Being called by the Lord inaugurates a mission, and it is the very name of Jesus that we are called to preach. Today, we hear in the first reading, Paul’s letter to the Romans:
“But how can they call on him who they have not believed? And how can they believed in him of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach? And how can people preach unless they are sent.”
With the end of the 800th Jubilee Year of the Order just around the corner, I realize evermore the necessity for and the difficult task of preaching. Blessed Humbert of Romans, a French Dominican who served as the fifth Master of the Order from 1254 to 1263, wrote a manual for homilists entitled Treatise on Preaching* where he says that the task of a preacher is to be a hunter of souls. He writes, “Preachers, like keen hunstmen, seek sinners of all kinds, souls yet untamed which they wish to offer a banquet to the Lord.”
It was often said that Dominicans sought to imitate Christ the preacher who became poor whereas the Franciscans sought to imitate Christ the poor who became a preacher. St. Dominic himself was remembered for always carrying the Gospel of Mathew and the Letters of St. Paul with him during his travels. Dominicans hold the Scriptures dearly to their hearts, always ready to preach the Word of God to anyone and everyone they encounter.
“Preachers must nourish his heart with the words of God and must meditate attentively on them before delivering them to the people.” Humbert says that a good preacher is one who is practical, practices moderation in words and examples, and uses words that are convincing, “just as at a banquet guests are served not only food of good quality, but also food that is well prepared and pleasing to the palate.”
The student brothers have opportunities to preach to the Dominican community during vespers on Saturday and Sunday over Sunday’s readings. It is a time of learning, taking in the experience and wisdom of others to craft an exhortative, yet spiritual preaching that seeks to draw out the beauty and life of Scripture, allowing the Word of God to uplift and challenge the soul. It is also a time of humility, knowing that you are preaching to a community of very learned men and women. One has to be open to feedback, which seeks to be honest and critical, but is always grounded in charity. St. Augustine once said, “Do you wish to be great? Then begin by being. Do you desire to construct a vast and lofty fabric? Think first about the foundations of humility. The higher your structure is to be, the deeper must be its foundation.”
May Andrew the Apostle intercede for us as we renew our commitment to preach! The task today is just as urgent as it was in the Early Church. Let us never forget that we are called by the Lord to preach and it is the name of Jesus we seek to preach!
*translation done by the Dominican Friars of the Province of St. Joseph, edited by Walter M. Conlon, O.P.