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Preachers who are in love with Christ

On the Readings for April 18, 2021, the Third Sunday of Easter

"St. Peter Preaching in the Presence of St. Mark" (c. 1433) by Fra Angelico

• 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.)

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About Carl E. Olson 1220 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.


  1. Judas and Peter betrayed Christ. Judas long planned Peter thrice at the moment of truth. Both wept. Judas admitted his guilt, flung the 30 silvers back at the Sanhedrin. Peter too admitted his guilt. Peter repented and became a great preacher. Judas hung himself his bloody entrails dangling. Better that he not been born. What marked the different paths? Peter presumptuous and proud. Judas cynical and proud. Prideful Peter had faith in Christ. He loved him. Judas did not. Humiliated and now humbled Peter recovered Christ personally intervening. Judas had no faith. Left with his prideful love of self. That prideful self love refused to believe there existed a Messiah, a God capable of so merciful a love as possessed by Christ. Nonetheless there remained a sense of justice, since he confessed he betrayed an innocent man. After all Judas had good qualities. He was chosen by Christ. At this moment he could not deal with the ignominy of his having committed so contemptuous an act of betrayal. Enraged with his own injustice he destroyed that which his pride loathed. Himself. What divides the good preacher from the insufferable bore is love. Olson acknowledges the fiery love of this sunder. There is in this truth a demarcation perceived through the years in personal failures, and that of my brothers. A moment a process akin to betrayal of turning from that initial revelation to a lesser god.

  2. ‘ In love with Christ ..’ – good to read about the foundation needed .. yet , a bit of angst too that , that word , ‘in love ‘ might be misunderstood , esp. among non Christians ..The Apostles in ardent prayer with the Bl.Mother for 9 days and The Spirit descends on them , prior to the above bold witnessing of St.Peter , who thus experiences the all encompassing Love and holiness , in own body mind and soul , as in the Bosom of The Father in our Lord and that of The Mother , even if in a far lesser scale .. and ardently desiring others too to be open to same and requiting the love of the Most Holy Trinity for each of us , with The Love with which we are loved in The Lord , to thus be able to truly trust in same ..
    The Church has been in that mission ever since and thank God that our own Holy Father too witnesses to that love in his joyful and gentle ways world over , including in the devotion to the Holy Family .

  3. Thanks SO much Carl,

    A short article but a pearl of great price; how powerful and central is this! Let’s repeat it again and again and again!

    Over more that 70 years, I’ve hardly found a single Catholic clergy-person who is openly and frankly in love with the awesome revelation of God in Jesus Christ.

    I’m not sure, out of thousands, if there was even one who witnessed that they no longer lived but gloried that Christ lived in them.

    Is this clerical functionalism equivalent to a psycho-social condition where a person may have high intellect but no emotional intelligence?

    To anticipate a response: “Marty you are setting too high an expectation” , let the questioner listen to worship songs manifesting sincere and mature love of Jesus Christ; like these two:

    Jesus Only You (Acoustic) [Official Video] – Martin Smith – YouTube

    By the Grace of God — Gas Street Music, Tim Hughes – YouTube

    It might even be worth repeating previous comments:

    It’s easy to think of Pentecost as the day when a Jewish feast was replaced by a Christian celebration.

    The error in this way of thinking is that it ignores the reality of all those gathered in Christ’s name being Jews themselves and so fully aware of the rich, religious significance of this particular day.

    In Acts chapter 2, historian Luke tells us that Jesus’ friends were all of one accord and sitting together in a house in Jerusalem. The reason they’d assembled was that, like all good Jews, they were celebrating the latest spring harvest and also the giving of the Sinai covenant to Moses.

    They could not have anticipated the Holy Spirit filling the whole house with the sound of a cyclonic wind; or, imagined flickering flames settling on all of their heads. Then, God’s holy presence became even more personally evident when all of them experienced the intense joy of an anointing by the Holy Spirit, breaking forth in loud and prolonged shouting out of their praises of God’s works.

    So loud was their collective, ecstatic worship that crowds gathered around their house to see what was going on. Miraculously, these loud praise shouts were understood by people of many different language groups. The crowd perceived a great sign, in that the ecstatic speakers were all Galilean Jews and yet their words were readily comprehensible in fourteen or more diverse languages. Then some cynics dismissed this sign as merely the rantings of inebriated people.

    Peter showed his new, Holy Spirit-inspired leadership qualities by correcting the cynics and delivering what is probably the most passionate evangelistic sermon ever preached (Acts 2:14-40). Thousands were baptized for the forgiveness of their sins and came under the same Holy Spirit anointing. At this stage, all of these newly anointed believers were Jewish, and thus only able to grasp what was happening to them in terms of classical Judaism.

