Preaching and Vocation

If preaching the Gospel is a vocation, it seems odd that little attention is paid to its potential in candidates for the priesthood. "Can he do the studies?" is the first question that tends to come to mind, meaning the whole panoply of academic philosophy and theology that will engage him for six or seven years. "Can he pass the psychological tests?" is another big question, meaning does he have the personal maturity to start the process of formation and the potential for growth within that process? Here we are getting a little warmer with regard to preaching, because personal maturity has always been required in one who is to be given the power of the word, whether religious or secular. A question I sometimes ask my students when discussing a particular topic for a homily is: "Are you old enough to say this?" I then illustrate by suggesting that a freshly ordained young man might risk looking foolish preaching to grandmothers on how to fulfill their grandmaternal roles. When candidates come for those come-and-see weekends I suggest we make them do some basic communication--proclaiming the word, standing up and telling us a story, reflecting on an important topic, even some thoughts on the scriptures. Apart from whether they have the basic temperament and talent for preaching, we might also discover more about their personalities, since public speaking is so revealing of character. A liturgist I know, whenever he listens to a new preacher, asks himself the question: "Is this person for real?" Getting our candidates for the priesthood to stand up and speak to a group might help us answer that question in terms of both fundamental character and communication ability. Chris Chatteris, S.J.

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