Jay's Blog 

Spring branchSummer blessings! A cold, wet (thank you, Lord!) spring here in the Northeast is giving way to the promise of a warm and green summer.  Polos, shorts and deck shoes are now the order of the day (as God intended it to be).  We hope this installment of the blog, our every-now-and-then missive, finds you easing into the post-Pentecost season of peace, calm and enrichment.  Thank you for taking a moment to join in our ongoing conversation about the ministry of proclaiming the word of God that we all share.

Look up and listen, preachers . . .

No pope in my lifetime has better modeled effective preaching than Pope Francis.  The Holy Father offered a thoughtful reflection on homiletics in his landmark encyclical The Joy of the Gospel; his daily extemporaneous morning homilies in the chapel of St. Martha House where he resides are recorded by Vatican Radio and have been published in four books (and counting).

A new collection of Pope Francis’ major homilies and talks from his days as archbishop of Buenos Aires (published last fall under the title Nei Tuoi Occhi È La Mia Parola – “In Your Eyes Are My Word”) opens with a conversation between Pope Francis and one of his favorite interviewers, Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro.  In the exchange, Francis talks about the nuts-and-bolts of putting those daily homilies together.

“I begin at midday, the day before.  I read the Scripture texts of the following day, and I choose one of the two.  I then read aloud the text I have chosen.  I need to hear the sound, to listen to the words.  And then I underline, in the notebook that I use, the words that struck me most.  I circle the words that hit me.  During the rest of the day, as I do what I have to do, the words and thoughts come and go.  I meditate, reflect, savor the things . . .”

Like all of us who preach, Francis admits, “there are days when I reach the evening and nothing has come to mind, and I have no idea what I will say the following day.”  On such occasions “I do what St. Ignatius said:  I sleep on it.  And then, suddenly, when I wake up, the inspiration comes.  The right things come, sometimes strong, other times weaker.  But it is this way, and I feel ready.”

But besides the text itself, a homily that is a “happy experience of the Spirit [and] a consoling encounter with God’s word” includes two essential elements:

First, Pope Francis says, “listen to the lives of people.  If you do not listen to people, how can you preach?  The closer you are to people, the better you will preach or bring the word of God nearer their lives.  In this way, you link the word of God to a human experience that has need of this word . . . [But] the more distant you are from people and their problems, the more you will take refuge in a theology that is framed as ‘You must,’ and ‘You must not,’ which communicates nothing, which is empty, abstract, lost in nothing, in thoughts.  At such times we respond with our words to questions that nobody is asking.”
                          
And, if you don’t believe Francis, read the Gospels themselves:  “[Jesus] was in contact with people,” Francis points out Jesus’ preaching is “direct, concrete:  he spoke of things that the farmers and the shepherds knew well from experience. He did not use abstract concepts.”

And the second element of effective preaching is making a visual connection with the congregation. 
                                       
“To preach to people it is necessary to look at them, to know how to look and how to listen, to enter into the ebb and flow of their lives, to immerse oneself in them,” to be “in contact with them, touch them, caress them” or “in silence look into their eyes.”

It’s almost as if Pope Francis sits in on our Connections planning sessions . . .

Connect-ing every day . . .
  
With things slowing down a bit for the summer, maybe you’re finding yourself spending a little more time on opening up God’s word at weekday liturgies.  If so, our weekday resource might be worth a look.

Connections DAILY is our electronic newsletter of ideas and images designed to help you develop your own brief reflection on the daily Gospel readings.  For each weekday, Connections DAILY provides an idea for a one-to-two minute homily (we know — you have to keep it short at weekday liturgies), concluding with a brief prayer that summarizes the point.  The reflection and prayer usually center on the day’s Gospel, but are sometimes drawn from the first reading or the day’s feast or saint whose memorial is being observed.  Each DAILY reflection focuses on a single idea to help you develop your own concise, to-the-point homily.

Subscriptions to Connections DAILY are $50 a year.  The DAILY is delivered ONLY via e-mail.  We apologize to those of you who would prefer a “paper” version, but making this service an electronic newsletter is the only way we can make producing  The DAILY viable, timely budget-friendly.

A recent sampling of Connections DAILY reflections can be found on our website (see the “pull down menu,” above), or contact us and we’ll be happy to send you a week’s sampling.  An order form is also available on the next page.

Early June at Saint Meinrad . . .

The first weekend in June, your humble correspondent will be leading the annual retreat for the deacon-candidates of the Diocese of Springfield, Illinois.  The Gospel Christ in Every Season will be the theme of the retreat, to take place at Saint Meinrad Archabbey in Indiana.  The conferences will focus on the Scriptural themes and images of each of the seasons of the liturgical year and what that part of the Gospel story says to us in ministry.

