By CAROL GLATZ, CNS | Published February 7, 2008
Preaching effectively in U.S. multicultural communities hinges upon believing passionately in God’s word and his universal plan of salvation, Atlanta’s archbishop told U.S. seminarians studying in Rome.
“If the preacher truly, deeply, passionately embraces the word,” then the word of God “will find a home in the hearts of those who listen,” said Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory.
“The word itself and the graced hearts of the listeners will adapt the preaching so that it becomes hearable in a given context,” he said Jan. 13 during the 2008 Carl J. Peter Lecture at Rome’s Pontifical North American College.
The annual lecture seeks to foster preaching skills for seminarians preparing to serve in parishes. The African-American archbishop’s talk was titled “Preaching in a Multicultural Church—Highlighting the Latino, African-American and Asian Communities.”
The archbishop said a priest’s main task is proclaiming the word of God.
He said priests, as ambassadors of Christ, need to present themselves as “sources of wisdom” and truth, which is often difficult in a culture in which people “are much more likely to go to Oprah or Dr. Phil or a blogspot” for words of wisdom.
While today’s secularism poses enormous difficulties, it is not the first time Christians have struggled against the times; even the early apostles had great obstacles to overcome in spreading the word of God, he said.
“In some sense, it is the perennial state of any preacher to work against the odds, to be confronted with massive crises,” he said. Therefore a priest needs to have an unshakeable confidence in his mission, and that comes only from a solid foundation of faith: “to pay attention to what we believe, how we believe, in whom we believe,” he said.
“This is not spiritual narcissism,” he said, but is the source for speaking credibly and communicating effectively “the word of life.”
Archbishop Gregory said there are some misconceptions about preaching to members of the Latino, African-American and Asian communities that need correcting.
For example, while minorities living in the United States have been victims of inequality, discrimination and oppression, attention also must be paid to their dignity and hope for the future.
Preaching must “proclaim God’s gracious empowerment” and “insist on the revolutionary power of forgiveness and reconciliation,” he said.
Another misconception is thinking a person’s lack of education means a preacher’s teaching should be dumbed down. This “dangerous fallacy” assumes “that the questions and the yearnings of people who do not share our exact cultural framework are not quite as complex or agonizing or nuanced as our own,” he said.
“There is far more complexity than we can imagine beyond a mainstream American format,” and when preachers ignore that they do so “at their own peril and at the risk of diminishing the power of the word they proclaim,” he said.
A preacher also should challenge the un-Christian aspects of another person’s culture, he said
“All cultures are in need of the conversion that only the truth of Christ offers,” especially if those cultures sanction violence, diminish women, or put money or power above people, he said.
A serious critique of such injustices is needed, he said, and “preachers must let the Gospel speak its word directly and pointedly, like the two-edged sword that it has always been.”