Bible? Check. Newspaper? Not so much.

The great Protestant theologian Karl Barth is purported to have said, A preacher needs a newspaper in one hand and a Bible inthe other. As someone who dabbles in both news and theology, I take Barth's point to be that for Christians, neither realm should exist without the other; the world should be seen through the lens of faith and faith should always be relevant to lived life. 

BarthBarth's exhortation sprang to mind during Sunday's homily. The presider, a young priest in his early 30s, barely acknowledged that it was Labor Day weekend before moving on to the bulk of his message, which was so bible-centric that one may have been forgiven for thinking he or she was in a Evangelical megachurch rather than a Catholic cathedral. The message touched on Jesus, his disciples, how the Gospel related to the epistle and the Old Testament passage. The priest preached passionately on fostering forgiveness; he clearly had his bible in one hand. A newspaper in the other? Not so much. 


Being Labor Day weekend, I wondered how many people in the pews were unemployed, who rather than celebrating the lastweekend of summer were instead perhaps dejected in that they had no labor from which to rest. A quick glance at the newspapers that week showed that not a single job was created last month, and that the outlook remained bleak for the foreseeable future.  

I glanced at the twenty- and thirty-somethings who constitute a large segment of this particular Mass, and I was curious howBible Newspaper many knew how instrumental Catholic immigrants and certain Catholic figures in this country had been in the quest to advance the labor movement and help build a strong middle-class and a prosperously peaceful nation. There is no shortage of stories reporting on huge corporate profits as middle- and laboring-class wages stagnate. The Sunday before Labor Day seemed like an opportune moment to remind Catholics of God's preference for the marginalized, the weak, and the voiceless, perhaps through an economic gloss given the day.

The younger priests I have heard preach seem to be singularly focused on scripture and the Church, whereas their older peers seem more willing to explore how scripture might be used in interpreting problems of the world, from the mundane problems of lived life to the more existential crises of our particular time. 

Did the readings on Sunday correlate easily to Labor Day? Probably not. But with enough imagination, and a willingness to embrace the world in which Christians live, perhaps there is always a message that applies to a given context? Is the Church retreating, even a bit, from the world? Does this sentiment manifest itself where you attend Mass? Is this a sort of generational phenomenon?   

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7 years 4 months ago
The lead in with Barth is curious given that Barth's theological work, as I have read and understood it, is decidedly Christocentric, and he himself would probably prefer the young priest's homily.  Barth is the inspiration for a return to a more Christ-centered theology, and is often juxtaposed to his Catholic contemporary Rahner, whose approach he decidedly did NOT agree with.  This is best seen in those Protestant theologians who have follow Barth - I think in particular of David Hauerwas - who would decidedly not want their preachers to be cavalierly expositing on the newspaper's front page.

Of course I didn't hear the homily, but a focus on the day's reading sounds refreshing.  I find so often that the "current events" homilies I hear in my parish are usually a cover for not really doing the heavy lifting on reflecting on the day's readings. 
Tom Maher
7 years 4 months ago
Sunday Mass is a unique time to hear about the Gospel and the Bible and other religious topics that are rarely  heard elsewhere.  The mere reading of the Bibile in a public school has been banned by the Supreme Court since 1963.  Public schooIs avoid anything that close to teaching religions.  It is wonderful such as it is that at least on Sunday churchs reads and explains the Gospel and the Bibile and delivers religious topics thar is hard to find elsewhere.  I have to agree with Mary Woodhouse that there is a hunger to hear and have explained this important religous information. 

But political and social observations and conclusions of the Catholic clergy are singularlly  poor and and unwelcomed.  Priest, deacons and nuns typically have a very poor sense of the basics and background of what is going on in society.  Their training, aptitude and temperment does not prepare them to be very good social commentators worth listening to.   And when they do have a sense of what going on their explaination of events is almost always  very poorly understood, biased and ignorant of major facts and factors.  It is almost always extremley annoying and unwelcomed to hear a priest or deacon comment on politics at Mass.   Most politcal and  social judgement of priest, deacons and nuns are very undistinguished and should not be presumed to be appealing or even be acceptable by a more educated people population attending  church today.

Sermons can antagonize people since poor or controvesial ideas can not be objected to ,discussed or rebutted.  People do not go to church to hear the personal politcal and social views and commentary of the Catholic clergy and religious. 
Beth Cioffoletti
7 years 4 months ago
Tom (#8) says:
"Priest, deacons and nuns typically have a very poor sense of the basics and background of what is going on in society.  Their training, aptitude and temperment does not prepare them to be very good social commentators worth listening to. "

Oh my.
What about those 7 Christian monks who were kidnapped from thier Trappist monastery in Algeria, held in captivity and then decapitated?  Didn't their training, temperament and aptitude have something to say about what's going on in society?  Are they not worth listening to?
7 years 4 months ago
Great topic!   Beth (#4 & #9), thanks for your comments about Mozart and Barth, and the Trappists in Algeria.  

