success stories

Book: Preaching: The Art and the Craft
Author: Walter J. Burghardt, S.J.
Paulist Press, NY, pp. 250

Excerpt from Introduction:

Another book on preaching? I'm afraid so. Forty-five years of priestly experience persuade me that the pressure for more effective preaching must be kept up. The startling assertion of biblical scholar J. Murphy-O'Connor back in 1963 deserves to be repeated today: Just as the Reformation four centuries ago, the progressive dechristianization of society today is attributed to a failure of preaching. The factor that more than any other made the Reformation possible was the theological confusion that marked the preaching and teaching of the Faith in the early sixteen century. Today preaching is admittedly orthodox, but it is often vapid and lacking in vitality. It no longer seems to make converts or to lead to sanctity those who already have the Faith.

But what can yet another volume contribute? Surely nothing substantially new, nothing that has not been said time and again in one way or another. Then why a book by Burghardt? For one thing, fresh emphasis in a complex, confusing, changing culture. For another, new ways of looking at timeworn realities: the awesome power of words, the unique force of God's word, the primacy of imagination, models like prophets long dead and preachers still alive, the movement from study to proclamation, the view from the pew, the preacher as pray-er . . . Pervadiing all this, an effort to destroy apathy, conquer discouragement, generate excitement, enthusiasm, electricity.

Excerpt from Book:

The word I learned from St. James, is a perilous thing. "We use it to bless the Lord and Father, but we also use it to curse men and women who are made in God's image." And still, in St. Paul's eyes, the word is an indispensable thing. "How are men and women to call upon him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without a preacher?"

Words, I have learned from experience, can be weapons, and words can be healing. Words can unite in friendship or sever in enmity. Words can unlock who I am or mask me from others. Two words, "Sieg Heil," bloodied the face of Europe; three words, "Here I stand," divided the body of Christendom. Words have made slaves and freed slaves, have declared war and imposed peace. Words sentence to death ("You shall be hanged by your neck") and words restore life ("Your sins are forgiven you"). Words declare a marriage dead, and words covenant a life together in love. Words charm and repel, amuse and anger, reveal and conceal, chill and warm. Words clarify and words obscure. A word form Washington rained down atomic hell on Hiroshima; words from an altar change bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ.

With all this, I feel no guilt in being a weaver of words. A word is real; a word is sacred; a word is powerful; a word is . . . I.

. . . Ultimately, I am the word, the word that is heard. And I say it fearfully it is not a clever rhetorician the people need, but a holy homilist. Holy in what sense? Because aware that I am only "a" word not "the" word: If God does not speak through me, I am "a noisy gong, a clanging cymbal." Because my homily is a prayer: In preparation and pulpit, I stand before God in praise of Him, not of my own rhetorical perfection.

Because aware of my own weakness I too need the word I preach. I too need forgiveness. I too am vulnerable, I am a wounded healer. . . .

Table of Contents:

1. The Word Made Flesh Today
Does Language Make a Difference?

2. Sir, We Would Like to See Jesus
Preaching as Imagining

3. Shudder, You Complacent Ones
Ancient Prophet and Modern Preacher

4. The Lord Opened the Mouth of the Ass
The View from the Pew

5. Lord, Teach Us How To . . . Preach
From Study to Proclamation

6. Thus Says the Lord
The Words Form the Preacher

7. In Season and Out of Season
What Shall I Preach About?

8. Do This In Memory of Me
The Homily As Liturgy

9.Let Justice Roll Down Like Waters
Preaching the Just Word

10. Of Their Race is The Christ
How To Preach About the Jews

11. So Sarah Laughed
Humor in the Holy of Holies?

12. What Shall A Man Give in Exchange?
The Cost of Peaching

13. Lord, To Whom Shall We Go?
Masters Who Just Might Help