If you’re considering a preaching retreat/study day or are in the planning stages of a homily training program for the priests and deacons of your diocese, region, community, etc., please let us know if we can be of assistance.  We’d be happy to help you develop themes and topics as well as put you in contact with speakers and facilitators.  Contact us anytime — at no cost or obligation — to talk about a program or workshop designed to meet your community’s specific needs.

New from Liturgical Press

We’d like to bring to your attention to two new Liturgical Press publications that, frankly, I have more than a passing interest in:

The Deacon’s Ministry of the Word offers both scriptural and theological resources, as well as strategies and approaches, for effectively communicating the word of God. The book focuses primarily on the homily — but the ideas and skills can be readily applied by deacons in any presentation in which the word of God is central, including RCIA meetings and retreat conferences.
(And, as stated in the book’s introduction, the ideas and strategies presented are not limited just to a “deacon’s homily” but apply to the work of every homilist, whether the homilist be priest, bishop minister or lay folk.

The book is my contribution to the Liturgical Press’ three-volume The Deacon’s Ministry series.  Each book explores one of the three fundamental diaconal ministries identified by the Council Fathers at Vatican II: those of the liturgy, of the word, and of charity to the people of God (Lumen Gentium 29).  The series was written for deacons and those in diaconal formation, their families, the bishops and priests they work with, and the people they serve. 

In addition to my book on preaching, the series includes Fritz Bauerschmidt’s concise and accessible introduction to the liturgical aspects of the ministry of the diaconate, and Bill Dietwig’s insights on the Scriptural, historical, and theological foundation of the deacon’s practice of charity and justice.

This past year I worked Diana Macalintal and Brian Schmisek to put together the 2017-2018 edition of Living Liturgy, Liturgical Press’ annual planning resource (and related products) for celebrants, lectors, music ministers, prayer leaders, worship planners, RCIA teams, etc.  

More details and ordering information on both books are available from Liturgical Press at St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minn.

Stay plugged into the conversation . . .

Thank you, one and all, for your notes and e-mails with your suggestions for Connections and comments about the Sunday newsletter, The DAILY, our new projects, and our website — they are invaluable in our planning.  We are especially gratified (and humbled) by the many kind and complimentary notes subscribers write on their renewal cards and forms.   

Send your questions, comments and suggestions to the address below or e-mail us anytime at jaycormier@comcast.netAnd please check out our website throughout the week for additional preaching and liturgical resources, including exegetical notes on the coming Sunday Gospel and stories from our Connections archives.

Rejects in the center

Finally, a flame of Pentecost wisdom from an essay by Samuel Wells in The Christian Century.  Wells was dean of the Duke University Chapel and professor of Christian Ethics at Duke Divinity School; in 2013, he returned his native England to serve as vicar of St. Martin-in-the-Fields in London.

“I worked in a community where a leader said to me, ‘You know, we’re a bunch of misfits who somehow fit together.’  He discovered that if we worked constructively with this reality, we could become something beautiful.  Inclusion isn’t really the right word.  It suggests there are those ‘in the center’ whose lives are normal and privileged that should jolly well open the doors, welcome people ‘from the periphery,’ and be kind and generous.  The problem is that this approach is patronizing and paternalistic.  The community leader wasn’t regarding himself as normal and secure and above it all: he saw himself as one of the misfits.  He was reframing the idea of a center and a periphery; the cost of that idea is that periphery feels humiliated and the center feels smug . . .

“That’s what ministry’s all about – not condescendingly making alienated strangers feel welcome, but seeking out the rejected because they are the energy and life force that will transform us all . . . If you’re looking for the future church, look at what church and society have so blithely rejected.  The life of the church is about constantly recognizing the sin of how much we have rejected, and celebrating that God gives us back what we once rejected to become the cornerstone of our lives.”

May the cornerstone of our Church be our brother and sister misfits in whom we see and hear Christ, the stone rejected by the “center” but whose love extends beyond the peripheries.

Jay Cormier


Easter myrrhbearers

Let us not stay imprisoned within ourselves,
but let us break open our sealed tombs to the Lord
so that he may enter and grant us life. 
Let us give him the stones of our rancor and the boulders of our past,
those heavy burdens of our weaknesses and falls. 
Christ wants to come and take us by the hand
to bring us out of our anguish.
 

This is the first stone to be moved aside this night:
the lack of hope which imprisons us within ourselves. 
May the Lord free us from this trap,
from being Christians without hope,
who live as if the Lord were not risen,
as if our problems were the center of our lives . . .

This is the foundation of our hope,
which is not mere optimism,
nor a psychological attitude or desire to be courageous. 
Christian hope is a gift that God gives us if we come out of ourselves
and open our hearts to him. 
This hope does not disappoint us
because the Holy Spirit has been poured into our hearts (cf. Rom 5:5). 
The Paraclete does not make everything look appealing. 
He does not remove evil with a magic wand. 
But he pours into us the vitality of life,
which is not the absence of problems,
but the certainty of being loved and always forgiven by Christ,
who for us has conquered sin, death and fear. 

