A priest reflects on funerals: By practical necessity and command of God, preaching must be about saving.


Memento Mori (Remember that you will die.)

I have over 50 funerals a year. And for most of them the Church is packed with people I will only see once, or perhaps not until the next family funeral. I cannot wait for a “less delicate” time. It’s carpe diem (seize the day) moment. Someone has to warn them and that someone is me. God spoke to Ezekiel:

Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me. When I say to a wicked man, ‘You will surely die,’ and you do not warn him or speak out to dissuade him from his evil ways in order to save his life, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood. But if you do warn the wicked man and he does not turn from his wickedness or from his evil ways, he will die for his sin; but you will have saved yourself. Again, when a righteous man turns from his righteousness and does evil, and I put a stumbling block before him, he will die. Since you did not warn him, he will die for his sin. The righteous things he did will not be remembered, and I will hold you accountable for his blood. But if you do warn the righteous man not to sin and he does not sin, he will surely live because he took warning, and you will have saved yourself.  (Ez 3:17-21)

Preaching is about saving before it is about consoling, and God makes this clear to Ezekiel and to every preacher. I think a lot of people think that preaching is supposed to merely please and encourage them. There is a place for that but good preaching also afflicts and provokes response. Jesus was more than willing  to provoke people and unsettle them. It is not a goal in itself. Rather,  it is the necessary outcome of lancing a spiritual boil or setting a broken limb. Protests, anger, and so forth are not necessarily the sign of failure. I’ve had people come to me and say, You once made me mad but you also made me think and I’ve come to understand what you were saying was true. A lot of times powerful preaching takes people through a cycle of: mad, to sad, to glad.

I think we have long enough tried the “nice guy” preaching that is extolled by many, as the model. But all through these past 40 years with that model largely operative,  Mass attendance has steadily dropped. Currently, as noted, only 27% of Catholics attend Mass at all any more. We have, collectively become a rebellious house.  God said the following to Ezekiel:

He said to me, “Son of man, stand up on your feet and I will speak to you.” As he spoke, the Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet, and I heard him speaking to me. He said: “Son of man, I am sending you to the Israelites, to a rebellious nation that has rebelled against me; they and their fathers have been in revolt against me to this very day. The people to whom I am sending you are obstinate and stubborn. Say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says.’ And whether they listen or fail to listen—for they are a rebellious house—they will know that a prophet has been among them…..You must speak my words to them, whether they listen or fail to listen. (Ez 2:1-7).

Read more from Msgr. Charles Pope

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