Pope Francis’ “How to Prepare to Preach”

Here’s a quick outline of Pope Francis’ basic steps for preparing to preach, from the new Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, a fantastic follow-up to the inspiring guidance of Evangelii Nuntiandi. 

1. Call on Holy Spirit in Prayer (§146)

2. Give full, undivided attention to Biblical text. This takes time. Needs to be done seriously, as the biblical text will be the “basis of our preaching.” (§146)

  •  Understand the words, use literary analysis, but don’t get bogged down in the details. (§147)
  • Discover the principal message of the text, “the message which gives structure and unity to the text…what the author primarily wanted to communicate.” (§147)
  • To understand fully the central message of a text, “ we need to relate it to the teaching of the entire Bible as handed on by the Church.” (§148)

 3. Personal preparation of the preacher (§149-151)

  • Prayerful personal encounter with the word
  • Fervor (renewed daily), growing “in love for the word we preach”
  • Allow readings to resonate in one’s heart
  • “What is essential is that the preacher be certain that God loves him, that Jesus Christ has saved him and that his love has always the last word”

 4. Spiritual Reading of the Text (Lectio Divina) (§152)

“This prayerful reading of the Bible is not something separate from the study undertaken by the preacher to ascertain the central message of the text; on the contrary, it should begin with that study and then go on to discern how that same message speaks to his own life. The spiritual reading of a text must start with its literal sense. Otherwise we can easily make the text say what we think is convenient, useful for confirming us in our previous decisions, suited to our own patterns of thought.”

“In the presence of God, during a recollected reading of the text, it is good to ask, for example: “Lord, what does this text say to me? What is it about my life that you want to change by this text? What troubles me about this text? Why am I not interested in this? Or perhaps: What do I find pleasant in this text? What is it about this word that moves me? What attracts me? Why does it attract me?” When we make an effort to listen to the Lord, temptations usually arise. One of them is simply to feel troubled or burdened, and to turn away. Another common temptation is to think about what the text means for other people, and so avoid applying it to our own life. It can also happen that we look for excuses to water down the clear meaning of the text. Or we can wonder if God is demanding too much of us, asking for a decision which we are not yet prepared to make.”  

4. Attention to the Hearers (§155)

  • Contemplate the hearers–what do they need to hear?
  • Link to human experience, the situation of the hearers
  • “Let us also keep in mind that we should never respond to questions that nobody asks. “

5. Ways, Methods, and Styles of Preaching (§156-7)

  •  The “way” we preach is “a profoundly spiritual concern”
  • High quality product, use all talents and creativity
  • Concise
  • Use images
  • Simple language, “Preachers often use words learned during their studies and in specialized settings which are not part of the ordinary language of their hearers. These are words that are suitable in theology or catechesis, but whose meaning is incomprehensible to the majority of Christians. The greatest risk for a preacher is that he becomes so accustomed to his own language that he thinks that everyone else naturally understands and uses it.”
  • Concise and simple, without forsaking clarity
  • Positive (“offers hope, points to the future, does not leave us trapped in negativity”)

6. Intentional Improvement (§157)

“How good it is when priests, deacons and the laity gather periodically to discover resources which can make preaching more attractive!”

Note: I numbered the main points for sake of clarity. I don’t think they are intended to be sequential, but more overlapping phases and elements of preparation. 

 

 

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