Archbishop O’Brien’s Lecture

The text below is taken from the Pontifical North American College’s Magazine, Fall Issue, 2001, page 10. By Chris Mahar, Diocese of Providence, Class of 2004.

“Preaching the Truth with Love”

On January 11, 2001 the Most Rev. Edwin F. O’Brien, Archbishop of the Military Services and former rector of the North American College, delivered the third annual Carl J. Peter Lecture. The theme of his address was “Preaching the Truth with Love.”

In light of the New Evangelization, Archbishop O’Brien outlined the challenges that the priest faces in today’s culture. Secular hostility to Church authority, as well as an exaggerated sense of individualism, can seem daunting to even the most effective preacher. Still, Archbishop O’Brien counseled acceptance of people, because “… as proclaimers we must know our audiences.” Indeed, he added that we must also love them; we must follow the example of Christ and be willing to wash their feet. One of the more effective ways of doing this, he said, involves the preacher’s willingness to be present to others and to listen.

Revealing his own priestly heart, Archbishop O’Brien stressed that the process of listening and proclaiming is always to be tempered with the virtue of patience. God’s word is indeed powerful and effective, but it cannot be forced or manipulated. The priest needs to be sensitive to the world, treating it with respect and reverence. His preaching needs to be much more than a display of doctrine and theological knowledge for the people of God. “We are placed in their midst to evangelize,” he said, “not simply to instruct; to convert hearts, not merely to impart information; to encourage a love affair with Jesus Christ and His Church.”

In order for this kind of an encounter to take place God’s people must encounter a preacher who both knows the word, and is impelled by it. Archbishop O’Brien referred to the encyclical Evagelii Nuntiandi, in which Pope Paul IV described how modern man is willing to listen to witnesses more than teachers who rely on words alone. Teachers themselves must first be good witnesses. “Our proclaiming will be effective in changing hearts,” he said, “to the extent that the word of God has taken flesh in the preacher.”

Archbishop O’Brien’s own witness was both inspiring challenging. In his preaching he made it clear that the priest in the world today must have the sensitivity to listen, the conviction to live the message he proclaims, ad the courage to proclaim the truth with love.