Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Sermons (a.k.a. homilies)

One of the subjects which seems to come up occasionally on the blogs is that of homiletics. I think of the priests I have heard over the years, and while I have heard many good sermons, and good preaching, one stands out above all.

The former pastor of St. Benedict's in Greensboro was Msgr. Joseph Showfety. He is retired now, but I still miss him. In 1993, I had just gotten married to a wonderful Catholic girl. Due to my crazy work schedule at the time, over a period of months we had just fallen out of the practice of regularly going to mass. When we did, we attended mass at the beautiful church where we were members and had gotten married just a few months earlier. It was nice and pleasant and uninspiring, like most catholic services nowadays. But it was the mass about like I had come to expect it.

Then, due to scheduling issues, we went one Sunday to St. Benedict's. The priest's homily was unlike any I had heard. First he went through the readings, and put them all into perspective, historically and theologically. Then, using that foundation he showed what it all meant for us today, and even gave some practical applications. I was floored. Then, he celebrated the rest of the mass very very reverently and well. Using eucharistic prayer 1 and singing much of the mass. And his movements were strikingly precise. I didn't at the time even know there were different eucharistic prayers, but I remember noticing the drastic difference from every other mass I could remember.

We were both blown away. Neither of us had ever been to mass like that (at least not in my adult lives). All of a sudden, in one hour, the whole perspective had changed. After years of homilies which rarely even addressed the readings, let alone explained them, all of a sudden it all made sense. We talked about it all afternoon. And from that day forward, we transferred our membership to that parish, and only go elsewhere for scheduling reasons. Over the years, I learned all about the mass, the sacraments, the church, and countless other things. It was like weekly catechism / bible study class. For example, when did you last hear it explained that the sacrifice of the mass was a re-presentation of the sacrifice on calvary?
He was stern, but brilliant. Loving, but firm. It makes me think of a line from a song "a thundering, velvet hand". And I will never forget his oft-repeated phrase "you can go to hell dialoging".

At that time, that parish was small and barely making it, but over the next ten years we grew more and more, built a new parish hall, refurbished the exterior of the church, and many other good things. Monsignor retired a few years ago, to be replaced by Father Ferris, who was great in a different way. And now Father Duc (the website calls him Fr. James, but I don't know why), a kind sweet and good man.

I must say that, until that day, I was, at best a lukewarm Catholic. I had ceased attending mass regularly in my early 20's. Then after a number of years, had joined the Mennonite Church, and was actively involved with them up until just before I met my wife. Her catholicism drew me back to the church, and Monsignor Showfety cemented permanently my place here. Other than sickness or simple impossibility, I have not missed mass since that day.

The other thing worth noting especially with respect to the soon-to-be-published motu proprio is that I have seen through my own personal experience how one mass - ONE MASS can change entirely your perspective and spiritual life. And your life everlasting.

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