I recently completed a preaching summer, the culmination of my summer programs as a Dominican student brother. Well before his third or fourth year of studies, a brother should be prepared to both live in the Word and preach the Word daily. Thus, the Order sometimes challenges him with a summer of preaching commitments that hone this precious gift.
This experience can take different shapes, from itinerant preaching throughout the province to parish or university-based preaching. My preaching summer brought me to St. Dominic Parish in Miami, Florida, and to the Cor Jesu Chapel at Barry University in Miami Shores. Each location provided unique challenges to my ongoing formation as a preacher and opportunities to share the fruits of my contemplation with diverse communities.
St. Dominic Parish rests in the heart of a Cuban neighborhood. My past experience with the Cuban community was somewhat lacking. Thus, I had to listen and watch with great attentiveness to the subtle nuances that make them distinct. What I found was a passionate people who form very close-knit and meaningful relationships, always welcoming newcomers with great joy and generosity.
Barry University also presented a diverse community. While people come from various ethnic and academic backgrounds, everyone I encountered showed a deep love of theology and our Dominican tradition. Together, these locations offered a wide-ranging community of listeners and a preaching opportunity I could not have found elsewhere.
Throughout the summer, celebrants at Barry invited me to reflect on the readings of the day. The theological savvy of the congregation was initially a great challenge for me. I found many members of the community lived theology daily. Thus, I had to dig deep within the readings and myself to bring a fresh and resonant message to listeners.
At St. Dominic Parish, in addition to daily liturgies, the pastor invited me to preach at the liturgies with children on Sundays. This is the most unique liturgical preaching I have ever experienced. Rather than developing manuscripts or “ear-catching” ways to convey thoughts, I created a mental roadmap of the readings’ message, allowing for several possible detours. I asked questions related to the readings and used the language of the children’s answers to preach the Word. While their own answers helped me to better express meaningful theology to young listeners, I also had to guide the preaching to a conclusion they could appreciate and make part of their daily faith.
Overall, the schedule was the most beneficial aspect of this summer, committing me to preach an average of three or four times per week. Since all the sets of readings came from the Lectionary, I had an authentic experience of preaching liturgical themes and following the ever-developing narrative of the Old Testament and Gospel. I had to engage various scripture passages daily rather than consuming all of my time with one set of readings. In addition to using biblical commentaries and other preaching resources shared by friars, I devoted prayer time each day to Lectio Divina. Whether I spent one or several hours reviewing other sources, my greatest strength came from time in prayer with the Holy Spirit, wherein I found the words and confidence needed to share the Gospel with others.
I did not preach perfectly every time. There were instances where I could reflect on poor structure or even inadequate words. However, friars, sisters and other parishioners, always reassured me in these cases that the message was clear. I again credit the Spirit with helping me preach the message God wanted others to hear.
There should always be a sense of reverence for the power and significance of preaching, a reverence that should make even the most experienced preacher a bit nervous. Yet, I can say that I have learned to accept this with greater ease. This preaching summer has helped me focus that apprehension in a positive way. Instead of fear before the pulpit, I feel a sense of genuine awe regarding my vocation as a preacher, eagerness to share the Gospel, and gratitude for the Spirit’s continued guidance.
As I reflect more on the summer, I realize that it was one of the most well crafted programs I have experienced in my time as a friar. Everyone who attended liturgy, offering insights and prayers, has had a hand in making me a better preacher. The Holy Spirit worked through my prayers as well as in the community to make this preaching summer a success. I look forward to the day when I can return to Miami after initial formation and serve the people who fostered my vocation in such a unique way.