May 21, 2010

Cum Brevitate Sermonis

When I was drafting my Pentecost homily yesterday morning, it came out short. I try to aim for two pages, double-spaced. This seems to keep me around the canonical delivery time of seven minutes or so. I don't use the manuscript when I preach; I write mostly as a way to consider structure and keep a sense of length.

When I tweeted up my surprise at the brevity of my composition, a confrere replied to remind me of chapter nine of the Rule:

Moneo quoque et exhortor eosdem fratres, ut in praedicatione, quam faciunt, sint examinata et casta eorum eloquia (cf. psalm 11:7 and 17:31, Vulgate), ad utilitatem et aedificationem populi, annuntiando eis vitia et virtutes, poenam et gloriam cum brevitate sermonis; quia verbum abbreviatum fecit Dominus super terram. (cf. Romans 9:28, Vulgate) Rule IX: 3-4.

"I warn and exhort the brothers that in the preaching that they do, their words be considered and chaste, for the usefulness and edification of the people, announcing to them vices and virtues, punishment and glory with a brief word; for the Lord made a short word on earth."

So I was comforted by the reminder. After all, nobody ever faulted a priest for preaching short. In fact, to be reliably brief in homilies is one easy way to endear yourself to the people.

This brings up a larger question which is of great interest to me: is there a particularly Franciscan way to preach? Is there a particular style or approach that distinguishes the Sunday preaching of a Franciscan from, say, a Dominican or a Jesuit or a secular priest? It seems to me that this is an especially important question for us male religious in the United States, where historical accident, missionary conditions, and ministerial design have pushed so many of us into the parish ministry. Do we operate and minister in a parish in a way that is particular to our charism? Or are we secular clergy in habits, allowing the life of parish to eclipse the observance of our religious life, as often happens? People will often say that they very much appreciate the Franciscan approach to ministry, and I presume that folks in parishes of other sorts of religious say the same thing about them. But when you try to narrow down and articulate exactly what it is that constitutes this particularly, I have often found both friars and parishioners a little stumped.

I think this question is a matter of health and survival for us, and theologically interesting besides.


Warren said...

I have always thought that the power of a Franciscan's preaching is the integrated whole picture he presents of word, action, attitude, and demeanor. An affected "franciscan" attitude, all smily and gentle (but fake) is not the thing at all. The thing is, I've never seen two priests, or two friars, ever, that were the same. There is among God's family, a delightful diversity of personalities, style, and charisms.

One man, who is sober outwardly, may yet radiate a particularly authentic sense of joy. Another man, who sounds intellectual, can still show me a sense of simplicity, by the way he trusts God, and leans humbly on the saints for support in all he says, however intellectually capable he may be.

In all the best homilies I have ever heard, the Holy Spirit takes over, and I scarcely notice the person delivering it. This is not something I can predict, or describe. I merely realize afterwards, that a profound gift has been given, and that I am a beneficiary.

Sometimes I think all that we do for God is throw our paper cranes up in the air, and if he wills it, something happens and the paper crane becomes a real one, and flies up, up and away.


From George said...

St Francis has a reputation for using simple words to chastise sin and plant the love of Christ in his listener's hearts.

ben in denver said...

I have a reasonable exposure to the preaching of the Fraternity of St. Peter, the Oblates of the Virgin Mary, Dominicans, and secular clergy. Besides Archbishop Chaput, who has his own personal style (which is excellent but ususally runs to at least 40 minutes), I've heard the preaching of Franciscans maybe only a half dozen times.

What I've found is this.

As a general rule Fraternity preiests tend to focus on Salvation History , the lives of the Saints and Tradition in their preaching,

Oblates tend to focus on recent papal teaching and the Mercy of God,

Dominicans focus on Mercy and forgiveness,

secular clergy tend to incorporate more personal anecdotes to illustrate passages from scripture,

and Abp. Chaput, my most Francisican experience, dives very deeply into scripture and relates it to Church History (ususlly a saint) and calls on us to imitate these virtues.

Greg said...

The beauty of Francis was that he did not lecture but rather spoke directly to the heart of another. It is this focus on relationship, with humility and poverty removing anything that might block relationship, that captures Francis best.

Brother Charles said...

Everyone: Thanks for the illuminating comments!

Anonymous said...

My experience with the Franciscan daily masses is that the daily homilies are simple and direct. The message seems to be the primary concern and superfluous vocabulary seems to be held to a minimum. They are very much like the friars habits.

blogmeister said...

"Preach the gospel always, If necessary use words." Perhasps add "as few words as necessary"

caedmon said...

As a convert from Protestant Evangelicalism, I can't even imagine a 7-minute message as "long."

Don't get me wrong - I appreciate that "the sermon" is not the focal point of the mass and that while there is a place for the 45-minute lecture, the place is elsewhere. But, 3 years after confirmation, I still chuckle inside at the idea that 7 minutes is anywhere near "long." :D