The Dominican order is formally known as the Order of Preachers; and Dominicans are supposed to be all about preaching for the salvation of souls. Now, “preaching” is a loaded word. Generally when we hear the word “preaching” we think either of a priest giving a homily during mass or of someone ranting to us about something very important to them and (usually) rather less so to us. Dominican priests get to preach in the first way, which seems to leave the second way to us lay members of the order—rather the short end of the stick.
But preaching is not ranting. Humbert of Romans, fifth Master of the Order of Preachers, wrote this in his Treatise on Preaching, written during the 13th Century:
In conclusion we shall say that every good preacher, in the composition of a sermon, should first be practical, like a host who prepares food of good quality for his guests. Secondly, he should use moderation, even in practical things; for everything found in a grocery store cannot be used by a host. And thirdly, he should use words that are convincing, just as at a banquet guests are served not only food of good quality, but also food that is well prepared and pleasing to the palate.
To be effective, preaching needs to be proportioned to the listener, well prepared and palatable and of good quality. The goal isn’t to make people feel bad about themselves; it’s to draw them to the love of Christ. It may well be necessary to preach unpleasant truths on occasion, but they need to be preached carefully, with humility, and with no desire to hurt.
The analogy with cooking can be taken quite a ways, I think. Different dishes are suited to different guests; and also to different cooks. My wife Jane makes a mean Kung Pao Chicken; me, I’ll gladly take you to dinner somewhere. Similarly, different preaching styles are well suited to different audiences, and to different preachers.
So here’s the thing about being a Lay Dominican: I have an entirely different audience than Dominican friars do. The friars I know are working in a parish, and are doing the things parish priests do, one of which is preaching at mass. Me, I have a day job, I have friends, I have family. Many of these people are not Catholic. The friars have no way of reaching them—but I do. So that’s my first audience: the people I run into every day. All of us lay folk have an audience like this, and we’re all supposed to model the gospel to them.
This will often not involve verbal preaching; our co-workers rarely like to be harangued. But we need to be prepared, to be there with a prayer, a kind word, a bit of clarification, an answer to a question. We don’t generally need to argue; we just need to be open, and to speak clearly and cheerfully when it seems called for. We all know the saying about flies and honey.
For this audience, preaching has to flow from the depths of your being—precisely because you don’t have time to prepare but have to speak in the moment. And this is why prayer and study are so important. It is through contemplation that the things of God sink in, and are there when you need them.
My second audience, naturally, consists of those who run across my writing on-line, and my preaching consists of posts like this one. And if you have gotten this far, then evidently I’m doing all right.
How do you preach in your daily life? Are there opportunities you’ve missed?
Copyright 2014 Will Duquette