The Importance of Parents and the Sunday Sermon for Religious Education
Father Andrew Greeley is a well-known American socialist. Sometime ago he was invited to give a main address at a major U.S. conference of religious educators. Working on data from a survey he had carried out in Chicago, he listed the best or most effective religious educators on a scale of one-to-ten. Coming first – and so far ahead of the other nine that it should hardly be included on the same league table – were parents. In their role as religious educators of their children, mothers and fathers were the undisputed leaders in the field. That came as no surprise to anyone at the conference. One has only to reflect on one’s own life to realize that whatever religion we have, we owe in huge part to our parents and the early training we received at home.
He then moved on to number two. There was a gasp of disbelief in the hall when he announced the findings from his survey – the Parish Priest and his Sunday Homily! He was adamant. That much maligned Sunday sermon and its little-appreciated author were the second most important religious educators.
Preaching has always had a bad press. The word itself is far more commonly used in a derogatory as opposed to a literal sense. Even the clergy themselves prefer to refer to this part of their ministry or service as ‘saying a few words’ rather than ‘preaching.’ The word ‘homily,’ with its homely ring, has all but replaced ‘sermon.’ There is a holier-than-thou odor that clings to preaching, which is as offensive to the listener as it is embarrassing to the preacher.
When you look at the foundations of the Christian religion, those originally chosen to spread the word were Fishermen, who were proclaimed “fishers of men.” Fishermen are noted for two qualities: patience and hope. The results they achieve are rarely equal to the time they put in, but they persevere and hope. Again and again they launch out into the deep and cast their nets.
Preaching is like fishing. When the priest casts out into his congregation, they never know who might take the bait. They have no way of knowing what their yield may be. They will never know what words related to whom and if they had any material impact on someone’s life. Yet, as Father Andrew Greeley asserts, they ultimately do.