Cardinal urges priests to spice up ‘dull, irrelevant’ sermons

November 17, 2011 by  
Filed under Church, newsletter-world, Vatican, World

Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi

Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi told a conference in Rome that priests need to avoid becoming 'irrelevant'. Image: AP Photo/Andrew Medichini

Vatican City, November 16, 2011: A Vatican cardinal has appealed to clergy to liven up “dull, flavourless” sermons in an address at a conference in Rome.

Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, claimed that homilies had become “irrelevant” to worshippers who were used to the thrill and excitement of modern technology such as the television and the internet. He said: “The advent of televised and computerised information requires us to be compelling and trenchant, to cut to the heart of the matter, resort to narratives and colour.”

The cardinal described the theological language used by priests in their sermons as “grey, dull and flavourless” and appealed to priests to use the graphic and dramatic imagery of the Bible to illustrate their sermons with colour and intrigue.

The Bible was “crowded with stories, symbols and images”, he said, which were appropriate for “the children of television and the internet” who grace church pews.

Speaking at the conference the cardinal encouraged priests to use social media networks to communicate the faith and the Word of God. He said: “We need to remember that communicating faith does not just take place through sermons. It can be achieved through the 140 characters of a Twitter message.”

Cardinal Ravasi was appointed president of the Pontifical Council for Culture in September 2007. In November last year Pope Benedict XVI elevated him to the College of Cardinals. The cardinal, who some see as a possible future pope, blogs regularly for the Italian financial newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore.

Debate: Does it matter if a priest is a bad public speaker?

Vatican City, November 10, 2011: Is good oratory absolutely crucial or is it low down on the list of sought after priestly qualities?

This week priests were urged to spice up “dull, flavourless” homilies by using colourful language and stories drawn from the Bible. The advice came from Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture. He told delegates in Rome that homilies had to be compelling in order to engage worshippers used to the thrill of television and the internet. Most people would agree that homilies should engage their listeners. But by encouraging clergy to compete with Facebook and The X Factor, isn’t there a danger of putting style over substance? A priest may resort to gimmicks in order to grab people’s attention. They may think their main duty is to entertain.

Pope Benedict XVI, in the book-length interview, God and the World, suggested that a talent for public speaking might not be such a crucial quality for clergy:

“Recently a parish priest in a large German city told me that he had come to his vocation by the particular agency of a priest who was actually bereft of all exterior gifts. He was a hopeless preacher, a dreadful singer, and so on, and yet under his care the parish really blossomed. In the end four or five priestly vocations were awakened in this city parish, something that happened neither under his predecessor nor under his successor, both of whom were far more capable. We can see here how the humble witness of someone who does not have the gift of persuasive speech can itself become a sermon, and how we should thank God for the variety of gifts.”

On the other hand, homilies delivered poorly, even if they are full of truth and wisdom, may leave Catholics uninspired and drifting away from their faith. If homilies were entertaining then they might engage those who are struggling to listen. So, does it matter if a priest is a bad public speaker? Or is it far down the list of sought after priestly qualities?

– madeleine teahan

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