    Turning to today’s world: almost 2,000 years after those stirring events, what could attract the Holy Spirit to anoint us and incorporate us with God?

    Is it good works – well no; according to Jesus those are to be routine for us. Is it submission to religious rules and rituals – again, no; these are mere machinery necessary for social cohesion. What about the ten commandments – well, carefully obeying them benefits us and all humanity and so is not especially meritorious.

    The truth is we all fail to be as good as we should be; as fully religiously obedient as we could be; and as compliant to God as the commandments require us to be.
    Something more is needed; in fact, there is one thing that is essential.

    Nearly 2,000 years ago, on that reality-changing Pentecost day, the diverse women and men who gathered together had that one essential thing.

    They all loved Jesus Christ and gave up their everything to be with Him, to listen, to follow, and even to die for His sake. By and large they didn’t understand very much of what He taught them. It took years for them to gradually appreciate the full scope of His teachings and to carefully record them in the Gospels. Yet, they adored Jesus of Nazareth above all, and had offered their lives to Him.

    Their anointing by the Holy Spirit was a bit like God saying to them all: “You got it right; you’ll do!”
    And, who among us today would not want to be told that ?

    It’s time for the Church to return to her birthday, and cultivate sincere and openly expressed passion for The Lord Jesus Christ: our creator, sustainer, provider, savior, shepherd, only teacher, and best friend forever. Can our clergy please shout: “Amen!”

  4. Thank you Carl, wonderful article. You put your finger on the wound. How can you proclaim a God who is LOVE without love. However long a sermon with great theological content, but without Love, says Saint Paul, it is nothing. Pope Francis in Iraq had an audience of millions of Muslims and what did he proclaim? The bold headline: “In Jesus we can find a dialog with God”. JESUS IS GOD! What a missed opportunity to proclaim Christ. What would the apostles have preached? Jesus crucified for our sins, raised on the third day, now at the right of the Holy Power. He is the Christ, the Savior of the world. There is no salvation other than in His Holy Name. The Lord foretold that in the end times Love with grow cold. Words will be in vain if not preached in the love of Christ. The Lord will throw fire on the earth again; and I believe He will. “I have moved the bounderies of peoples, their treasures I have pillaged, and, like a giant, I have put down the enthroned. My hand has seized the nest the riches of nations; as one takes eggs left alone, so I took in all the earth, no one fluttered a wing, or opened a mouth, or chirped!… Therefore, the Lord, the Lord of hosts, will send among his fat one leanness, and instead of his glory there will be kindling like the kindling of fire.”(Is 10:13,14,16)

  5. Memorized the Baltimore Catechism — Via the dedicated Franciscans who traveled on Blue Bird to Saint James in Sag area on Archer Avenue. Went to Parochial Schools. Had Silent retreats for over 10 years, and Discerned Vocation in Nursing order of Sisters dedicated to Blessed Mother. Having lived in the Culture of the 50’s. one had a better chance of Seeing Jesus present in our world of the day. One of our Parish Priests invited a Charismatic Priest to speak at our Parish on Confession, and This priest was a Psychologist who told of his encounter, and told us to get in touch with our Defects, and He did not consider 40 year old women saying that they disobeyed their Mother as the root cause of His or Her — Problem. He mentioned the Root cause of of his Dislike of Certain individuals, and through an encounter with Christ, He realized that He had not Forgiven a person who had ridiculed him Every time He encountered this Simulated person, He had a dislike, amd Goc tells us to forgive others as we are forgiven. This CHarismatic Priest then heard confessions, and having told him that I did not seem to have confidence, He told me that in His encounter, that one should Pray for Discernment, and God would Speak to our == what Pope Francis call FLAWS!! — Was in my 40’s and the Answer that Came through was that — He was not REAL I realized then that we had ABSTRACT Knowledge, and like Bishop Sheen mentioned — We have to be in Love with a Person — This is the Month of the Eucharist, and over 60 percent of us do not believe in the TRUE Presence, and the Government is controlling our worshipping — using the Virus as a means of Control. Father Groeschel, the Franciscan who counseled persons who attempted Suicide told us that the individual told him that he or She was not in Control — I would like to believe that Judas was able to repent, and that we allow our loving God to Judge his Soul. Blessed Mother tells Visionaries that She has come to tell us — That She and Her Son are Real, and that Satan is attempting to turn us away from our LOVING GOD. Pope John Paul told us — Do Not Be Afraid, and Pope Francis First Words were Pray For me, and Never give up Hope, and Our Blessed Mother Tells us that Her IMMACULATE HEART WILL TRIUMPH –TotuS Tuus

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