Preaching in the Precious Blood Tradition
These reflections on preaching in the Precious Blood tradition developed during the Precious Blood Congress: One Name – A Thousand Voices, held in Dayton, OH, August 1-4, 2005. During that gathering, about a dozen preachers from the Missionaries of the Precious Blood, the Sisters of the Precious Blood (Dayton, OH), the Adorers of the Blood of Christ, and the Sisters of the Most Precious Blood (O'Fallon, MO) , as well as some of their lay associates, came up with a list of characteristics of Precious Blood preaching.
I have taken that listed and expanded on each of the seven characteristics.
I try to put them into practice whenever I preach or tech others about preaching.
Seven Characteristics of Preaching in the Precious Blood Tradition
The order in which these seven characteristics appear is based simply on the order in which they were articulated during our meeting. If I were a scholar, I’d do some major research on them, refine the wording, come up with a list in order of importance. I do not, however, claim to be a scholar, just a fellow preacher in the Precious Blood Tradition.
Precious Blood Preaching includes personal witness and story telling.
Jesus’ preaching, especially as witnessed to in the Synoptic Gospels, is full of stories. Many are parables. Some use agricultural images – images with which the people would have been familiar.
Many of us, as people who have heard a good number of homilies, sermons or other preachings, have been moved most often by a good story – especially by the witness of what God has done in the preacher’s life. Personal witness touches the listener’s heart. It has a way of engaging people in the preaching event. A really good story has a way of drawing the listener into it. A good story does not need a lot of commentary. It speaks for itself. It allows the listener to make connections to his or her own life, his or her own experiences. It helps the listener recognize the presence of God in his or her own life story.
When telling a story it is important that it be true. That does not mean that it really happened. A good work of fiction is true. It just never happened that way. The parables of Jesus are true – even if there never was a good shepherd, a prodigal son, a good Samaritan, a king who held a wedding feast, etc. A good story contains a truth that speaks of God’s action in our lives. It reveals something about life that moves people to think about their lives in new ways.
If a good story is always true, the preacher should never deceive the listeners. It should be clear whether the story is a story or a personal witness. The two should never be confused. If it didn’t happen or it didn’t happen to the preacher, one shouldn’t leave the listeners with the impression that it did. If people discover that they have been lied to, then the whole story, the whole message of the story might be forgotten or abandoned in the minds of the listeners, no matter how good the story is. That doesn’t mean one cannot be creative in the telling of the story – only that everything must be focused on communicating of the truth of God’s action.
In story telling and witness preaching, the focus is always on God. God is the one who has done great things and holy is God’s name – to borrow a phrase from Mary of Nazareth as recounted in the gospel of Luke. I am never the hero in my own faith story, nor is some other person. No matter how great the person, how holy his or her life, the focus of our stories is always what God has done. Recall that in Mary’s canticle, she says, “All generations to come will call me blessed because of what God has done for me.” She does not point toward herself. She takes no credit for what she has done. We should model our preaching on this simple witness of faith.
Precious Blood Preaching is overwhelmingly positive – focused on Good News.
There is enough bad news in the world. Our preaching does not need to add to it. Precious Blood preaching is not meant to make us feel guilty, but is meant to help us to recognize who we are. We are the beloved sons and daughters of God. We are God’s chosen ones. We people of the covenant, the cross, and the cup. We are people reconciled in the blood of Christ. We are already saved. We are on the way to heaven. These are all statements of good news.
There was a time when most preaching – especially most mission preaching – was focused on our sinfulness and our need for redemption. That time has passed. Precious Blood preaching needs to be focused on what God has done in Jesus Christ. The central message of the gospel – Donald Senior, C.P. reminded those who attended the Precious Blood Congress 2005 – can be found in John 3: 16-17 – For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. That’s good news.
Good news leads us to giving praise and thanks to God. It changes lives. It leads to conversion. It does not beat people up. It does not use guilt to change people’s behaviors. It does not paint a picture of a god who needs to be feared, but of One who has redeemed us in his own blood.
Precious Blood Preaching proclaims that reconciliation starts with God’s mercy.
Many of us learned that in order to be reconciled with God we needed to be sorry, confess or sins, make a firm purpose of amendment, do penance, and then we would be forgiven. This understanding of reconciliation has little or no foundation in scripture. All of the stories of reconciliation in the gospels begin with God’s mercy. Jesus forgives first. Then he waits to see what will happen.