Today is the celebration of our hope,
the celebration of this truth . . .
As joyful servants of hope,
we must announce the Risen One by our lives and by our love;
otherwise we will be only an international organization
 full of followers and good rules,
yet incapable of offering the hope for which the world longs. 

Pope Francis
Homily for the Easter Vigil, Easter 2016

May this Easter season be a time of grace to “roll back the stone” of fear, cynicism and despair and walk in the transforming light of Easter hope. 

Easter blessings to you and those you serve and minister to.

Jay Cormier


Lenten blessings! Another long New England winter has peaked and the earth has begun its turn toward Easter spring.  The smudges of ash on our foreheads are signs of a similar “turning” that we seek within our winter spirits.  We post this installment of the blog with the prayer that this season of turning may take hold in your heart and spirit this Lent.  Thank you for taking a moment during these busy days to join in our ongoing conversation on the ministry of preaching and proclaiming the Word of God, the Risen One in our midst.

“What NOT to do at Mass”

Father William J. Bausch is one of our great pastors and preachers.  The New Jersey priest has authored several books on preaching that emphasize the power of story in proclaiming the Gospel.  Father Bausch’s work inspired in no small way the beginnings of Connections.

Now 87, Father Bausch assists weekends at Garden State parishes.  In a recent essay in Commonweal (December 16, 2016), Father Bausch offers “a torrent of liturgical annoyances that have always bothered me” after sixty years as a preacher-celebrant.  Father Bausch’s essay, “What Not to Do at Mass,” is much more than one veteran priest’s list of “annoyances” — he offers some insightful suggestions on making the Sunday Eucharist a more meaningful and nourishing experience for the worshiping community.

Some basics we miss, Father Bausch says: bad microphone systems and music that trivializes the Word and sacrament we celebrate. 

Questionable trends that have to end: announcements at the end of Mass (“close off the liturgy with a song, not commercials), soliciting and recruiting at Mass, and missalettes (get rid of them, Father Bausch argues: “Can you imagine going to a Broadway play with the script in hand and having your head buried in the pages during the performance?”)

Work to be done: train and re-train lectors to proclaim the Word with “clarity, meaning and intelligence.” 
In this space we’d like to highlight two specific suggestions Father Bausch makes that you might consider for your parish.        

First, take on the cell phones that distract and isolate us from one another.  For the “strong of heart,” Father Bausch proposes, “’let’s make an effort — yes, a Lenten effort if that helps the motivation — to leave our phones and gadgets in the car.  Let’s be known as the parish that does that . . . Leave your cell phone in the car.  Just as some families have rightfully banned all cell phones from the dinner table, we will ban them from church.  Leave them in your car.  Give them a rest.  Give yourselves over to sacred space with receptive minds and hearts.”

And please, Father Bausch urges, improve the preaching.

“The most common faults I find are too little preparation, too many points, and material of interest to scholars and Egyptologists, but not to where people are on their spiritual journey.  If you build words that speak to their world, they will come — but the fact is, in spite of the grandiose official words of general councils and episcopal statements, no one really cares.  No one monitors parish preaching, replacing preachers (no matter how nice they are) whose second-language English is difficult to understand or removing those who belittle or offend or simply preach non-nourishing platitudes.  After all, there’s a priest shortage and bishops, happy to have warm bodies, are not going to scrutinize preaching too closely even if it ranks as almost the number-one reason why people leave.

“The Mass should be a whole.  From the greeting at the beginning to the closing hymn to the end.  No detours, however interesting or entertaining.”

A provocative list of suggestions from a pastor with the wisdom and experience to back them up.  Want to kindle a spark at your parish’s next meeting of the liturgy committee?  Distribute Father Bausch’s article and let them all have at it.

And let us know how it goes.

Preaching skills NOT just for deacons . . .

This humble scribe’s latest offering from Liturgical Press is now available.

The Deacon’s Ministry of the Word offers both scriptural and theological resources, as well as strategies and approaches, for effectively communicating the Word of God. The book is the result of a series of workshops I have led over the years for priests and deacons.  While the book is “targeted” to deacons, anyone engaged in the ministry of proclamation and preaching will find the material helpful.  (As I try to make clear in the book’s introduction, there’s not a “priest’s way of preaching” and a “deacon’s way of preaching.)

The book focuses primarily on the homily — but the ideas and skills can be readily applied by deacons (and others) in any presentation in which the Word of God is central, including RCIA meetings and retreat conferences.

You can order The Deacon’s Ministry of the Word from Liturgical Press or from your favorite book store.

A “thank you” gift to our best marketers — you . . . !

Our most effective marketing tool for Connections is you.

