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PreachApril 08, 2024
Photo: Digitalskillet/Getty Images Signature via Canva Pro

Good preaching requires mastery of rhetoric, in particular the tools of repetition and organization. “Otherwise, they’re not gonna remember,” says John Baldovin, S.J. “This is a no-brainer, but beginning, middle and end, and not trying to make too many points” are key to a compelling homily. He also adds with hyperbolic emphasis, “If you want to be a good preacher, you have to read, read, read, read, read and pray, pray, pray, pray, pray.”

Father Baldovin, a Jesuit priest and professor of historical and liturgical theology at the Clough School of Theology and Ministry at Boston College, instructs candidates for the priesthood. He is in his 86th semester as a teacher, and specifically dedicates much of his time to helping future ordained ministers cultivate and refine their presiding and preaching styles and be good confessors. “I’ve preached a lot in my lifetime,” he shares with “Preach” host Ricardo da Silva, S.J. 

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“My method, if I could dignify it with that word, is always to ask the question: How can what I say in faith help these people to lead better Christian lives?” Father Baldovin says. “The main question is not how can I give a good explanation of a passage, or how can I show them what a great theologian I am, or anything of that sort. The main objective is how can their lives be transformed? How can they walk away with something?”

Listen to Father Baldovin's homily for the Third Sunday of Easter to hear him share the wisdom of his years as a preacher and teacher, and why even in the season of Easter, it is important to hold the wounds of Jesus’ passion, together with the joy of resurrection.

Lastly, he shares what a Franciscan friend told him about how his preaching improved: “It’s truly remarkable how much better my preaching became when I resolved to preach only what I truly believed.”

Scripture Readings for the Third Sunday of Easter, Year B

First Reading: Acts 3:13-15, 17-19
Responsorial Psalm: Ps 4:2, 4, 7-8, 9
Second Reading: 1 Jn 2:1-5a
Gospel: Lk 24:35-48

You can find the full text of the readings here.

A homily for the Third Sunday of Easter, Year B, by John Badovin, S.J.

You say you are a Christian. Where is your joy?

When I read today’s gospel and the other stories of Jesus’ resurrection appearances, I try to imagine what it must have been like for Jesus’ disciples to see him alive. After all, he had been executed as a disgraced criminal, condemned as an enemy of the state and of his own Jewish people. It’s not too hard to imagine how dejected those disciples must have felt. It’s captured so poignantly in the previous scene in Luke’s Gospel, the Emmaus story where the two disciples on the road tell Jesus, “they were hoping,” that the one who had been crucified would be the one to redeem Israel.

But now—now everything—has changed.

It’s not just that a good man has been revived like the son of the widow of Nain or like Jesus’ friend Lazarus. No, the Risen Jesus can only be discerned with the eyes of faith. Unlike the son of the widow of Nain or Lazarus, Jesus will never die again. His resurrection has created a new world; a new world where death and sin have been conquered. I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to call it a “new creation” or even, to use the phrase, a new “Big Bang.” You may know that out of virtually nothing the universe expanded to an enormous size within 10 to the minus twenty-seventh second of the Big Bang. That’s literally an unimaginable change, at least for me. Now try to think of the change effected by Jesus’ resurrection in the same way—like a new “Big Bang”.

[Luke] tells us that the disciples were incredulous for joy and were amazed. I like that word: “incredulous for joy”—could hardly believe what they were observing. Small wonder, nothing like this had ever happened in the world. And to make sure they don’t think he’s a figment of their imagination, or the result of wishful thinking—that his appearance is too good to be true—he shows them that he’s real, and he points to his wounds.

Now, my friends, we mustn’t forget that the Risen Jesus remains the crucified Jesus. Although he’s gloriously transformed, he still bears his wounds. His triumph—his triumph over sin and death—came at a cost, the cost of tremendous self-giving love. I once helped out at a parish where they took down the cross at Easter and replaced it with a department store manikin of the Risen Jesus, the Risen Christ. It was well-meant, of course, but an unfortunate mistake. There’s a good reason that the Catholic Church has a rule that every church needs to have a visible cross with an image of Christ crucified. I like hymns; as an old hymn that’s sometimes sung on the First Sunday of Advent puts it:

Those dear tokens of his passion
Still his dazzling body bears.
Cause of endless exultation
To his ransomed worshippers.
With what rapture
Gaze we on those glorious scars.

So Luke says, the disciples “were incredulous.” They still didn’t quite get it. And you can’t blame them, can you? How often have you had that momentary glimpse that God is real, that you are enveloped by God’s love only to forget it rather quickly and maybe even question whether it wasn’t your own imagination? By the way, St Ignatius of Loyola calls comforting experience of God “consolation” in his Spiritual Exercises and he has to remind the retreatant to remember those moments in times of dryness or desolation, because consolation, like meeting the Risen Christ, is easy to forget. If my Big Bang analogy is even close to correct, then the experience of the disciples who were still recovering from their disappointment—their dejection at the murder of the one they followed and loved, their experience must have been overwhelming.

I love the title of C.S. Lewis’ autobiography of his early life, that title is “Surprised by Joy.” I think that captures the disciples’ experience to a “T”. And I think that our celebrations are supposed to help us to recapture that same joy, a deep and unshakeable confidence that Jesus is the victor over sin and over our last enemy, death. But remember we sang in the Easter Sequence two weeks ago:

Death and life have contended in that combat stupendous—the Prince of life, who died, reigns immortal.

Now, I don’t have to tell you that it’s often difficult to recapture that joy these days but as Pope Francis reminded us in the first major letter of his papacy, “The Joy of the Gospel,” it’s precisely joy that should characterize our lives as Christians. “How is it,” he asks “that so many Christians walk around looking like they’ve just been to a funeral?” The 19th-century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche who wrote: “You say you are a Christian. Where is your joy?” Where indeed?

Sisters and brothers, it’s that joy, that unshakeable confidence in the Risen Lord that can impel us to be “missionary disciples” as Pope Francis often urges, women and men on a mission.

At the end of that scene, just before today’s Gospel begins, Luke writes: “They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” They didn’t just rejoice in recognizing Jesus in the breaking of the bread, they felt compelled to go back and share the good news.

Notice that both our first reading Peter testifies to Jesus after the lame man has been healed: “The author of life you put to death, but God raised him from the dead; of this we are witnesses.” And at the end of our gospel reading, Jesus tells his disciples “You are witnesses of these things.”

Now, that “you” means not just those first disciples, it means you and me as well. So, my friends, I urge you to pray for two gifts today. First pray that the Lord will help you to recapture and experience that incredible joy experienced by those first disciples. And second, pray that, energized by that joy, you can find creative ways to be witnesses to the one who died and rose again for our sake—witnesses by what you say, witnesses by what you do.

God knows our world desperately needs you to be that witness.

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