Sunday, May 12, 2024



Jesus said to his disciples: “Go into the whole world and proclaim
the gospel to every creature.” They went forth and preached everywhere while
the Lord worked with them to produce obvious results.”
Mark 16:15-20

The bottom line today is this! Jesus tells us, "It's your turn to give to others what I gave you, and so that you will be able to do that, I am going to send the Holy Spirit who will give each of you a share of God's power!

Right before Jesus leaves this world and turns his mission over to us, he tells us to “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.” In other words, our first job is to teach the world what he taught us about the love of God!" In his preaching to the Romans, the apostle Paul makes the same point, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. But how can they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach? And how can people preach unless they are sent? Thus faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.”

“Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.”

My earliest memory of being attracted to preaching took place when I was seven years old in the Cloverport Baptist Church, way down river, at the funeral of my maternal grandmother’s brother, Napoleon Chappell. At that time, I had never before stepped foot in a Protestant church, but even at seven years old, I was absolutely fascinated by that Baptist preacher’s dynamic preaching style. I was both enthralled and hooked! I knew that I wasn’t supposed to like it, but I knew I did anyway!

The next time I remember being attracted to preaching was at Saint Meinrad Seminary. When I arrived there in 1965 as a Junior in college, Vatican Council II was going on and I remember taking to heart these words from that Council. “Priests have the primary duty of proclaiming the Gospel of God to all.” Not only did I hear that challenge, but I was privileged to hear monks preach engaging homilies every day in the seminary chapel. I always looked forward to their preaching.

As much as I was attracted to preaching, I had a problem. I was so bashful that I was terrorized by even having to read in the seminary chapel. It slowly began to dawn on me that I needed to overcome this handicap if I wanted to fulfill the “primary duty” of a priest after I was ordained. I resolved, then and there, to do whatever I could to conquer my crippling bashfulness.

That resolve eventually led me to sign up for a summer program for Protestant seminary students offered by the United Church of Christ. Their program was called a “A Christian Ministry in the National Parks.” I was the first Catholic seminarian to sign up for their summer preaching program. After my orientation in Chicago, I was assigned to preach in the campgrounds of Crater Lake National Park in the state of Oregon. In the summer of 1968, I preached in the park campgrounds twice every weekend all summer long. When I got back to Saint Meinrad Seminary for my final year of seminary, when we were offered our very first course in preaching, I went into that course with more preaching experience than anyone else in my class. During that final year of seminary, I was ordained a deacon and was given opportunities to preach at Saint John Vianney Church and Sts. Mary and Elizabeth Hospital here in Louisville where I had been assigned.

Two weeks after being ordained a priest fifty-four years ago this coming Thursday, I found out I was being assigned to the “home missions” down along the Tennessee border, to a parish the size of the state of Delaware where the Catholic population was only 1/10 of 1%. I was not happy, but I had no choice but to go. For ten years, preaching in a crowded sea of Protestant preachers became my main ministry. For a while, I even had my own Sunday morning radio program for a while, called Morning Has Broken. I was invited to preach four years in a row by the graduating class at a public high school that had no Catholics in it after I had been invited as a guest speaker to answer their questions about Canterbury Tales in their English Literature class. I also had the opportunity to teach Sociology and be an interfaith campus minister at Somerset Community College. Oddly enough it was during that time that I earned a Doctor of Ministry degree in “Parish Revitalization” from McCormick Presbyterian in Chicago.

After ten years in the “home missions,” I was sent to central Kentucky to a 225 year old Catholic parish in Calvary, right outside of Lebanon, Kentucky. I went from an area with almost no Catholics to an area that was almost 100% Catholic! From there, after only 3 ½ years, I was suddenly called to come to our Cathedral, a dying parish that was on the list of parishes being considered for closing. You heard me! The Cathedral was actually on a list of parishes being considered for closure. Some were pushing the idea of making Holy Spirit Church our Cathedral. Parish membership had dropped to only 110 members. By focusing mainly on preaching to fallaway and marginalized Catholics for fourteen years, we grew to over 2,100 members.

After leaving there, I went to preach to college students at Bellarmine University and to seminarians from around the world who were studying to be priests at Saint Meinrad. During fourteen of those following years, I published a weekly column in The Record that contained summaries of many of my homilies. I have preached over 80 Parish Missions and published quite a few books of collected homilies. Finally, until COVID hit and their volcano erupted, I was volunteering in the foreign missions of the Caribbean for a few years. I preached in their Cathedral of the Assumption many times, in the Bishop’s Pastoral Centre Chapel and several of their small parishes.

