part of that proclamation. Fr. Peter John Cameron, O.P., in his book, Why Preach: Encountering Christ in God’s Word (Ignatius Press, 2009), notes what preaching is not. “But preaching is not speech-giving”, he warns, “No one was ever saved by a message. It would have been a waste of time for the Word to become flesh if it sufficed for the Father to send a memo instead of his Son. No one was ever saved by a mere discourse.” No, he insists, preaching discloses truth through “an encounter”.
That encounter is with the risen Lord. “Look at my hands and my feet”, Jesus told the frightened disciples, “Touch me and see…” There is the encounter: Look at Christ. Touch Christ. See Christ. Not just with physical sight, but also with spiritual vision. Then love is born—and it is never boring!
(This “Opening the Word” column originally appeared in the April 22, 2012, edition of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.)