New subscribers tell us again and again that they discovered Connections because of a friend or colleague who shared Connections with them.  As our way of saying thanks to those of you who have recommended Connections to your friends and coworkers, we invite you to take advantage of our 33/3 Plan:  Enter a one-year subscription for a friend at the first-time subscription rate of $33 (a savings of more than a third off the current subscription rate of $52) and we’ll ADD THREE ISSUES to YOUR current subscription.

Simply send your check or money order for $33 (payment must be enclosed), with the name and address of the new subscriber (and his/her e-mail address if they want to receive Connections electronically) and your own name and address to our office: 7 Lantern Lane, Londonderry, N.H. 03053-3905. 

Two ground rules: This is for NEW subscriptions ONLY (NOT for renewals) and this offer ends on April 30, 2107.

Thank you for “connecting” with us — and for helping us make Connections with your colleagues and coworkers.

“Connecting” the other six days of the week

More and more priests and ministers are making connections with their worshiping communities of weekdays, as well as Sundays. 

Our weekday resource Connections DAILY provides an image or idea for a short, one-to-two minute homily based on the day’s readings, ending with a brief prayer summarizing the theme.  The reflection/prayer usually centers on the day’s Gospel, but can also be centered in the first reading or the feast or saint being celebrated.  We keep it brief and to the point — we know the clock is ticking at weekday liturgies.  

The DAILY is only available via e-mail; subscriptions are $50 per year.  A sampler of Connections DAILY reflections can be found by clicking on THE DAILY on the menu bar above.

A resource for your Lenten preaching

Copies of the 2017 edition of Connections for the Weekdays of Lent are still available.  This popular resource includes reflections and meditations for every weekday of the Lenten season and the Easter Triduum.  The Lenten issue is available in two formats: the “paper” version, sent via overland mail, for $32 ($33 for Canadian subscribers; $34 for overseas orders — U.S. funds, please).  An e-mail version, sent directing to your computer’s inbox, is also available for $29.  Contact us and we’ll get a copy to you immediately.

Join in the conversation . . .

Thank you for your notes and e-mails about Connections, The DAILY, and our website — we’re especially humbled and grateful for the kind notes many of you have been including on your renewal cards. Your suggestions, ideas and criticisms direct our planning, writing, and editing. We appreciate, too, your sharing your own war stories that help all of us learn more about the ministry of preaching. The e-mail address: jaycormier@comcast.net.

We hope you’ll bookmark our website or add it to your Favorites list. We regularly post new resources for homilists — and, as we’ve happily discovered of late, many catechists and RCIA teams have found our site helpful, as well. The site includes exegetical notes for each Sunday’s Gospel and stories and reflections we post from past issues Connections and Connections DAILY. You’ll also find a listing of our special issues series, information on workshop and retreat programs, and practical advice for effectively communicating the Word in your homily. 

Drop by our site anytime, and let us know what you like about the site and how we can make it more helpful to you.

Light up your preaching this Lent . . .

The Amen! to this Lenten edition of the blog comes from the late Archbishop Oscar Romero, from The Violence of Love, a collection of his homilies and writings:

“Above all, what I want in my preaching is to place within reach of everyone, even the simplest, the grand message of the Gospel, which I serve with all my heart and would not want to be distorted . . .

“The principal thing that I would like you to take away with you from my preaching is the light of the Gospel. 

“With that light you yourselves can illuminate, not the events that I point out, but concrete events of your own, those of your families, those in your lives, among your friends, in your job.

“Preaching is done so that all Christians who ponder the Gospel can, in enlightening their own lives, illuminate with the principles of Christ the events that surround them.”

May your preaching this Lent and Easter season spark the light of the Risen One in the hearts of your hearers, enabling them to recognize his presence in their everyday lives and loves.       

Jay Cormier


POSTED:  December 14, 2016

Nativity iconChristmas blessings! May the stars of Advent shine brightly in your sky with the promise of peace and hope as many approach the New Year with anxiety, concerns — and fear.  This entry comes with the prayer that the light of Emmanuel will illuminate the path we walk together in 2017 with God’s wisdom, justice and compassion.  Thank you for taking a moment from these especially busy days to join our ongoing conversation on the ministry of proclamation and preaching.

“Mulling” over four questions

The late Walter Burghardt called it “mulling”: starting our homily preparation by spending time (ideally, several days) praying with and over the Gospel text, letting the words simmer in our minds and hearts, playing with the images, understanding what this Gospel might have to say to our communities trying to live the Paschal mystery today. 

“Mulling” until a promising central idea bursts for. 

Such “mulling” is a form of prayer, prayer in which we listen to God speaking in this text.  But this “mulling” process is not confined to sitting in church with the lectionary on our laps.  In this praying/mulling process, the Gospel becomes a lens through which we see the world.  More often than not, we will “see” this Gospel come alive in a conversation with someone, something we see or hear or read or encounter, a decision we have to make.