Here's my two cents:  Perhaps we can help to resolve our current problems by trying and doing proactive projects/activities:
      1.  For newly  unemployed graduates, how about doing some volunteer work either locally or abroad.  Older unemployed can do too.
       2.  Refrain from making generalizations, especially on subjects, like bad sermons or clueless pastors, or irritating others, and instead develop a relationship with those individuals.....I guarantee, in time we can gently persuade them to be more aware of what's going on and suggest what can be done.  They will listen if we approach them in a friendly and respectful way.....just like the scripture readings recently, on ways to approach disputes with others, instead of complaining about them publicly which only doubles the problem.
       3.  Don't wait for the priests/religious leaders to evangelize us..... there are so many resources out there, let's go to them and read or listen to them.
       4,  Keep in mind that God provided us with pairs of tools to solve problems....two eyes so we can see both sides, two ears so we can hear two sides of issues, two hands/legs so we can do/walk in anothers' shoes or perspective,  but He created us with one mind and one heart, because we are meant to be united and live in harmony in the midst of diversities.
       5.  We are a mixed breed of body, mind and spirit,   and each has distinct needs, although all three exist as one.  
       6.  Because we are #5 we need to be cognizant/aware that we need the secular and the sacred at the same time.  Jesus reminded the citizens of His day to "render to Caesar what is Caesars and to God what is God's.   And He expects us to continue.  
       7.  Always keep in mind Satan's powerful strategy:  divide and conquer.  We should be aware of this in our debates and discussions,  our criticisms, complaints of the Church hierarchy/Church leaders or one anothers' opinions. 
       8.  Science tells us that mirror neurons exist in our brains.  We mirror what we are exposed to unconsciously.   So, we should always do what is right, just, moral and loving kindness if we want to transform the world.   And that is the challenge.  We need one another to encourage ourselves to live this way........and isn't that what Jesus taught us?   Lord, have mercy on us!
Tom Maher
7 years 4 months ago
Beth Cioffoletti (#9)

Trappisr monks in ALgeria have nothing to do with the technical point of limiting a sermon to solid religious topics that are well understood by the speaker anbd apreciated by the audience.   Why be tedious in presenting exotic sermons without credibility or acceptance by the  audience?  

This article advocates for more complex sermons involving social, economic and political analysis.  But Catholic religious usually have no training  in economics, politcs, government policy and a host of other specialized technical subject that are require to meaningfully present these analysis.  It is  a big mistake to semonize of these complex topics without knowing what your talking about and it shows in the poor results of audiences rejecting poor sermons.   Better to stick to the wealth of religious ideas.  Know your limitations.  Stick to religious subjects you know and  not journaism , economics and politics and other specialed studies that you have little or no edea about.  Do not attempt to speak on complex issues beyond what you knowledge and understand.

Part of the reason the church is having trouble with evagelization and keeping the people it has is it is not adequately focused on the basic and timeless messsages  of the Gospel and Bible.   We do not need poor quality social analysis and commentary whcih is very likely not universal or timeless or correct and accurate andis an unwanted distraction.

I have seen plenty of people walk out of church after some ridiculous assertion made in a sermon. .  Other people go out of their way for miles to go to a different Catholic church that does not engage in dubious social analysis and commentary.
David Cruz-Uribe
7 years 4 months ago
"I have seen plenty of people walk out of church after some ridiculous assertion made in a sermon. .  Other people go out of their way for miles to go to a different Catholic church that does not engage in dubious social analysis and commentary."

Yes, such dubious social analysis as "woe to you rich!" or "you shall not oppress the orphan and widow among you."  Clearly not "timeless" or "correct" and definitely an "unwanted distraction."
Tom Maher
7 years 4 months ago
David Cruz-Uribe (#13)

Sermon should be on solid religious content such as the Gospel or the Bible not questionable personal opinions and fluff that demonstrates a lack of proper understanding of issue.  

It is not ok to say just anything you like in a sermon in disregard and disrespect of the audience and reality.  People notice, remember and disapprove of lapses in the quality and soundness of a sermon's content.

For example moralizing on our nation's economic problems as being caused by flawed moral agents such as "the rich" or "big business" lacks technical credibility and ultimately and demonstated a lack of technical and moral judgement in misrepreesenting what the issues are. Blaming noral agents for problems is not factual.  This is a private worldview or folklore.   Technical problems are being misanalyzed as moral problems.  The sermonizer fails to recongnize the actual technical issues involved becasue they do not adequatley know the technical issues involved.   This only demonstrates poor moral judgement on technical issues.
John Swanson
7 years 4 months ago
If the homilist this Sunday doesn't discuss the events of 9/11, I wouldn't consider him much of a homilist. No, the newspapers aren't the "determiner of sermons," but the lives of the people in the pews should help in the determination.
This was a good comment: "Either the truth of the Bible is profoundly relevant to what is happening on the streets, or it is not true."
"social observations and conclusions of the Catholic clergy are singularlly  poor and and unwelcomed." These observations are part of the job; they need to learn how to do it.
Mary Wood
7 years 4 months ago
How encouraging to have a truly scriptural sermon.  From my experience, very few Catholics know or use a Bible; some will use the lectionary readings as an aid to thought, but they are a minority.

