Bending Down with the Word of God

Originally published by Ministry & Liturgy Magazine, February 2013
– PDF version –

This article begins a 10-part series on Catholic preaching for deacons, lay preachers and priests. The series will focus on preaching among people surviving poverty. I look forward to your comments on these articles.
 

 

I prepare for the Triduum by sitting on the ground. I want to make sure that I do not miss anything. I make this physical gesture because that is where the scriptures and the liturgy seem to take me during Holy Week. I hit the ground because my preaching depends on me finding my authentic belief in the power of God to raise us all up.

Before Palm Sunday, I bend my knee to God according to Philippians to prepare for my homily. I am very conscious that people seldom see the priest get on his knees in prayer during the Eucharist of Ordinary Time. This is a place, a gesture for my personal prayer where the Word of God washes over me. Bending down alone to read the passion narrative brings me to the bodily pain of Christ Jesus and to the people who suffer alone. Here I recognize my powerlessness to really change or heal or mend anything.

As I prepare for Holy Thursday, I know I am not alone on the floor. The disciples responded to Jesus’ request and his gesture to bend down and wash their feet. I am confronted with all the ways I have yet to bend low and see people’s needs in front me. On the floor is a better position to encounter my Savior who invites me to extend my nakedness, my feet and my soul. I will encounter the feet of people who have the courage to extend them in public, but it is their faces that I will see more clearly.

The Good Friday liturgy begins with the priest on the floor. I have to be on the floor in my own prayer in order to feel the public posture of giving my all to God. I cannot give what I do not have. Prostration does not mean anything unless I feel the powerlessness well beforehand. The floor connects me to people who sleep on the sidewalk outside. The floor reminds me that I do not have answers for others’ problems or power to wield. The floor becomes a sacred space in which I am reminded that Jesus walked along a dusty path on the way to the cross. The floor, the ground reminds me that I will one day be dust.

If I do not spend time in prayer and reflection on the ground, I will never be able to peer into the empty tomb. My proclamations of new life will be stilted and softened by my own stubbornness and lack of faith. I want to run to the tomb on Easter morning. Easter will compel me off the floor as I peer in again to find Christ’s garment. I want to announce that healing will happen among our relationships and that freedom from physical and psychological pain is possible. I will get up and search and run and explore my own life in service and in ministry.

The preacher has much work to do during Triduum. The work must be centered on God. The homilies for the Triduum reflect our belief or unbelief. Our preaching will reveal our anger and our rage in life. People will notice our unhappiness, our tiredness and our unbelief. The homilies of Holy Week are an open window to the soul of the ordained. People will see everything, even the things we want to hide during the rest of the year.

Preaching during Holy Week must not be flimsy, sarcastic or full of jokes. We should not use stories that are not our own. The Christ Story must reveal the grace of people in the pews. Homilies must open up grace especially for people who feel that grace has eluded them. For people striving to find work, raise rowdy children or who have recently buried a parent, the grace of the ground of Jesus’ path must open up to them a new love. People must find themselves in the story of the Crucified; they must see their faces in the face of the Beloved who journeyed far deeper into suffering, into death itself.

The preacher must make the genuine connections of our faith in Holy Week. This is the week of all weeks for we who preach to really believe our spoken words and the written words of the gospel. This week there must be no silliness or props or cutting out homilies from a published book or pandering to the wealthy to raise money. People gather for the sacred week to find the deep and profound meaning of their lives.

People will know immediately if we have spent time in prayer on the floor. The deaf will feel the new conviction. The blind will understand with their ears. Those without a home will rest comfortably in the belief of the preacher. The mentally ill will find the rich calm of faith from the soft spoken words of a preacher who stands up from the floor and preaches the Easter message of love.

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