The “mulling” stage is not about figuring out what we’re going to say but discovering what Christ is saying and doing in this particular text. 

Your “mulling” might center around four questions:

What is the single most striking word, sentence or image in this Gospel?  

There are images and phrases in the Gospel that are especially striking: the “good” shepherd; “it cannot be that way with you”; the father who begs Jesus to heal his daughter; “fear is useless”; the grain of wheat that dies to realize its harvest.  What single word or image or sentence in this pericope strikes you?  Over time, you will be amazed at what words and pictures capture your imagination.

One of the wonders of Scripture is that one word or phrase or image may strike you today, while next week or next month or next year you may find a different image from the reading compelling.  Take your thinking where the Spirit leads you on this given day.  And don’t worry that you’ll run out of surprises in a given Gospel reading — you will always find a new idea to explore and open up in Jesus’ Gospel.

You might consider, too, how a Gospel text would read if Jesus were speaking today.  What images would Jesus use if he were preaching this Gospel in our time and place?  For example, how would he cast the parable of the Good Samaritan in this parish?  Or what images would Jesus use to preach the Beatitudes in 21st century America?  (Note Pope Francis recent take on the Beatitude in his All Saints Day homily in Sweden.)  How would the rich young man or woman we know respond to Jesus’ imperative that they sell all that they have the sake of the poor.  Imagine this Gospel playing out in your home, in your community, in your parish and recast the characters accordingly.

Where and how do we see this Gospel in our time and place? 
                        
Look around.  Who in your parish is the generous widow, the prodigal’s father, the woman seeking justice, Jairus begging for a cure for his daughter? 

Who are the saints in your life: the Elizabeths and Zechariahs, the Annas and Simeons, the Mary Magdalenes, the Zaccheuses, the faithful and compassionate myrrh bearers of Easter morning?

Where have you heard God calling you as he calls to Mary in the appearance of Gabriel?  When have you been confronted with the need to forgive and heal as the prodigal’s father must do for the sake of his family?  How have you experienced the generosity of the widow who readily gives her entire livelihood of a few pennies or been challenged by the dubious promise of the mustard seed?

What exactly is going on in this particular Gospel?  Why does Jesus say what he does?  What are the cultural, political, and psychological factors involved here?  When Jesus speaks about marriage, for example, what is the cultural understanding of marriage that Jesus is confronting?  Why are palm branches waved by the crowds as Jesus enters Jerusalem?  What makes the Pharisees tick?  Why were tax collectors so detested?  What was life like for a working shepherd? 

Understand the context that serves as the background of this reading.

What is Jesus asking us to do? 

The Gospel is not a warm, fluffy blanket of charming stories — it is a call to establish the kingdom of God in our time and place.  God’s kingdom of peace and hope is built only through sacrifice, selflessness and generosity. 

So what is Jesus asking us to DO in this Sunday’s Gospel?  And be as specific as you can.  How can we respond to the situation confronted by the Good Samaritan?  What are the implications of Jesus’ cleansing of the temple for us in our own parish?  How do we embrace the grace of the prodigal son’s father when our sympathies lie with the prodigal’s older brother?

Deacon's Ministry of the WordHow does this Gospel reveal God’s love in our midst? 

Every line of the Gospel challenges us but it also assures us that the grace of God is ours, that the love of God is constant despite our failure to embrace it or our obtuseness in recognizing it.  How does the Gospel you are “mulling” over reveal that reality?  

Typically, one or two key ideas will emerge from your “mulling.” 

Your struggling to answer any of these questions is the beginning of preaching a homily that makes the Word of God “take flesh” for your parish community.

[This essay was adapted from the new book The Deacon’s Ministry of the Word, published this month by Liturgical Press.]

A ‘well-trained tongue’ takes work

This time of year we get calls asking for help in developing training programs and skills workshops in preaching in the new year.  Please contact us if you think we might be able to help your clergy/diaconate group put together a study day, workshop, conference or retreat on the ministry of preaching.  We’d welcome the opportunity to talk with you about the possibilities and offer suggestions for programs and leaders. 

Connect-ing every day . . .

So you’ve already resolved to “up” your preaching in 2017 (we all do).  This year give your resolution a fighting chance by connecting to The DAILY.

Connections DAILY provides an image or idea for a short, one-to-two minute homily based on the day’s readings, concluding with a brief prayer summarizing the theme.  The reflection/prayer usually centers on the day’s Gospel, but can also be inspired by the first reading or the day’s feast or saint.  We keep it brief and to the point — we realize that the clock is running at weekday liturgies, allowing for a single, well-developed idea or reflection.

The DAILY is only available via e-mail; subscriptions for Connections subscribers are $50 per year. 

A recent sampling of Connections DAILY reflections, as well as an order form, can be found by clicking on The DAILY tab on the menu bar, above. .


