The Art of Preaching
By Venerable Fulton Sheen
The video appears to be edited, and various [cuts] are noted in this transcription. A longer uncut version cannot be found.
It is vain to say that people are staying away from churches because they do not like our preaching. They are staying away not because we preach a bit of sacrifice, but because we are giving a kind of sociological drivel too often, instead of Christ and Him Crucified.
Are we dropping Christ and Him Crucified? Was this not also the problem of St. Paul at one time in his life? He made his way to the university town of Athens. Talked in the market place, where he was somewhat ridiculed. But Athens is described by Luke as the town where everyone loves novelty. What better, then, to invite Paul to Mars Hill? This is one of the greatest opportunities that ever faced St. Paul: to address the learned philosophers and statesmen, and wise men of Greece.
From the point of view of homiletics, this was an absolutely perfect sermon of Paul. First of all, from a psychological point of view, he established contact with the masses. It was a beautiful start. A perfect one from the psychological point of view.
It was also perfect from the literary point of view. Talking to wise men, one must be wise. Paul therefore quoted for them two of their poets, quoted them well. Verses which they knew so well, verses sung in praise of Jupiter.
Since many of those who sat about him were university professors, and were the inheritors of the great philosophers of Greece, he became philosophical. And he spoke of God the Creator. God the Providence. God the Ruler of history. And then he ended up with a word about the Resurrection. And they said, “that’s all. We will hear you at another time.”
The sermon was a failure! Paul never once mentioned the name of Christ! He never once spoke of the Cross! There was no need of that, he would use another symbol.
Paul now shakes the dust of Athens off his feet, and he walks 40 miles to Corinth, and he had plenty of time to think of why his preaching was a failure. And he wrote it to the Corinthians. Here he was going not to a learned city, but to a corrupt and vile and degenerate city. And to the Corinthians he spoke about the foolishness of men, who believe that their wisdom is true wisdom—that really the foolishness of God is the True Wisdom.
So he said, “I have come to know among you, from now on, nothing but Christ and Him Crucified.” [cut] What Paul learned, is what we have to learn.
We are here to develop the art of preaching. I am begging you also to develop the art of being a preacher! And the art of being a preacher requires, first of all, that we begin to preach to the world, Christ and Him Crucified.
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And the result is that we tear asunder Christ and His Cross. We have in the world, therefore, the Cross-less Christ, and the Christ-less Cross.
First we have Christ without His Cross. And that is too often a Christ which we preach. Emasculated! Weak! A defender, for the most part, of political or economic or social doctrine. [cut]
But a Cross without Christ is what? It’s Dachau, it’s Auschwitz! Concentration camps! The squeezing of the life of persons like so many grapes, to make the totalitarian wine of the state.
And this is why our preaching fails. An effeminate Christ, who never deals with guilt or sin, but just supports our positions. We use Him, instead of Him using us. [cut]
What was the first word of Our Lord’s public life? That’s the key to preaching. It was come. Come! Come to me! Be inflamed with My Truth! Be on fire with My Love!
And what was the last word of Our Lord’s public life? It was go!
First we come! Then we go!
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We cannot just begin to strip ourselves of Christ and Him Crucified, and forget him as Paul did, and still be effective preachers!
But one way or another, we have to renew our lives! Be inflamed with Him! Be inflamed with Him as Peter and John, who after the Resurrection of Our Blessed Lord, in the Pentecost were led before the Sanhedrin, and they spoke with power! And they spoke with eloquence!
And what did the leaders of the Sanhedrin say? They said to them what our people must say of us: They have been with Jesus!