My Photo
Location: United States

Monday, March 19, 2007

Jesuit Preaching

Despite the Jesuits' reputation as over-achievers in almost every field of endeavor, liturgy has long been an Achilles' heel ... A classic joke makes the point: "A good Jesuit liturgy is one in which no one gets hurt." - link :-)

And as James Martin SJ notes in Padre, Don't Preach, Jesuit homilies can be, well, interesting ...

Not long ago a member of my Jesuit community recalled that back in the 1960s, he and his pals initiated an informal survey designed to answer the following question: What was the worst homily or sermon ever preached? ...... The Worst Homily, he declared, was one in which the homilist turned his attention to the question of salvation ... "The death of Jesus was pre-ordained by God for our salvation," explained the homilist, "and the person who understood this better than anyone was Mary. In fact," he continued, "Mary was so intent on our salvation that, if the centurions hadn't nailed Jesus to the cross, Mary herself would have done so." ...

I doubt this is truly the rule for Jesuit preaching, but even if it were, there are exceptions ... some of the best homilies I've heard/read are archived at Jesuit Rob Marsh's blog, and to my limited knowledge, no one has yet been injured in the process of his preaching :-) Here below is one of his homilies for Lent (John 9:1-41) ......


Sunday Week 4 of Lent Year C(A)

This is our prayer today: Let us see. Let us not be blind. Dear God remove our blindness! It’s the prayer we will pray for our catechumens on their journey out of darkness to the light of Easter. But it had better be our prayer today too. For we are blind. We are blind because we can see and because seeing is such second nature to us that we think see clearly and without effort. Seeing is so easy to us that we forget we have eyes that have to work at vision and we forget that every vision is a work of imagination. William Blake condemned his contemporaries for “seeing not with, but through the eye.” As if our sight were a window out onto the world rather than a portrait painted with nuance and interpretation. We forget the brush strokes. We forget the sign.

At the beginning of today’s story blindness is a metaphor for sin but by the story’s end blindness has become innocence. To not see at all would save us. The only sin is to see but not see the sign—not see the significance of what we see. We do not see the works of God. It is not our habit. We do not see into the causes of things but content ourselves with glamour. Glamour is an interesting word. Today we celebrate it. It is the heart of Oscar night. But once the word meant a magic spell, a spell cast to hide one thing and show another—a deception, an illusion, a false identity.

This is what we pray to see through today. To see with new eyes what we have done and what God would have us do.

I woke this morning with the blind man. I was going to ask him what it was like to see but before I could get the words out he asked me a question: what is it like to be blind? I ignored him and poured my coffee. But about half way through my bran flakes he spoke again. “What do you see?” he asked me as I read the newspaper. So I gave in and tried to see the world his way. What would he see in the paper, with his fresh vision and innocent ignorance? Not words certainly—all that would be beyond him. What would he make of the pictures? So we looked together.

“Who are all these people?” he asked. They’re models mainly. People payed to look beautiful. He could see their beauty but wanted to know why they were so thin. So thin, so young, and so … moody. “Well, I suppose we like them that way.” “But they don’t look like anyone I’ve met—do you know anyone like that?” “Well not really.” “So where are the pictures of all the real people—like the ones at Church?” “Well you see we don’t put them in the ads because the ads are supposed to make us want to buy things and ordinary people don’t sell.” “They don’t sell?” “No, the idea is that we want to look like the pretty young things or at least we want some of their glamour to rub off on us.” “Does it work?” “Well no … but we still like it.” “You like what? Longing to be someone you can’t be? Yearning to have what you will never have? What?” “I don’t know.”

