March 4th, 2017| Topic: RaMbLeS | 1


A few months ago, Pope, Francis ordained about a couple dozen new priests in St. Peter’s Basilica, in Rome. His exhortation to them caught my attention, as he urged these novice shepherds to serve the flock rather than manage it.

Feed the people of God with heartfelt homilies rather than boring sermons. Let this be the nourishment of the People of God that your sermons are not boring, that your homilies reach people’s hearts because they come from your heart, because what you say to them is what you carry in your heart.”

As a preaching prof, I echoed those sentiments with a hearty “Amen!”

The Pope went on to prescribe that these new priests practice what they preach, so that life would be congruent with words.

Words without actions are empty words, they are ideas that never make it to the heart and they can even do harm rather than good!”

This should be true not just for Roman Catholic priests, or indeed, of anyone in church leadership, but of every child of God.

Continued Pope Francis:

Share with all the Word of God that you yourselves have received with joy. Read and meditate assiduously on the Word of the Lord so you may believe what you read, teach what you have learned in faith, and live out what you have taught.”

Life and words in sync. In fact, Aristotle said, in the fourth century before Christ:

Moral character may almost be designated as the most effective means of persuasion.”

Two centuries later, rhetoricians would still be addressing the same issue of the speaker’s virtue. The Roman rhetorician, Quintilian (ca. 35–100 CE), adopted the same sentiments, declaring:

No man, unless he be good, can ever be an orator.”

Augustine, in the fourth century, agreed with Aristotle and the rest:

But whatever may be the majesty of the style [of preaching], the life of the speaker will count for more in securing the hearer’s compliance.”

John Quincy Adams, the sixth US President, who also was a Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory at Harvard, asserted:

It is unquestionably true, that in forming the ideal model of an all-accomplished orator, that perfect master of the art, … the first quality, with which he should be endowed, is uprightness of heart. … We cannot separate the moral character from the oratorical power.”

Needless to say, the Bible concurs. Paul wrote:

Our gospel did not come to you in word only,
but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction;
just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.
1 Thessalonians 1:5

Not just words, but with power proved by a life publicly lived among his listeners.

The English Puritan, Richard Baxter, put it well in the seventeenth century:

It is a palpable error in those ministers … that they will study hard to preach exactly, and study little or not at all to live exactly. … We must study as hard how to live well, as how to preach well.”

Here is Paul again, this time to Timothy, the preacher/pastor of the church at Ephesus:

In speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe.
1 Timothy 4:12

That should be the case for all of us Christians. How is our spiritual walk, our ethos, our life in Christ?

Gregory the Great, in the sixth century, affirmed:

For that voice more readily penetrates the hearer’s heart, which the speaker’s life commends, since what he commands by speaking, he helps the doing of, by showing.”

Tell and show!

1 Comment

  1. Luc Ladry March 16, 2017 at 6:03 pm

    Again very practical. Words right on target. Thanks for emphasizing the essential: The practical Christian life in support on our witnessing of Christ. Luc.


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