If the Preacher Makes You Sleep

7 February 2010 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Isaiah 6, 1-8; Psalm 138; 1 Cor 15, 1-11; Luke 5, 1-11

Note below is important.

A bus driver and a bishop were standing in line to get into heaven. The bus driver approached the gate, and St. Peter said, “Welcome, I understand you were a bus driver. Since I am in charge of housing, I believe I have found the perfect place for you. See that mansion over the hilltop? It’s yours.”

The bishop heard all this, and began to stand a little taller. He thought to himself, “If a bus driver got a place like that, just think what I’ll get.” The bishop approached the gate, and St. Peter said, “Welcome, I understand you were a bishop. See that shack over there in the valley?” St. Peter had hardly gotten the words out of his mouth when the irate bishop said, “I was a priest, then became bishop. I preached the Gospel, I helped teach people about God. Why does that bus driver get a mansion, and I get a shack?”

Sadly, St. Peter responded, “Well, it seems when you preached, people slept. When the bus driver drove, people prayed.”

I guess the point of the joke is clear: we are all called to holiness. People often believe that the priest or the religious are the ones closer to God. But the truth is: our holiness is determined by how we follow Jesus. In fact, I have met many lay people, like bus drivers, who bring people to God than preachers who torture their flock by having them listen to very long homilies without a clear point or direction. Fr. Joseph Galdon SJ used to say: “You can’t save souls after ten minutes!” [If you’re exciting, then 15 minutes max!] To prepare homilies is a great work of charity. To say it clearly and briefly can prevent people from bad thoughts!

Holiness is to be like Jesus. The Gospel tells us that Jesus used a boat on the shore to preach, and people listened to him. Intently. Eagerly. Hanging on to each word that comes from His mouth. It is the attractiveness of His words, the content of His speech, the relevance of His teaching that first caught the attention of His first disciples. It is to me, the first seduction.

And then Jesus proves that His words are not empty. He asks Simon Peter to throw his net into the deep. After expressing his reservation to do what he did the whole night, Simon obeys. And he catches a large number of fish. Then Jesus suggests that he too would be able catch a large number of people.

However, like Isaiah in the first reading, St. Paul in the second reading, and all of us “bus drivers”, Simon Peter think that he is unworthy. St. Paul acknowledges, “But by the grace of God, I am what I am, and his grace to me has not been ineffective.” By God’s grace, we have been given the ability to preach the Word of God. Through the Holy Spirit, we are made worthy by Jesus’ words. We just have to cooperate in the grace: Simon Peter still have to throw the nets!

Our efforts are important. How we are to preach the Gospel depends on us and our sensitivity to the recipients. It’s called the pastoral judgment; it’s called empathy. “If there is any one secret of success,” said Henry Ford, “it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from his angle as well as your own.” For example, if a friend just experienced the death of a loved one, a quote from the bible is not appropriate at that particular moment. But an embrace is. Would you have someone preach to you while your heart is breaking, or would you rather have someone sit quietly beside you with an arm over your shoulders? I prefer the latter.

The same thing with a large number of people: we get to know them and their needs, before we become effective teachers. And that includes the fact that in this day and age, the attention span is short. And the good thing is that scientists have proven that we are wired to be connected. Our mirror neurons (also called, Gandhi’s neurons) function like WiFi to connect to people.

So here is a step-by-step method from Fr. Joseph Galdon SJ. Think TS-DEV-TST. This will do well for your speech, talk, report, seminar, etc. Expand the formula for a paper or a thesis: TS (Thesis Statement) - DEV (Body) - TST (Conclusion).

1. TS (Topic Sentence). Tell the people what you want to say clearly. In one simple sentence. Just one point. You have the whole of your lifetime to explain everything.

2. DEV (Development). Develop that one point with illustrations, examples, anecdotes, a list, etc. You can have three small subpoints. Don’t swamp them with stacks of stories!

3. TST (Topic Sentence with a Twist). Tell it to them again. Add a little twist like a nice ending or a question for them to answer. That’s the glue so your point will not fall off their brains.

Then exit the podium or the pulpit right away! If you need a boat like Jesus to make things more dramatic, then do so. But don’t let the audience focus on the boat because you babble like a noisy gong without love (1 Cor 13: 1).

Or else, you’ll get a shack than a mansion.

Note: You can give this to your priest if they make you snore. And I'm dead serious.

1 comment:

Patrick said...

Wow. Strong words Fr. But it's true. My own parish church also has its own share of sleep-inducing preachers. I can relate to the blog post of chuvaness you linked to. But I guess I'm lucky because I don't base my faith on the ability of my preachers to convince me into the faith. I can hear as many "bad" homilies as I can but that won't change my faith. I think that's the problem because most people will base the authenticity of their faith on the quality of the priest's homilies. It's as if they look at preachers as lawyers defending Christ!

Anyway, I'd love to help our parish but I'm not really active in our church and I think an unknown parishioner like me giving this article to them would be rude. :(