LOCKETT: In His Light - Preaching on thorny matters

May 8, 2018

“A Church that doesn’t provoke any crises, a gospel that doesn’t unsettle, a word of God that doesn’t get under anyone’s skin, what gospel is that?” said Blessed Archbishop Oscar Romero. “Very nice, pious considerations that don’t bother anyone may be the way many would like preaching to be. Those preachers who avoid every thorny matter so as not to be harassed or have conflicts and difficulties do not light up the world they live in.”

What peace and joy engulfed my heart when I heard Pope Francis had cleared the path for Archbishop Oscar Romero—an advocate for the poor, the marginalized and oppressed who was gunned down by an assassin in El Salvador on May 24, 1980, while celebrating the Eucharist—to become a Saint. The communique also announced Pope Francis’ approval of a miracle for Pope Paul VI, tantamount to his elevation to sainthood as well. Both of these men inspired me greatly by their spirituality, leadership and boldness.

Pope Paul VI orchestrated the Church at the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council, following the death of his predecessor St. John XXIII who convened the Council. Pope Paul VI then guided the implementations of the Council Fathers’ reforms. Pope Paul VI will also be revered for shepherding the Church of Rome through the turbulent era of social changes during the 1960s. Archbishop Romero’s influence will come much later — an influence that will have a lasting effect on me as a man of faith and courage and as a follower and preacher of the Gospel of Jesus of Nazareth, prayerfully until my own demise.

Archbishop Romero composed the opening statement of this narrative. After discovering the statement, I embraced the dream of the preacher I desired to be in my own ministry. I was so influenced by the Archbishop’s teaching that I had the pronouncement printed on my ordination’s prayer cards. This maxim has served me well, and each day in the last 15 years I am reminded of my commitment to the Archbishop’s teaching on the fidelity of an impassioned and zealous preacher of the Gospel.

We co-exist in a world at this hour where there are many well-meaning preachers who are unable or reluctant to address those “thorny matters” of our time! I have been engaged in far too many conversations than I wish to remember with fellow preachers who have openly shared that they have to walk a fine line when preaching to their faithful on matters of race, immigration and migration. Ironically, these issues are the same as those the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have been and continue to support and advocate on a faith-filled basis.

One of the underlying reasons these preachers are cautious about upsetting their congregations is the theory that “Church folk tend to vote with their wallets!” Should the congregation hear or perceive to hear something that is not aligned with their civic tenets, the Church’s financial support is held hostage until the preacher’s message conforms to their individual ideology and not the teachings of The Master.

Why do so many of us find such great discomfort and indignation when we begin to discuss the current issues and policy of immigration and migration in our nation, yet we can somehow conveniently turn a blind eye when the issues and policy personally impact us? Do we question or find ourselves in anguish with our immigration and migration policy when our landscapers arrive at our homes to manicure our lawns?

Do we wonder or find ourselves in distress with our immigration and migration policy when we are getting our vehicles squeaky clean at our neighborhood car wash? Do we ponder or find ourselves in bewilderment and disgust with our immigration and migration policy when we drop off our laundry at the dry cleaners? Do we ponder or find ourselves in chaos with our immigration and migration policy when we are in our local markets and place that bag of California grapes or Florida oranges in our shopping cart and reflect on who harvested that produce?

I recently read an article indicating that Pope Francis is still very popular among the majority of Roman Catholic Americans; however, his favorability is waning among a certain segment of our Church here in the United States. Perhaps a segment of Roman Catholic Americans believe the Holy Father is too naive and progressive in his preaching, writings and teaching.

How ironic that a segment of Roman Catholic Americans just a brief period ago in our Church’s history were professing that St. John Paul II was too naive and conservative in his preaching, writing and teaching. As Roman Catholics, we must always be mindful that we profess the Holy Father is guided by the Holy Spirit and, with that profession of Faith, we affirm that what Pope Francis is teaching, writing, and preaching is not “Francis-ism” but Roman Catholicism!

All of us at one time or another in our existence will discover ourselves grappling with certain teachings of Holy Mother, the Church, including myself. I struggle deeply with the Church’s teaching of a celibate priesthood. She will not ordain qualified and Spirit-filled married-cradle Catholic males. However, she will openly and affectionately accept and ordain married ministers from other traditions into her ranks! Nevertheless, I assent to the teaching and prayerfully continue to be a faithful member of the Church.

Let us give praise to our Creator for the precious gifts of Pope Paul VI and Archbishop Oscar Romero. May they continue to shepherd and invigorate us along our path to holiness as Saints of the Church and may we always remain glowing In His Light.

Deacon Leonard Paul Lockett is the Vicar for Catholics of African Descent.