  
Our marketing folks would like me to remind you that Connections makes a much-appreciated gift for the homilists and catechists on your Christmas gift-giving list.  Your first gift is $52; your second and third gifts are $40; and all gifts after that are just $30 each.

Bigger savings if you go the electronic route: your first gift is $46, your second is $38 and your third and more are only $30 each.

We can send a card announcing your gift — or, if you prefer, we will send the card to you to give to the recipient.  Contact us at the address and phone numbers below.  


  
We cannot begin to express our gratitude to you for the many notes and e-mails we receive about Connections, The DAILY, our special projects and issues, and the Connections website.  Your taking the time to share with us your comments, ideas, suggestions and war stories is something that we do not take for granted.  How you use Connections and, specifically, what you use from Connections in your preaching ministry are our principal guides in planning each issue.  Connect with us anytime at jaycormier@comcast.net.

And remember to visit this website regularly for additional resources, including exegetical notes we post each week on the week’s Sunday Gospel and stories from our Connections archives.

And grace upon your Bethlehem . . .

And finally, our wishes to you for a blessed Christmas season, in the words of an old Irish blessing:

The light of the Christmas star to you.
The hope of a childlike heart to you.
The joy of a thousand angels to you.
The love of the Son and God’s peace to you.
       

Jay Cormier


POSTED:  August 1, 2016

Maine lobster boatLate summer blessings! May the peace of these last weeks of summer slow and ease your days before things ramp up again in the fall.  I have always found August 1 to be the saddest day of the year — it’s the day when we have to start getting serious about gearing up for fall programs and classes.  It’s usually the day when at least one leaf on the birch tree outside my office window begins to yellow, the first sign that we are turning toward autumn.
               
While the summer lingers and the leaves hold on for a few more weeks, pour a glass of something cold and join in our ongoing conversation on the ministry of proclaiming the Word of God that we all share.

Sundays with TED

TED TalksIn 1984, architect and graphic designer Richard Saul Wurman brought together a group of tech and design professionals in Monterey, California.  Wurman realized the once unimaginable innovations that were now possible by the convergence of technology, entertainment and design.  Among the talks given during that inaugural assembly was the first demonstration of the SONY compact disk.

That was the beginning of the initiative known by the acronym TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design).   Since 1984, TED has organized conferences around the world, in addition to its major annual West Coast meeting.  TED has also expanded its vision beyond the “TED” world to include any topic that inspires and informs.  TED presentations are also posted online for everyone to access, free of charge.

Besides the insight and innovation it has inspired, TED has also redefined public speaking.  TED has developed new models and strategies for crafting short talks that unlock empathy, stir excitement, share knowledge, and inspire dreams. 

There is a definite structure and approach to a TED talk (which is set at a maximum of 18 minutes), and Chris Anderson, the current president of the nonprofit TED organization, has assembled a terrific book compiling the speech communications strategies and techniques developed at TED.  Anyone whose work includes speaking before an audience of five or five hundred will find TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking a valuable read.

And if your principal concern is that 10 minutes on Sunday mornings between the Gospel and the Creed (our focus here, of course) TED Talks has something for you, as well.  We especially recommend the sections on common speaking traps (chapter 3), scripting an effective talk (chapter 11), and how to employ one’s voice and presence effectively (chapter 17).

We’d like to highlight three particular bits of wisdom from Anderson and company that every homilist should embrace:

First, understand the role of speaking — and preaching.  Anderson expresses it beautifully: “Your number-one mission as a speaker is to take something that matters deeply to you and rebuild it inside the minds of your listeners.”  The operative word here is matters.  What we say on Sunday has to “matter” to our communities.  We are called to reveal God in their lives as they are, not as we wish they were.

And that begins with our language. 

Public speaking“You can only use the tools that your audience has access to.  If you start only with your language, your concepts, your assumptions, your values, you will fail.  So instead, start with theirs.  It’s only from that common ground that they can begin to build your idea in their minds.”  Anderson sees that the most effective speakers “give to their audience, not take from them.”  We seldom think of “generosity” as an element of preaching, but an attitude of generosity always evokes a positive response.

Anderson emphasizes in chapter 4 the importance of developing what he calls the “throughline” — “the connecting theme that ties together each narrative element.”  Having heard too many homilies that were all over the place in terms of content, I immediately embraced Anderson’s point that “all the pieces have to connect.”

“A good exercise is to try to encapsulate your throughline in no more than fifteen words.  And those fifteen words need to provide robust content.  It’s not enough to think of your goal as, ‘I want to inspire the audience’ or ‘I want to win support for my work.’  It has to be more focused than that.  What is the precise idea you want to build inside your listeners?  What is their takeaway?”  (And please note:  “Keeping it short” is NOT a throughline.)

