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Preaching Essay
The Author


By Thomas J. Scirghi, S.J.,  Liturgical Press, 2017


A review by R. B. Williams, O.P.


     Thomas J. Scirghi, SJ, is an associate professor of theology at Fordham University.  A brief “google look” at his name revealed that his students seem to like him.  I would suspect he is a fine lecturer since he has been presenting workshops on preaching all over the world for many years.  It appears that he has decided to distill his experience in this relatively brief book (123 pages).  For the reasons that follow, I’m glad he made that decision.  First of all, he provides a sound theology for preaching.  Second, he offers a very thorough process for preparation.  Third, he offers some very practical advice for preaching at sacramental events outside Eucharistic celebration (Deacons and Lay Ministers take note): weddings and funerals.  Those reasons correspond to the three main parts of the book.  When one can match theology with “how-to,” that is an accomplishment.  When it concerns the very sensitive topic of preaching, it is an achievement.


    The theology of the book begins with an introduction entitled, “Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face.” (Ps. 24).   The title of the book comes from that line and sums up the vocation of the preacher as one who mediates the face of God to the people who long to see that face.  (In this, he builds on the insights of Mary Catherine Hilkert, OP’s NAMING GRACE – PREACHING AND THE SACRAMENTAL IMAGINATION, which he quotes approvingly.)  The final paragraph of the book sums this up nicely:  “So where does the preacher stand?  Some preachers choose to stand outside the house, telling people what is going on inside the house.  They talk about the Lord, like reporters at a news event.  However, effective preachers open up the house and go inside and bring the faithful with them.  They know the power and the mercy of the Lord, and they know what it is that the people seek.  They are heralds of God’s word.  Through their preaching they declare, ‘Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face.’”  This theology addresses the difference Scirghi makes between preachers who are trying to preach, and preachers who are really preaching!  I do like that insight! 


     The second part of the book offers a very thorough preparation process for homiletic preaching.  His process is similar to those proposed in other resources such as Pope Francis’ THE JOY OF THE GOSPEL, the USCCB’s FULFILLED IN YOUR HEARING and PREACHING THE MYSTERY OF FAITH, and the very fine PREACHING MATTERS – A PRAXIS FOR PREACHERS by Bishop Sylvester Ryan and Dr. Deborah Wilhelm (which I reviewed earlier for this website.  He devotes a chapter each to reflection, research, writing and rehearsing.  It is in that fourth category that I think this book is particularly valuable.  The title of the chapter is: REHEARSE:THE WHOLE BODY PREACHES.  I have to admit that a major reason I consider this chapter so important is my conviction that a lack of basic public speaking skills dooms anyone who “tries” to preach from the start, and inhibits those who could “actually” preach.  Fr. Scirghi offers valuable insights on body language and voice that any preacher can fruitfully use.  The principal challenge to any of these very useful preparation processes lies in the nature of modern pastoral ministry or even the academic ministry of those who preach either regularly or only occasionally from the pulpit.  These preparation processes presume a time commitment that may be only a dream for some busy pastors, deacons or lay ministers.  Preaching does not often top the list of priorities to these busy people.


     The final paragraph of Fr. Scirghi’s book, which I quoted above,  puts a finger on a deeper problem.   The Second Vatican Council’s document on the ordained minister (Presbyterorum  Ordinis) identifies preaching as the primary task of the priest:  The People of God is formed into one in the first place by the Word of the living God, which is quite rightly sought from the mouth of priests.  For since nobody can be saved who has not first believed, it is the first task of priests as co-workers of the bishops to preach the Gospel of God to all men. #4.  I think Fr. Scirghi goes further by going beyond the “task” of preaching to the identity of the preacher.  Unless bishops, priests, deacons and lay ministers  identify themselves as preachers first and foremost, then the best they will be able to do is “try” to preach, rather than “actually” preach.  Fr. Scirghi offers a way forward on this in addition to all his practical wisdom for preaching itself (the wedding and funeral section is very good).  For these reasons I urge anyone whose responsibilities include preaching to read this book and take it to heart.  The “longing to see God’s face” that is in the face of the listeners should be in the face of the preacher as well. 

Book Review Archive

Just click on a book title below to read the review.
(The latest submissions are listed first.)


• Mark's Passion Narrative •
• Jesus: A Gospel Portrait •
• How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row •
• Christ and the Spirit: Catholic Perspectives Through the Ages •
• The Council and the Making of the Ultramontane Church •
• A Joint Review •
• St. Dominic: A Story of a Preaching Friar •
• Moses in Pharaoh's House •
• ...and the Mountains Echoed •
• Behind the Beautiful Forevers •
• Preaching the Mystery of Faith: The Sunday Homily •
• The Rhythm of Being... •
• Remi De Roo - Chronicles of a Vatican II Bishop •
• Redeeming the Past •
• Abraham Joshua Heschel: Essential Writings •
• This Is Our Exile •
• Compassion: Loving Our Neighbor in and Age of Globalization •
• True and False Reform In the Church •
• Adult Faith •
• The Mystical Way In Everyday Life •
• Racial Justice and the Catholic Church •
• Let the Great World Spin •
• The Priesthood Of the Faithful •
• Living With Wisdom •
• Where the Pure Water Flows •
• Best Advice For Preaching •
• We Speak the Word Of the Lord •
• Great World Religions: Islam •
• Of Books and Preparation •
• After Sunday: A Theology of Work •
• A Captive Voice: The Liberation of Preaching •
• Written Text Becomes Living Word... •
• Voicing the Vision: Imagination & Prophetic Preaching •
• The Death of Innocents •

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