Liberals make lousy homilists...
Now before any of you suggest that I not use the words "liberal" or "conservative" to discuss the members of the Body of Christ, I must just say this: I prefer not to use the word heterodox in this context because I'm going to give these individuals (as a whole) the benefit of the doubt. Liberal is an imperfect term but most of you know what I mean when I use it; often interchangeable with heterodoxy but sometimes just smelling a bit like it. At any rate, the term seems most appropriate for this discussion. Moving on...
By "lousy" I mean that a homilist doesn't actually lead anyone to deeper conversion, offer any serious consolation or hope to the afflicted, or inspire confidence in the existence of a personal and powerful God. I'm painting with a broad brush but many do preach the same way and it often goes something like this:
The only way that you can really know that God exists is from the wonderful, deep down experience of love. That's all you need... because God IS love and that feeling is God. We know He is with us because of that experience. Don't worry about trying to prove He exists because you can't; you just know He's there when people love you and you love other people. Now, go be nice to each other in the parking lot and experience God.
The practical problem with this kind of preaching is that there are plenty of people warming the pews who do not have that feeling. And they may not have had that feeling in a really, really long time. But they know pain rather well. And blinding grief. Or the dead zone of indifference, depression and Prozac. Even if we feed them, build them a house, eat donuts with them and hug them, they may still remain lost in that pain. Most of us who have reached adulthood (and many of us as children) have know that kind of grief.
Father smiles warmly at us and announces that God is love. Period. And we know this because we have that experience of it deep within us. And that is all we can know and all we need to know. That is all, brothers and sisters. We need nothing more. And our silent screaming broken hearts and deadened people look at him, hear him, and understand that God is irrelevant. He is not to be found in our pain. Because we cannot find "love" there.
The liberal error is not always deliberate; sometime it is a matter of poor formation, ignorance or the use of imprecise language and improper emphasis. Regardless of whether it is intentional, the effect is still bad because it narrows our view of God by covering up the Cross with smiley face stickers. It is hard for the people to look at Calvary so we will not look at Calvary. It is unpleasant for the people to hear about sin so we will not talk about sin. This type of preaching is ineffective for the same reason that a nun who refuses to live in community or wear the habit will almost never attract new vocations; because there is no real appeal to be found in a passionless life. By passionless, I mean without energy and vibrancy and authenticity... but I also mean without the Passion. Without the suffering Christ.
The homilist who gives the love of our suffering Lord to a broken people is one who offers hope. Jesus did not "feel" warm fuzzies as He embraced His Cross. He felt broken and burdened, grief and incredible pain. He knows that part of us and reaches down to us in our despair and consoles us. The only one who really can. A priest who can introduce us to the Crucified Christ can also show us the way to the Risen Christ. We are not required to "feel" the love. That can be an impossible task at times. We need to rest our weary, miserable heads on His wounded heart and allow Him to raise us up.
Not everyone wants conversion and that is why people will happily embrace a liberal homily and talk about how "nice" it was. Of course it was nice... it left everyone comfortably where they were before it was preached. Many times, if we are wounded, it is painful to be touched. And if we are deadened, we prefer that to the pain.
But I prefer to know that I'm alive. And I prefer to know that there is Someone who has suffered like me, with me, for me... and offers me hope. Whether or not another person consciously wants that or not is not the issue. The fact that a Catholic priest would be content to leave the lot of us in our shallow, deadened states is problematic. By preaching in such a way that he moves no one, inspires no one and challenges no one, he makes himself irrelevant as a preacher and worse, causes God to appear irrelevant to our lives. As phony as the Easter Bunny.
The practice of such wrong-headed, vanilla preaching is so common to some clergy that I struggle with the temptation to pass judgement on their intentions. I find it difficult to believe that so many men would be ignorant of the meaning of their chosen words. I also find it difficult to believe that so many are actually satisfied with such a marshmallow version of God. I wonder... Is this what you are giving your life for?
Incidentally, the most jaded priests I've met are all liberals. And the angriest religious sisters I've met are all liberals. Fluff does not satisfy. It is also dull as mud. What a disappointment it would be to come into the presence of Divine Love at the end of my life and find there only the banality of a liberal homily. Oh, how... nice.
There are two different versions of love that come from the pulpit. I sit and listen as one of the weak and wounded of the Body of Christ. One crushes my hopes and feeds my despair as I consider the emptiness of religion. The other, by taking me to the heart of faith, reaches in and fans the flame that lies buried and dim but still burns.
"I desire but this one grace, and long to be consumed like a burning candle in His holy Presence every moment of the life that remains to me. For that I would be willing, I think, to suffer all the pains imaginable till judgment day, if only I should not have to leave His sacred presence. My only motive would be to be consumed in honoring Him and to acknowledge that burning love He shows us in this wonderful Sacrament. Here His love holds Him captive till the end of time. It is of this one can truly say, 'Love triumphs, love enjoys, Love finds in God its joys." - St. Margaret Mary