Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Book Review: We Preach Christ Crucified

"Always preach the gospel, use words if you have to" is a phrase that has traditionally been attributed to St. Francis of Assisi. I love this quote and have used it numerous times in some of my Sunday sermons. Too often pastors tend to over explain things drawing on complex theological and abstract concepts and at the end of the day the average Joe or Jane Doe in the pew has no idea what they are talking about. We have to be reminded that Jesus used simple everyday images in his teaching and preaching, images such as sheep, goats, vines, wheat, mill stones, wine, water, and bread. He spoke to farmers, peasants, single mothers, foreigners, Jews, and Greeks alike. He spoke to those who were wealthy and those who were poor. He spoke to those who were educated and those who were not. He spoke to both men and women, both married, and those who were single. Yet on Sunday morning we tend to forget that Jesus' preaching was simple but not simplistic, brief but not watered down.

Preaching is the heart of this new anthology recently published by Liturgical Press. We Preach Christ Crucified is a collection of essays and talks that were delivered at a conference on preaching hosted by the University of Notre Dame in June 2012. It includes a collection of seventeen essays by some noteworthy theologians, pastors, and preachers such as Barbara Reid, Jan Michael Joncas, Mary Catherine Hilkert, and John Cavadini among others. The essays also reflect a wide range of sub-topics such as preaching in the presence of children, preaching and the liturgical experience, the African-American experience of preaching, preaching among the poor, as well as some challenges and choices with preaching in the 21st century. There is literally something for everyone in this book.

Even though I am a well seasoned pastor I always try to learn something new in order to improve my sermons. Preaching may seem easy to our parishioners but its a challenge to create a well crafted, inspiring, and hopefully encouraging and uplifting sermon each week. I often feel like I've reaches the bottom of the well on certain gospel lessons yet if I look hard I always find something new to offer my community.

We Preach Christ Crucified needs to be read by both seminary students and pastors who want to get some new insights on preaching. The essay on "Preaching and Children" for example inspired me to read a book by Sofia Cavaletta, a student of the great Maria Montessori. Cavaletti's work involves children and how they view spirituality, God, and how they deal with mystery. I got it through my local library's inter-library loan department. I have quite a few children and Church and I hope that my sermons also touch their hearts as well. We often think we are only preaching to our adult members but we can easily forget that we have a parish full of young children who absorb what we say like sponges. We cannot forget to use basic, everyday images that also appeal to them as well.

I can go on and on about We Preach Christ Crucified but I don't have the time to elaborate. If you are interested in improving your sermons. If you are interested in what scholars today are saying about preaching in a way that is highly readable and important for us as clergy and for our laity, then go and read We Preach Christ Crucified. 

Click here to read more about the book