Unsettling advice for preachers from St Alphonsus
For the feast of St Alphonsus, I have been taking another look at some things I have quarried from the great man for this blog over the years. In 2015, I gathered some passages from St Alphonsus which were relevant for the Year of Mercy. Our saint writes with wonder at the love of God and the abundance of His grace, he encourages the sinner to convert, making a heartfelt prayer of repentance which we can use for profit, and warns sternly of the abuse of God’s mercy, using this again as a call to conversion. (See: St Alphonsus, a saint for the Year of Mercy)
There are a couple of salutary admonitions for priests which I was glad to be reminded of in the post St Alphonsus on preaching. The work “Sermons of St Alphonsus Liguori for All the Sundays of the Year” is instructive in the themes that the Saint chooses. I sometimes amuse brother priests by pointing out that his subject for the sermon for Easter Sunday is “On the miserable state of relapsing sinners.” In fact, St Alphonsus relates this to the Gospel of the day, choosing verse 6 of the 16th chapter of St Mark: “Be not affrighted: you seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen: he is not here.”
St Alphonsus expresses the hope that his hearers have risen from their sins by making their Easter duties and going to confession, but fears for those who relapse into sin, points out the dangers that cause such a fall, and explains how to overcome them.
St Alphonsus is surely doing what we are all supposed to do: relating his sermon to the needs of his hearers so as to help them to become holy. He put into practice the advice that he himself gave:
He who wishes to preach, not for the purpose of acquiring praise, but of gaining souls to God, should not seek to hear others say: Oh, what beautiful thoughts! What a splendid speaker! What a great man! But he should desire to see all going away with their heads bowed down, weeping over their sins, resolved to change their lives, and to give themselves to God.
The Sunday Sermons are quite long, but it is worth remembering that they are really what we might call talks or spiritual conferences, to be given during devotions in the afternoon, rather than short homilies to be given during Mass.
The “Instructions to Preachers” at the beginning of the book is still of value for priests and can unsettle us today.
It were well that the preacher should sometimes exhort the audience to relate to others what they have heard in the sermon; as by this means it may be made useful even to those who have not heard it.
If we are handing on the teaching of Christ and His Church, we ought to not to be embarrassed to ask others to pass it on. If we are embarrassed, is that because it is ourselves we are preaching?
“Sermons of St Alphonsus Liguori for All the Sundays of the Year” is still available in print, and some of the sermons can also be found at the Garden of Mary website. (I am sure I saw a site where the whole collection is provided in html. I’ll update the post if I find it again.) They are also at the Internet Archive in the various usual formats, and they are actually read out loud and put into mp3 files at Traditional Catholic Sermons.