Few priests seem give evidence of an understanding acquaintance with Scripture.  My last pp, ordained 21 years ago, told us the % of their seminary syllabus  dedicated to scripture study was 14%.  My current pp, aged 41, 'finished' in Rome and now 7 years ordained, preaches on liturgy, saints, penance, bodily gestures, angels, the dead and the MAGISTERIUM as perceived by the Catholic church.  He often uses a line from the day's gospel reading as a diving board from which he immediately launches himself into his pool of preferred topics.

The hungry sheep look up and are not fed. 
Beth Cioffoletti
7 years 4 months ago
David (#3), start with Barth's book, "Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart".  Barth was a huge fan of Mozart, beginning each day listening to his music.  In 1956 he put together a little book in celebration of the 200th anniversary of Mozart's birth, including various writing about and by Mozart. 

Here is an excerpt:

"[In this music, everything comes to expression]: “heaven and earth, nature and man, comedy and tragedy, … the Virgin Mary and the demons” (p. 34). Mozart simply contains and includes all this within his music in perfect harmony. This harmony is not a matter of “balance” or “indifference” (like the balance of Schleiermacher’s system!) – it is “a glorious upsetting of the balance, a turning in which the light rises and the shadows fall …, in which the Yes rings louder than the ever-present No” (p. 55).

In the introduction, John Updike highlights the deep relationship between Barth's theology and the music of Mozart:
“Those who have not felt the difficulty of living have no need of Barthian theology; but then perhaps they also have no ear for music” (p. 12).

The key to Mozart and Barth is the DIALECTICAL character of their work - they both seek to contain what appear to be opposites, paradox ... 

Seems to me that dialectical approach is what the young priests sticking only to the Bible are missing.  Either the truth of the Bible is profoundly relevant to what is happening on the streets, or it is not true.
John Donaghy
7 years 4 months ago
Barth, in advocating integrating hte reading of the Bible with the news, seems consistent with what the Vatican II fathers wrote in the Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, #43, "This split between the faith which many profess and their daily lives deserves to be counted
among the more serious errors of our age."
Michael Iafrate
7 years 4 months ago
''Either the truth of the Bible is profoundly relevant to what is happening on the streets, or it is not true.''

Exactly right.

As is the point that, interestingly, ''Barthian'' theologians today are often the ones arguing against attempts to make scripture ''relevant'' as Barth seems to argue for in the quote above. 

I felt the disconnect between preaching and ''real life'' two Holy Weeks ago when church leaders were claiming that Pope Benedict was being ''crucified'' by the media despite the increasingly visible voices of those crucified by abusive priests. There we were, supposedly ''entering into'' the ''mystery'' of the death and resurrection of Jesus without even bothering to ask where the crucified Body of Christ exists in history today (as Sobrino would put it). 

I do see a generational dimension to this, but that's not the whole story. Plenty of older priests do the same thing, and with more frequency. In my diocese, the ones who used to show how scripture is living are much quieter than they used to be. And there is an increasing number of younger priests in my experienxce who consciously bring scripture and life together in powerful ways. In addition to generational factors, I think culture has something to do with it. When I was studying in Canada, I saw that the ''generational divide'' there was much less pronounced than it is here in the U.S.
Leo Zanchettin
7 years 4 months ago
It seems to me that Sunday's readings could have given an alert homilist many openings for talking about the Labor Day issues and heroes/heroines you mention in your post. Surely Dorothy Day could be considered a "watchman" (or watchperson, if you prefer), speaking truth to power. And the central debt to love that Paul talks about in Romans is a fine way to introduce the church's preferential option for the poor. Even Jesus' promise about two of us agreeing in prayer could be a powerful springboard for urging an entire congregation to intercession for those among them who are unemployed. Heck, you could even pause halfway through the homily and lead everyone in just such a prayer!

You wrote: "The younger priests I have heard preach seem to be singularly focused on scripture and the Church." Do you mean that their focus on Scripture is insular? That they only explicate what the passage meant in a historical sense and make no application to the contemporary world? Or do you mean that they use Scripture to teach about the church and her practices and doctrines-a kind of proof-texting that has little to do with the text itself or its relevance to everyday life? Either approach is inadequate, to say the least. But I would guess that at least a few of the commenters above heard a homily that was based on the Scriptures but that did not stop with the text.

In the end, it all comes down to balance. How much time do you spend focusing on the text and how much time do you spend focusing on the application? If it's just a throwaway reference to today's challenges, you've failed. And if it's just a throwaway reference to the day's readings followed by a lengthy social commentary, you've failed as well.

Beth Cioffoletti (#9)-Well said!


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