The Power of Preaching

October 19, 2012

Raphael – The Miraculous Draught of Fishes (1515)
The feasts of Apostles and Evangelists always catch my attention in a way that most other saints’ feast days do not. I think this is because they make particularly good patrons for Dominicans: we Friars Preachers live an apostolic life of preaching the Gospel.
In the Office of Readings for today’s feast of St. Luke (the topic of praying the Liturgy of the Hours will have to be reserved for another post—until then, just think about two good reasons to pray it, at least in part: 1. Dominicans pray it; 2. It’s almost entirely Scripture, and praying with Scripture is a very good idea), St. Gregory the Great remarks on how preaching flows forth from Christ’s own actions and from charity, and I think he is worth quoting in full:

Beloved brothers, our Lord and Savior sometimes gives us instruction by words and sometimes by actions. His very deeds are our commands; and whenever he acts silently he is teaching us what we should do. For example, he sends his disciples out to preach two by two, because the precept of charity is twofold—love of God and of one’s neighbor. 

The Lord sends his disciples out to preach in twos in order to teach us silently that whoever fails in charity toward his neighbor should by no means take upon himself the office of preaching. 

Rightly is it said that he sent them ahead of him into every city and place where he himself was to go. For the Lord follows after the preachers, because preaching goes ahead to prepare the way, and then when the words of exhortation have gone ahead and established truth in our minds, the Lord comes to live within us. To those who preach Isaiah says: Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight the paths of our God. And the psalmist tells them: Make a way for him who rises above the sunset. The Lord rises above the sunset because from that very place where he slept in death, he rose again and manifested a greater glory. He rises above the sunset because in his resurrection he trampled underfoot the death which he endured. Therefore, we make a way for him who rises above the sunset when we preach his glory to you, so that when he himself follows after us, he may illumine you with his love. 

Let us listen now to his words as he sends his preachers forth: The harvest is great but the laborers are few. Pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send laborers into his harvest. That the harvest is good but the laborers are few cannot be said without a heavy heart, for although there are many to hear the good news there are only a few to preach it. Indeed, see how full the world is of priests, but yet in God’s harvest a true laborer is rarely to be found; although we have accepted the priestly office we do not fulfill its demands. 

Think over, my beloved brothers, think over his words: Pray the Lord of the harvest to send laborers into his harvest. Pray for us so that we may be able to labor worthily on your behalf, that our tongue may not grow weary of exhortation, that after we have taken up the office of preaching our silence may not bring us condemnation from the just judge.

The increase in vocations that the Province of St. Joseph is experiencing is not explicable in a certain or definite way; we can only conjecture as to why more men are entering the Order, and why they’re doing it here. Now, it would be difficult to make the claim that in today’s culture the harvest is lacking. As Archbishop Augustine DiNoia, O.P. said at the beginning of the last Provincial Chapter, the world “is dying to hear [the Truth] and dying from not hearing it.” In today’s world, as in St. Gregory’s, “although there are many to hear the good news there are only a few to preach it.” But maybe that is beginning to change. Maybe the Lord is preparing to send more laborers into his harvest. And maybe he is asking you to be one of his laborers.

It is important to point out the danger of getting caught up in the excitement of a movement and hastily jumping on board, driven by visions of greatness. It must said that if one enters religious life or the seminary for reasons of personal aggrandizement, he sets himself up not only for failure and misery, but also for being faced with the reality of being unable to sustain that zeal, growing weary, and bringing “condemnation from the just judge.” Personal advancement is not and cannot be what we as preachers are about. No, we preach for the salvation of souls.

In this task, charity is essential; if true charity is absent from someone, he should not preach—St. Gregory tells us this plainly. Instead, we can follow the example of St. Dominic, who, when asked what book had taught him the most, replied, “The book of charity.” The response to God’s invitation to become a Preacher must not be pridefully but humbly accepted, it must not be constrained but free, it must be not out of self-love but self-emptying love—for God and for our neighbor. The reason we preach is because the world needs to hear the truth, and it needs it badly, and “when the words of exhortation have gone ahead and established truth in our minds, the Lord comes to live within us.” If the Lord is asking you to be a laborer in his harvest, a preacher of his truth, and a follower of him, give thanks!—and “put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch” (Lk 5:4).

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