Once you have your throughline, you can plan your presentation employing the five core tools of an effective presentation: connection, narration, explanation, persuasion and revelation (see the section titled “Talk Tools”).
And finally, Anderson points out, authority and inspiration are of the same cloth.  And inspiration, Anderson emphasizes, “has to be earned.”

“Inspiration can’t be performed.  It’s an audience response to authenticity, courage, selfless work, and genuine wisdom.  Bring those qualities to your talk, and you may be amazed at what happens.”

If you haven’t discovered TED, take a look at the many offerings on their website and included in this book.  It will expand both your preaching approach — and your horizons.

Connect-ing every day . . .
  
Bread and wineIf this is the year you’ve decided to jump-start your preaching at weekday Masses, we have a resource that can help.

Connections DAILY is our online newsletter of ideas and images designed to help homilists develop their own brief reflections on the daily Gospel readings.  For each weekday, Connections DAILY provides an idea for a brief, one-to-two minute homily (we know — you have to keep it short at weekday liturgies), concluding with a brief prayer that summarizes the point.  The reflection and prayer usually center on the day’s Gospel, but occasionally are drawn from the first reading or the day’s feast or saint whose memorial is being observed.  Each DAILY reflection focuses on a single idea to help you develop your own concise, to-the-point homily.

Subscriptions to Connections DAILY are $50 a year.  The DAILY is delivered ONLY via e-mail.  We apologize to those of you who would prefer a “paper” version, but making this service an electronic newsletter is the only way we can make producing  The DAILY viable and timely.

A recent sampling of Connections DAILY reflections can be found by clicking on The DAILY tab on the menu bar, above.
   
Join the conversation anytime . . .
  
We continue to be humbled by the notes enclosed with renewal cards — thank you, they mean more than you know.  We are grateful, too, for your suggestions for Connections and your comments about the Sunday newsletter, The DAILY, our new projects, and our website.  They’re invaluable in our planning.  Send your questions, comments and suggestions to the address below or e-mail us anytime at jaycormier@comcast.net.

“Go teach all nations” — and take notes . . .

And, finally, this bit of practical wisdom from one of our favorite writers, Rabbi Harold S. Kushner.  Those of us who serve congregations of any faith will identify with this, from Kushner’s latest, Nine Essential Things I’ve Learned About Life:

“ . . . the congregants in my synagogue come in three flavors.  There are those, may God bless them and may their tribe increase, who love their religion and can’t get enough of it.  They take classes, attend services, staff committees, volunteer to bring meals to shut-ins, and are always looking to make things better.  They do it not in the expectation that God will think more kindly of them but because they like themselves better when they do those things.  Then there are those who show up only for major services and the occasional family bar mitzvah . . .

“But perhaps the most interesting ones are people who challenge me, not as a kind of game (‘let’s see if we can stump the rabbi’) but out of a genuine willingness to learn.  They have found that religion as it has been presented to them throughout their lives is unworthy of either their intellectual respect or their emotional attachment.  Their implicit deal with me is that they will take their religion more seriously if I can show them not how old and time-tested it is but where it can answer their most profound questions, questions about relationships, about life’s unfairness, about right and wrong, about revenge and forgiveness, and about the meaning and purpose of their lives . . .

“When I was ordained a rabbi at the age of twenty-five, they told me I was ready to go forth and teach.  The truth was, I was at best ready to go forth and learn.”

May the year ahead be another blessed and illuminating learning experience for us all.

Jay Cormier


POSTED:  April 9, 2016

Easter blessings!  May the joy of this (very early) Easter season warm your winter hearts with the grace and peace of the Risen One.

It has been an unexpectedly wet, warm winter here in the northeast (which is fine: we would rather “wear” precipitation than shovel it).  A cold Easter Triduum momentarily halted the progress of the first buds and delayed the annual Exsultet of the peepers in the pond nearby — but the promised light and warmth of God’s spring seems to have taken hold.

We hope the first Alleluias of the Easter Triduum continue to resound for you and energize your community as you prepare for the round of First Communions, graduations, and weddings ahead.  Thank you for taking a moment during this busy Eastertide to join our ongoing conversation about the ministry of proclamation and preaching.

The third anniversary of the election of Pope Francis on March 13 prompted your humble and obedient scribe to take another look at what has been, arguably, Francis’ most revealing and memorable description of his vision of church:

“I see the church as a field hospital after battle.  It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars!  You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else.  Heal the wounds, heal the wounds . . . And you have to start from the ground up.” 

So what does Francis’ model of the field-hospital church mean to homilists and preachers?  A couple of thoughts:

First, preaching should “heal.”  The homily should address the “illnesses” and brokenness that a community is coping with.  But the homily should be more than just the obvious diagnosis:  Yeah, our world is a mess all right.  It should address the more profound issue:  How does the Gospel Jesus call us to bring healing to that brokenness — and if not heal it, at least respond to it?  And how does our faithfulness to the disciple’s call enable us to respond?