Jesus does not ask the woman caught it adultery if she is sorry. He simply says, “Neither do I condemn you and from now on do not sin anymore.” (John 8:14) Jesus does not ask Zacchaeus if his is sorry or if he is willing to change. He simply invites himself into Zacchaeus’ home. That simple act of recognition is the foundation for Zacchaeus’ conversion. He repents after his experiences mercy, not before. The same is true in almost every story of forgiveness or reconciliation in the Christian Scriptures.
Precious Blood preachers do not demand contrition first. They proclaim God’s mercy first, and then they watch what happens. They tell stories of how God’s mercy has been their salvation. They do not talk about what they did or what any did or can do to deserve that mercy. The scriptures make it eminently clear – mercy is a gift. It cannot be earned or deserved. Nothing we do makes us worthy of salvation. In fact, St. Paul reminds us in the letter to the Romans, “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
When preaching at a penance service, the focus is on God’s mercy. If we focus on our sins, there is no reason to celebrate. But if we focus on God’s overwhelming mercy – in spite of our sins – then there is every reason to rejoice.
Precious Blood Preaching is for sinners.
Like Jesus, we have not come to preach to the self-righteous, but to sinners. (Mark 2:17) We have come, not with bad news for sinner, but with Good News. We have not come to condemn, but to proclaim abundant love.
The Good News for sinners is not that the reign of God is off in the distance. It is not that one day we will be saved. It is that the reign of God is at hand, that we are already saved through the blood of the Lamb.
This does not mean that we ignore sin or say that everything we do is good. We can preach about sin. We can call people to change of heart. We can ask people to look at their behavior and challenge them to live gospel values. Sin is real and is a part of our lives – but it does not “separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:39) Condemning sinners is not the central to our preaching. This is good news – not hell fire and damnation.
Fear of God is not being afraid of God. It is being in awe of the one who shows mercy – especially when mercy is neither earned nor deserved. When the early Christian community first began to sing Kyrie eleison, it was not because they were pleading for mercy. It was because they were aware that the One who shows mercy was in their midst.
Sinners are not saved because they have a personal relationship with their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, but because the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ has a personal relationship with us! Salvation does not depend on me. It depends on Christ. It doesn’t start with me and my conversion or contrition. It starts with God’s love and mercy as shown to us in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Precious Blood Preaching is always hopeful.
Preaching in the Precious Blood tradition is inherently hopeful. It is hope that enables people to change. Without hope, there is no reason to move forward in one’s relationships with God or with others.
St. Paul reminds us that “in hope we were saved…”(Romans 8:24) and that “whatever was written previously was written for our instruction, that by endurance and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.” (Romans 15:4) It is precisely our redemption in the Blood of Christ that gives us this hope, and it is out of this hope that we preach.
Precious Blood Preaching is rooted in the circumstances of life – it’s concrete.
Our preaching, like that of Moses to the people of Israel, “is not too mysterious and remote for you. It is not up in the sky, that you should say, ‘Who will go up in the sky to get it for us and tell us of it, that we may carry it out?’ Nor is it across the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross the sea to get it for us and tell us of it, that we may carry it out?’ No, it is something very near to you…” (Deuteronomy 30: 11-14) Thus our preaching must be down to earth – concrete – rooted in the circumstances of our lives.
We are not teachers, proclaiming some theory. We are preachers, proclaiming our salvation, here and now. We are not dreamers pointing to some distant reality. We are men and women of faith, who see and help others to see the reality of God’s grace at work in the world. We do not believe that “God is watching us from a distance,” but that “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory….” (John 1: 14)
Our stories need to be down to earth – something our listeners can relate to. We need to speak to the specific, concrete realities we and our listeners encounter. In this way we can help one another recognize God at work in our lives and in the world.
Precious Blood Preaching is Scriptural.
Precious Blood preaching is rooted in the scriptures, especially in the scriptures proclaimed in the celebrations that make up mission. Some preachers make direct connections to the readings – others are more subtle. But the connections need to be there. Our words are not the Word. Only the scriptures are the Word of God. So we, as Precious Blood preachers, need to be rooted in the Word of God.
We need to begin our preparations for preaching by prayerful reflection on the Word that will be proclaimed – not on the message we want to proclaim. We may want to look at some of the optional readings provided in the Liturgy Supplement. We may even want to choose one or more of those optional readings as the text to be proclaimed. If we do this, we need to notify the parish coordinator well in advance of the mission celebrations, especially if the reading we are changing is one of those that the team will be reflecting on during its preparation meetings.
In addition to the readings proclaimed during the celebration, we may want to bring in some other Scriptural images as we preach. We need, however, not to use the Scriptures as proof texts. We are not fundamentalists and should avoid appearing to be so.
We preach a living Word – the Word who became flesh. We preach God’s Word.