Sunday, January 27, 2019


   Ezra read plainly from the book of the law of God, interpreting it so that all could understand what was read. All the people were weeping as they heard the words of the law.
Nehemiah 8:2-10

As a preacher who takes his job very seriously, one of my heroes is the Prophet Jeremiah. Here is what he said about his own preaching. “When I found your words, I devoured them. They became my joy and the happiness of my heart. They are like a fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones, I grow weary holding them in!” Another preacher hero of mine is Saint Gregory the Great who said, “The preacher must dip his pen into the blood of his own heart if he is to reach the ears of his hearers.” My friends, serious preaching is a lot like giving blood!

I have about 97% of all the homilies I have delivered over the last 50 years in hard copy and hundreds and hundreds filed in my computer, with even hundreds more on audio tape. I gave 700 homilies at Bellarmine University alone before I retired a few years back. I am so serious about doing my best in the pulpits that are entrusted to me, that when I am laid out in my casket, I want to be holding a copy of this book in my hands. When I shared that fact with the Archbishop of Winnipeg (Canada) and his priests a couple of years ago, I was shocked when they presented me with a huge copy of the Canadian Lectionary for my casket as I boarded the plane! 

In our first reading, Ezra the priest reads the Scriptures to the People of God who were returning to a Jerusalem in ruins, after having been in exile for years. After years of not being able to hear the Word of God, they began to weep and cry, bow down and prostrate themselves, when they heard the words of the Law read aloud by Ezra, the priest, from his raised platform.   

We Catholics are not known for our knowledge and love of the Word. I haven’t seen many Catholics cry when Scripture is read. There is a reason. Stung by the spawning of breakaway churches during the Protestant revolt of the 16th century, by people who were privately interpreting the Scriptures and coming up with all kinds of contradictory teachings, the Church in an attempt to protect the Word from false doctrines, overprotected it to the point of keeping it from the very people for whom it was intended. The Church basically read it for us and told us what it meant in the Catechism.  

We see our weakness when it comes to the Word, especially in the pre-Vatican II Church.  When I was a kid, Catholics could be late for Mass, missing the whole Liturgy of the Word, but it wasn’t counted as a serious sin till the chalice was uncovered and the Liturgy of the Eucharist started.  Scripture readings and the sermon were, for all practical purposes, looked at as only a warm up for the main performance. On the other hand, many Protestant Churches have traditionally celebrated the Lord’s Supper only a couple of times a year. One of the greatest things to come out of Vatican II, was the giving of the Word back to Catholic people: at Mass, in the Sacraments, in Bible study groups and in several new modern translations.  When it comes to the Word, we Catholics have come a long way in the last 50 years! Catholics are running out of excuses for not knowing the Bible.

The Word proclaimed and preached is a “lamp unto our feet.”  “It guides us on the right path.”  At Mass, we are invited to “feed on the Eucharist,” but we are also invited to “feed on the Word.” God asked Ezekiel the prophet, in a dramatic symbolic act, to take the scroll on which the Word was written and to eat it.  He said that it tasted like honey! It reminds us that we need to "ingest" what we hear and read! It need to "get it into" us! 

Does the Word proclaimed and preached here at the Cathedral taste like honey to you?  Does it burn in your heart?  Is it a lamp unto your feet, guiding the decisions of your life?  Like the Eucharist itself, is the Word “bread for the journey and strength for the trip” for you?  If you are to be nourished by this Word, the lectors must know how to proclaim the Word, the preacher must know how to preach the Word, but you must learn how to hear the Word!  If the Word is to be honey to your ears, you cannot lay all the responsibility at the feet of lectors and preachers, you must want to be nourished, you must take responsibility for your own nourishment and engage in practical steps to make it happen.  

You could rush out and buy a big coffee table Bible and start reading it from cover to cover, but you’d probably lose interest after the first few pages.  You could sign up for Scripture courses at Saint Meinrad, but few of you would have that luxury.  What I suggest, instead, is to make the most of the Liturgy of the Word while you are here!  Do you realize that over a three-year period, we read all of the most important parts of the Bible, right here in church?  Why not buy one of those paperback lector books for yourself?  Why not read the readings and the short commentaries online several times during the week, before they are proclaimed on Sunday and preached on?  Every three years, you will have read, studied, heard read and explained all of the most important parts of the entire Bible!  And you will have done it in manageable chunks during the time you used to daydream at Mass!  If you were to undertake this simple discipline in a serious way, I predict that you will get “hooked” on the Word. You will want to know more.  You may even decide to enroll in a Scripture class or Bible discussion group outside the Mass!

Scripture has been restored as an integral part of all the renewed sacraments. Scripture has been translated into a variety of modern English versions.  Scriptural commentaries and bible study aids for the average lay person have been produced by the hundreds.  Almost every parish these days has bible study classes.  Even seminaries are stressing preaching like never before!  I have taught preaching myself, part-time, at St. Meinrad! I have even been invited to Notre Dame June 15 to give a workshop on “claiming the pulpit for spiritual leadership and personal sanctification.” Good preaching not only leads his hearers to holiness, it leads the preacher himself to holiness if it is taken seriously! Opportunities abound for Bible study!  The table is spread! Appetites must be awakened!  There is no longer any valid excuse for Roman Catholics to be biblically illiterate!

When I look out over congregations around this diocese during the Eucharist I preside at, I often wonder what I can do to awaken them to the banquet in front of them!  I am reminded of those old prospectors in the cowboy movies I grew up on!  Those old prospectors were often pictured crawling along in the hot sun, gasping for water, while all around them huge cactuses stand there, full of water, waiting to be broken open!  If we don’t take advantage of all the opportunities we now have in the church to break open the Word, in order to drink in its life-giving waters, we are like those old prospectors!

My friends, I’m trying to make a point.  Living water flows from this pulpit and living bread is given out from that table.  If it is to nourish us, we must teach ourselves to “feed on” it!  It doesn’t happen without concentration and attention! We must become conscious and deliberate about listening to the Word!  We must learn to nourish ourselves, even on those days when the lector is not clearly heard, the preacher is not inspiring, and distractions are abundant! There are no excuses and no one to blame!  It is our responsibility to take advantage of what’s here: the living Word and the living Body and Blood of Christ. We will need this “bread for the journey and strength for the trip” if we are to walk in the footsteps of Jesus next week! 

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