After that, I returned to the Cathedral for a short time and then for the last few years I have been preaching here at St. Leonard and St. Frances of Rome and at the Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged.

During all those years, in all those places, I learned the truth of what St. Gregory Nazianzus said, “One and the same exhortation does not fit all. According to the quality of the hearer ought the discourse of the teachers to be fashioned,” I learned early the truth that when it comes to preaching, one size does not fit all. A preacher must change his style to fit the hearers in front of him. One style does not fit all audiences and yet many Catholic preachers still do not get it! Let me list the groups I have preached to over the years in all those many places and the various ways in which I have tried to tailor my message depending on who was listening to me. All of them required a different approach and a different style. Here are some of those groups:


These individuals rarely miss Mass, are present at most parish functions, take advantage of opportunities for faith formation, participate in the social ministries of the parish and support the parish financially. Oddly, this may be the smallest of the groups to whom I have preached. This was my main focus when I preached in Calvary and as a seminary staff member at Saint Meinrad. My fellow Catholics, we priests must stop the routine of preaching to the choir and start paying attention to those who are NOT here – stop the routine of giving 90% of our attention to 20% of the flock just because they show up on Sundays. When will we get it through our thick heads that the numbers of those who show up are shrinking right in front of our eyes and the warmed-over. in-house. pietistic, “church-chat” we are dishing out from our pulpits is not that appetizing to most of our people?

This brings me to the next group preachers are called to feed.


This group has been called “the second largest denomination in the United States.” They may still be registered members of a parish, but they attend Mass infrequently. Some of them may even send their children to sacramental preparation or religious education. When asked, they may identify themselves as “Catholics,” having been “raised Catholic,” “former Catholics” or “recovering Catholics.” This was my main focus when I preached at the Cathedral between 1983 and 1997, in my Parish Missions and in my Record column. Not all non-practicing Catholics are alike! I can list four different types of non-practicing Catholics and each require a different preaching style:

THE MAD — those who describe themselves as having been hurt, abused, or neglected by clergy or other church workers.

THE SAD — those “separated” from the Church because of marriage, divorce, sexual orientation or doctrinal issues. Typically, these people feel a sense of loss.

THE IGNORED — those who stay away because they do not feel accepted, do not feel that they fit in or do not see other minorities like themselves. Many are immigrants or people of color.

THE BORED — those who have no particular complaint with the Church, but who have grown weaker in the practice of the faith over the years, may not have been strong to begin with or who do not identify with much that any religion has to say. They are just flat out bored with what they experience. This could be the biggest group of non-practicing Catholics.


Those in this group are believers who identify with another faith tradition. Their attitudes toward Catholics vary from outright hostility and suspicion to that of interest and respect. This group is especially important because of the number of inter-religious marriages in our Church. This was my focus when I preached in Crater Lake National Park, down in southern Kentucky, the Caribbean missions and here, especially in my work with the Cathedral Heritage Foundation.


These people do not identify with any organized religion. They describe themselves as “not interested in religion,” “spiritual, but not religious,” or “agnostics.” I have always found this group especially honest and fascinating. This group was my main focus and in southern Kentucky, especially in Monticello.

Each of those groups require a different approach and a different style of preaching. We priests and deacons simply must move beyond our “one style” “take it or leave it” attitude.

In preaching to all these groups, I have tried my best over the last 50 plus years to carry out the words of Vatican Council II, “Priests have the primary duty of proclaiming the Gospel of God to all.” Because I consider preaching to have been my “primary duty” all these years, in my own funeral plans, I have asked to be laid out in my free Saint Meinrad casket, holding a copy of the Lectionary in my hands rather than a chalice that most priest are laid out holding. It is a gift given to me by the Archbishop of Winnipeg, Canada, after a couple of days of talking to him and his priests about their “primary duty” of preaching.

In all those years of preaching to such a wide-range of audiences, I have tried to heed the words of Saint Gregory the Great who said “The preacher must dip his pen into the blood of his heart; then he will be able to reach his neighbor’s ears!” In other words, I have tried to share my own doubts, my own failures, my own sins and my own setbacks. To remind me of that, I have always tried to remember the words of the famous baseball player, Johnny Sain, who said, “People don’t want to hear about the labor pains, they just want to see the baby.” When sharing my problems, I have understood that people don’t want to hear about how bad I had it, they just want to know how to overcome their own setbacks and sins! I believe that our people “want their visions lifted to higher sights, their performance to a higher level and their personalities stretched beyond normal limitations.” I believe that our people want to become holy, but they are often left “like sheep without a shepherd.”



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