The Fourth Gospel recounts Jesus’ curing of the paralyzed man at the pool of Bethesda, near Jerusalem’s Sheep Gate (John 5: 1-16).  Jesus clearly sees the man is in distress, but asks him, “Do you want to be well?”  At first, it seems like a silly question.  Of course, I want to be well! the man must have wanted to scream.  But the truth is that more often than not we don’t want to be “cured.”  We want to feel better.  A cure demands change; healing requires work.  Most of the time, we’re happy with a couple of Tylenol. 

But the field-hospital preacher is called to provide more than just verbal Tylenol.

The task, Pope Francis says, is to heal: to speak God’s healing Word with compassion and integrity.  Thundering “We live in a time of great [INSERT NAME OF SIN HERE]” is not the spirit of the field-hospital church.  The question is how do we deal with it, how do we restore wholeness, how do we mend the breach?

In my own parish, our pastoral staff is currently part of a community-wide effort to address the growing problem of heroin and opioid abuse, especially among teenagers.  Our parishioners want us to say something about this epidemic from the pulpit.  First, however, we want to do the homework necessary so that we will say something that will contribute to the healing.  Simply condemning the disease accomplishes little.

Pope Francis also sees the field-hospital church as “warming hearts.”  Too many homilies I’ve heard of late have left my heart cold, confused and lost (and, sometimes, angry).  The particular preacher’s theme of sin was developed in great detail.  But the hope of the Risen Christ?  Not so much.  The preacher’s agenda has to be healing, not tearing open the wound; mercy, not condemnation.

In the interview (originally published in the Jesuit journal La Civilta Cattolica and later published in America, September 30, 2013 — just six months after Francis’ election), Francis says that pastors and preachers “must be people who can warm the hearts of the people, who walk through the dark night with them, who know how to dialogue and to descend themselves into their people’s night, into the darkness, but without getting lost . . . Let us try also to be a church that finds new roads, that is able to step outside itself and go to those who do not attend Mass, to those who have quit or are indifferent.  The ones who quit sometimes do it for reasons that, if properly understood and assessed, can lead to a return. But that takes audacity and courage.”

Pope Francis envisions a church that “heals wounds”
and “warms hearts,” first.

Then comes everything else.

But, really, what else is there? 

More and more celebrants are making connections with those who gather for the Eucharist on weekdays.  We’re delighted that they are finding our e-newsletter Connections DAILY a helpful resource.

Connections DAILY provides an image or idea for a short, one-to-two minute homily based on the day’s readings.  Each reflection ends with a brief prayer summarizing the theme.  The reflection/prayer usually centers on the day’s Gospel, but occasionally is inspired by the first reading or the day’s feast or saint.  We keep it brief and to the point — we realize that weekday liturgies barely allow time to offer a single Scripture-related idea let alone a rather than a fully-developed homily.

The DAILY is available only via e-mail.

A sampler of Connections DAILY reflections can be found by clicking on The Daily on the menu bar above (an order form is also included there as well). 
Give them try in the days ahead.

This time of year we get calls asking for help in developing training programs and skills workshops in preaching.  Please contact us if you think we might be able to help your clergy/diaconate group put together a study day, workshop, conference or retreat on the ministry of preaching.  We’d welcome the opportunity to talk with you (no obligation) about the possibilities and offer suggestions for programs and leaders (jaycormier@comcast.net).


  
Thank you for your notes and e-mails regarding Connections, The DAILY, Keeping CONNECTED, and our website.  We’re especially humbled and grateful for the kind notes that many of you write on your renewal cards.  Your ideas, suggestions, and criticisms are critical to us in our writing and editing, as well as planning new projects.  We appreciate, too, your sharing your own war stories that help all of us learn more about the ministry of preaching.  The e-mail address: jaycormier@comcast.net.

We hope you’ll bookmark our website or add it to your “favorites” list.  We regularly post new resources for homilists — and, we’ve happily discovered of late, many catechists and RCIA teams have found our site helpful, as well.  As you can see on the menu bar above, the site includes exegetical notes for each Sunday’s Gospel and stories and reflections we post from past issues Connections and Connections DAILY.  You’ll also find a listing of our special issues, information on workshop and retreat programs, and practical advice for effectively communicating the Word in your homily. 

Drop by our site anytime, and let us know what you like about the site and how we can make it more helpful to you.

The ultimate exit poll

The final word this time from Stephen Colbert, host of The Late Show on CBS — and a struggling Catholic like most of us:

“If you want to know if somebody is a Christian, just ask them to complete this sentence:  Jesus said, ‘I was hungry, you gave me something to eat; I was thirsty, you gave me something to drink; I was a stranger and you . . .’  And if they don’t say ‘welcome me in,’ they are either a terrorist or they are running for president.”

May the Alleluias of this Easter season resound in your homes and hearts throughout the spring.

Jay Cormier