An Embarrassed Silence. Which I eventually broke. “Look here’s some ordinary people. It’s not all ads you know. This is a newspaper.” Faces of the hungry and old. People being arrested and the ones arresting them. Angry mouths of accusation. Smooth smiles of politicians. Quiet eyes of defeat. Guns and stones and batons. Skies and art and growing things. My blind friend was silent: watching, recognising. Until I turned the page to a large photo of children playing, dancing in a ring of held hands on bare earth against a backdrop of smoking chimneys. “What’s this?” he asked, “is it ugly or beautiful? I can’t tell.” Neither could I. It was both and neither. I read the print. “It’s a picture from a town in Mexico—Juarez—that’s a US factory making copper.” “Who are the children?” “They’re just children—the story says they are playing in a place with unsafe levels of heavy metals like copper … they’re playing on poisoned ground.” “Why? And why is a US factory in Mexico?” “Well it says it’s cheaper to smelt copper there than here because you can pay people less and you don’t have to worry about the pollution you make and that it gives jobs to the local people—mainly women—so everyone benefits.” “You mean except the children with the copper poisoning.” “Well…”

“I came into this world to divide it,” says Jesus, “to make the blind see and the seeing blind.” We see by dividing, discriminating dark from light, foreground from background, colour from colour. We see by dividing, discriminating rich from poor, hurt from healthy, just from unjust.

It is a dangerous prayer we pray today. A dangerous way we walk with Cecilia and Derek. We ask to see and we ask to become responsible for what we see. We ask for the end of our innocence and the beginning of faith.


Blogger Cura Animarum said...

I loved that crystal...Thanks so much for sharing it. We just finished our Monday Bible study and the discussion turned to why some people believe the Good News (or in God at all) and some don't. I wish I had read this first.

Much better than Mary nailing Jesus to the cross! ;o)

1:46 PM  
Blogger Jeff said...

Good stuff Crystal. I had to laugh... I've never heard that Jesuits were poor preachers, but I've heard the knock against them that they are lousy liturgists... hence the quip, "He looks more lost than a Jesuit during Holy week."

2:21 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Cura - thanks :-).

2:29 PM  
Blogger crystal said...


we'd better not get started on Jesuit jokes - we might crash the Blogger servers :-)

2:32 PM  
Blogger Liam said...

A Franciscan, a Dominican, and a Jesuit are golfing. They are slowed down by a large party in front of them, and are told that it is a group of blind golfers.

The Franciscan says, "That's so beautiful, the way they are overcoming thier difficulties."

Tha Domincan says, "Fascinating. They are golfing even though they do not have the concept of sight that is afforded by sight."

The Jesuit says, "Why can't they golf at night?"

7:37 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

11:06 AM  
Blogger Jeff said...

Not a Jesuit joke, but…

Pope Benedict, Hans Kung, and Charles Curran are all on a plane together, and the plane crashes. They all find themselves at the Pearly Gates, and St. Peter says to them, “Please follow me, gentlemen.”. He leads them into a vestibule, tells them to sit down, and goes through a huge pair of doors. In a minute or so, he comes out and calls for Charles Curran. Curran, trembling, goes through the doors. Ten minutes later he comes out, ashen. The others jump up and inquire, “What happened?” Curran sits down and says, “I can’t believe it… The Lord gave me 100 years in purgatory…” Before the others can commiserate, St Peter barks “Kung!”. Hans Kung gets up unsteadily and goes through the doors. Twenty minutes later he comes out, looking stunned. Before anyone can say anything, he says, “I can’t believe it…. 200 years in purgatory”, and he slumps into his seat. St Peter announces “Benedict!”. B16 bounces up and strides purposefully through the doors.

One hour later, God comes staggering out. “I can’t believe it! Ratzinger gave me 500 years in Purgatory!”

12:37 PM  
Blogger Paul said...

That's hilarious - the image of Mary doing THAT...

The dangers of extrapolation and inference.

Whatever happened to Joseph? It always bugs me that he just drops out of the narrative. Did he abandon his family - have an affair?

You see what you're instigating here... Just better not point out my observation to any passing Jesuits...

3:05 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

4:00 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

4:04 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

In the intersts of sanity, I deleted some comments - all mine :-)

4:32 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

That's funny!

I belong to a Jesuit parish where four Jesuit's routinely take turns at the mass I attend. They are all different, but all are good homilists. And the liturgy is great too, so I suppose we're an exception to the rule ;) The recent homilies are online at:

Only two of them upload their homilies.

9:54 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Steve,

thanks for the link. Did you once say that Kenneth R. Overberg, S.J. was one of the priests at your church? He wrote that great article on the Incarnation.

11:03 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Crystal - Yes, Ken is one of the priests who presides at my parish (an on the theology staff at the university).

6:40 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home