success stories

Posted January 11, 2004

A Great Meditation for Preaching

The Continuation of the Incarnation

from the best of Fulton J. Sheen

There are two kinds of truth: out and inner. An outer truth is one we master; e.g., the distance of the sun from the earth. An inner truth is one that masters us; e.g., God is merciful to the penitent. Outer truths of physics and chemistry come to us without desire, sorrow, pity, or emotion. Inner truths carry some emotion with them and influence behaviors; one cannot be indifferent to them. They are connected with purity of motive.

St. Thomas notes how differently a moral theologian understands chastity when he lectures about it than a person who has lived chastely for years. The latter has endured it and existentialized it as an inner truth. Some read the Bible as a lawyer might read a will, studying all the technical loopholes and exactness of phrase. How differently the heir reads the will. In like manner, the teacher who practices what he or she preaches will influence students more than the mouthers of textbooks. The listeners to unvirtuous teachers may will say: "I cannot hear what you say because I see the way that you live."

The correlation between the way I preach and the way I live is intimate. The Levites and priests who passed by the wounded man were probably on their way to the temple for liturgy or else to preach on "Love." Credibility and behavior are twins. Only those who practice their convictions are believable. Otherwise they are like announcers urging the viewers to buy a Chevrolet while they drive a Plymouth. There was some truth in the cry of Bonhoeffer during the Nazi days: "Only he who cries out in defense of the Jews dare permit himself to sing Gregorian!"

The preacher who bores others in the pulpit is a bore before he gets into it. He is not in love. He is not on fire with Christ. He is a burned out cinder floating in the immensity of catchwords. "For words that the mouth utters come from the overflowing of the heart." (Go to "search" on our web site and find Walter Burkhardt’s "Fire in the Belly"). Some other source than Christ is behind the sociological platitudes, moral chestnuts, and political bromides of the preacher.

Many of those in the pews today have sheepskins from colleges, and they are impatient of truthless priests who try to pull the wool over their eyes. The "lips of the priest shall contain knowledge"; priests must understand different approaches to their audience — for example, souls are not going to God today through the order in the universe; they are going to God through the disorder in their own souls. Hence, attention to the anxieties, fears, remorses and pains in the human heart. Psychological axioms are not deep enough to touch torn souls.