Rev. Reilly’s Lecture
The text below is taken from the Pontifical North American College’s Magazine, Spring Issue, 2003, page 25.
Every year the North American College, through the Carl. J. Peter Chair of Homiletics, sponsors a lecture in the field of homiletics and public speaking. This year the College invited the Rt. Rev. Lambert Reilly, OSB, Archabbot of Saint Meinrad Archabbey in Indiana, to speak about the importance of a priest’s interior life in his preaching. Excerpts from his presentation follow.
“Heart Speaks to Heart”
Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks – Ex abundantia cordis os logquitur. What one speaks in preaching is to be cor ad cor, a message from one heart to another; from the heart of the preacher to the heart of the hearer, to be exact. To start with Newman’s motto, cor ad cor loquitur, let us investigate and venture with hi in what we have to say today.
Newman says that, when a preacher dies and all of his sermons are collected, it is discovered that he has preached only one. We might ask, what background, context, support, does that one and only sermon from the heart and to the heart come from? What is its seed-ground? What comes with it? That is, what is its accompaniment? What is its enabler? We answer: The one sermon comes from faith, the faith of the preacher’s heart. And its content deepens as faith increases and grows within that preacher’s heart. Such faith development is peculiarly and particularly each preacher’s own. It moves at the pace of his person spiritual growth. This means, very simply, that preaching comes from faith and preaching betters with the growth of one’s faith.
One to whom Christ gave his bodily likeness, St. Francis of Assisi, who hands and feet re-visioned Christ… learned all that we are talking about. St. Francis counseled Christ, he preached Christ. That is what every preacher has to do. And “if you have to, use words,” St. Francis taught.
We preach from where we are on the faith level, and more so by our life. J. A. Froude said of Newman’s sermons that they were records of Newman’s own mental experience. Yet R. W. Church said that Newman’s sermons “make men think of the things which the preacher spoke of and not of the sermon or preacher.” If people aren’t where we are (and we were not always where we are) then we are to draw them to where we are. It is a gentle drawing, through admiration, through acceptance on their part, through authenticity on ours. Froude, again, said, “Every word of his sermons is a personal testimony. Newman does not place himself front-stage in his sermons, but we are left in no doubt that the drama of the Christian life is his own personal drama.” Father Zeno, a Capuchin scholar, says a study of Newman’s public life shows clearly that he was always consistent. He first put into practice what he was about to preach. His hearers again and again testified to this. His sermons therefore serve as clear windows into his spiritual life.
None of what we are saying denies the need for style and manner and clear presentation and practice, and that all such should be first class. Matthew Arnold said of Newman, “After gliding in the dim afternoon light through the aisles of St. Mary’s and rising into the pulpit in the most entrancing of voices, he broke the silence with words and thoughts which were a religious music, subtle, sweet, mournful.” Faith immersion precludes the possibility of first-class cymbal-gonging, where sound or mere noise, and not message, inveighs and invades.
The ancients spoke of the ideal preacher as bonus vir peritus dicendi, a good man skilled in speaking. The good man is biblically defined as the man of faith. The good man is the just man. Iustus ex fide vivit: the just man lives by faith. And fides ex auditu: faith comes from hearing. The preacher preaching to himself and the preacher giving others his own experience to hear, more and more as life goes on, and his profession becoming more his life, draws people into the existence his life opens his mouth to. Listening to Christ, the only one to be hear, the only message of the only Father, proclaiming Himself alone to be preached, grows one from discipleship into faith-filled apostleship. And what forms one, one preaches.
Paul, without eloquence and without stature, knowing Him in whom he believed, cui credidi, preaching only Christ and Him crucified, so identified with the message “With Christ I am nailed to the Cross, and it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.” Paul was like what Newman prayed for, “Shine through me and be so in me that every soul I come in contact with may feel your presence. Let each look up and see no longer me but only Jesus.”
The one sermon – Jesus – He is for you and me to preach. When mouth is open, when mouth is shut, either way it is cor ad cor loquitur – heart talks to heart. If so, the message makes its way heart-wise.
Our prayer to all this is Amen – and Amen means, may it be so. Then truly, we will be preachers because truly we will be Christians and Christians are every step of the way Christ-proclaimers. From faith, ultimately, across the bridge to facie ad faciem visio, Amen.