Good homilies matter — and inspiring preachers need inspiration, too.
As congregations begin to celebrate Advent, you will almost certainly hear the hymn “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” It is an embrace of the liturgical cycle in song, combining a 15th-century French chant with an ancient Latin text. First printed in German hymnals, the text was later translated into English by James Mason Neale in 1895. His efforts helped launch the Oxford Movement, a path of spiritual renewal in the Church of England that enlisted into its ranks the likes of John Henry Newman and so many others.
How do our religious leaders launch this spirited season in the hope of spiritual healing in our often conflicted society and polarized churches? Above all else, Saint Paul counsels: “Don’t stifle the spirit!” (1 Thes 5:19)
How do our religious leaders launch this spirited season of Advent in the hope of spiritual healing? Above all else, Saint Paul counsels: “Don’t stifle the spirit!”
I have seen firsthand how one Catholic parish in Santa Monica, Calif., under the pastoral leadership of Msgr. Lloyd Torgerson, has embraced the needs of their community and reached out well beyond their boundaries.
Over the past three years, I have developed a national television series entitled “Sunday to Sunday,” which focuses on those gifted preachers whose ability at the pulpit can inspire others. Msgr. Lloyd Torgerson is one of those preachers. At 83 years and over 30 years as pastor of the Saint Monica Catholic Community, this activist inspires and motivates others. Our video profile of Monsignor Torgensen and his parish community was released this summer.
His is a large-scale parish with both a grade school and a high school. The parish’s innovative pastoral programs with young adult ministry, the live-streaming of Masses, and its generous financial support to needy Los Angeles parishes and a maternity hospital in Dandora, Kenya, caught my attention.
Saint Monica’s and Msgr. T have not stifled the spirit. Instead, they embraced it.
The parish hashtag and slogan #StillStMonica became an anchor for so many anxious souls in the face of the Covid-19 lockdowns and its perilous uncertainty. Saint Monica’s and Msgr. T, as he is known, have not stifled the spirit. Instead, they embraced it.
At the outset of our documentary project, in a conversation via Zoom, Msgr. Torgerson insisted that the project would not be about himself. Instead, we focused on how his preaching affected the pastoral efforts of parishioners.
As we began production, with successive interviews, each person stated that it was Msgr. T who motivated them and the work they embraced. So in my mind, I had a working title: “It’s not about Msgr. T…but it is about Msgr. T.”
Great preachers can inspire souls, with one caveat: They too must be inspired.
Great preachers can inspire souls, with one caveat: They too must be inspired. In her recent New Yorker article, entitled “What American Christians Hear at Church” (10/7/21), Casey Cep delves into the often inexplicable questions about preaching: “When, whether, and why a sermon moves a congregant to new or deeper beliefs.” Drawing on the great Protestant scholar and pastor, Reinhold Niebuhr, Cep concludes: “The words of sermons matter, even if neither Pew (Pew Research Center) nor the very people who deliver them can know precisely how.”
Lloyd Torgerson is the kind of great preacher whose words move people to more profound, deeper beliefs and actions. His homilies matter!
Each Sunday this past year, I have watched the 9:30 a.m. Mass via live-stream. In Msgr. T’s words, this is the “new evangelization.” This online video experience beams out to the world to places as far as Cape Town, South Africa, and Copenhagen, Denmark. His sermons and personality provide a wealth of background and, as a fellow priest, it is valuable to listen to such a gifted preacher.
Msgr. T’s voice is behind every frame of our documentary, and his invitation is clear. Often at Mass, he repeats a line from Pope Francis: “The Eucharist is not a prize for the perfect, rather food and nourishment for those who most need it.”
Already I have heard reactions to our film such as: “Well, Santa Monica’s is a wealthy community; you would expect as much. Most parishes don’t have these resources.” True enough, but I have seen wealthy parishes waste their money and resources. It takes pastoral vision and apostolic zeal—with servant leaders like Felipe Sanchez, the director of administration. He is one of dozens of professional laywomen and men who are the good stewards, teachers and staff at Saint Monica’s.
What’s in this for me? Well, inspired people are inspiring to me. Actually going to these vibrant parishes is like going on a pilgrimage, that long road to Santiago de Compostela where just by chance, I meet new souls whose lives give meaning to mine.
How do we begin this Advent season with the hope of spiritual healing?
Perhaps, by listening most carefully to these verses of the old Advent hymn: “O Come, O Dayspring and cheer us by drawing near. Disperse the gloomy clouds of night. And death’s dark shadows put to flight.”