Pay attention to words of authority

The Living Rite column explores what you will see, hear, taste, touch or smell while at church this weekend.

In this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus speaks with authority. One of the foundations of our Catholic faith is our trust that the Holy Spirit will put into place people who will speak with authority about matters of faith. Of utmost importance is when our Holy Father speaks ex cathedra, meaning from the papal chair. We believe this proclamation to carry papal infallibility, words of authority and truth.

On a lesser scale, we hear words of authority spoken in each of our own parishes. This occurs when the priest or deacon preaches the homily.

Each of us has our own idea of what a homily should be. “Short” always seems to be a general consensus, but also desired are homilies that condemn the wrongs in the world, or the people “we” feel are sinners. Many want to hear a homily that makes them feel good, one that is uplifting, perhaps with a good joke or visual aid thrown in. Other people want to go home having learned something from the homily. With so many expectations, it is a wonder that a homily can have any authority.

The authority of one’s words does not come so much from the words, as the person delivering the words. It does not matter if the homilist preaches from the ambo or in the mist of the assembly. It is not important if he wrote his entire homily or supplemented it with other texts. The words of authority bear weight only if the priest or deacon strives to be a person who is authentic, prayer-filled and God-centered.

If the homilist encourages us to be loving and charitable to one another, yet he himself is usually short or irritable, his words have no authority. If he challenges us to have a relationship with Christ, but he himself is not kind, does not give willing service or seems to be “holy” only to impress others, his words have no authority.

In order to speak with authority, one must be knowledgeable. In homiletics classes, people are often reminded of the words of the 20th Century theologian Karl Barth that, to prepare a good homily, you should have a newspaper in one hand and the Bible in the other. In other words, one must know what is going on in the world and how God enters into those situations.

Pay attention to how your homilist interacts with you. Pay attention! Yes, you, the person sitting in the pew. Pay attention! A homilist can try his best to be engaging, but if we stare back at him with vacant looks on our faces, or check our phones or use the time for a snooze, the words have no authority because they were never heard.

Pray each day that homilists live with and be filled with the authority of the Holy Spirit. God’s word in Deuteronomy 18 this Sunday warns us that, if we do not listen to ones who speak with God’s authority, we will answer for it. We’d best pay attention, perhaps there really will be a final quiz for that day we meet God face-to-face.

Zahorik is pastoral associate at Most Blessed Sacrament Parish, Oshkosh.