The Key to Great Sermons

What goes into a good sermon? Is it the content, the delivery, the preacher? Rev. Paul Scalia, son of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, joined A Closer LookTM to discuss his book, Sermons in Times of Crisis. In it, he shares inspiring sermons from great saints and preachers in the history of the Church, plus inspiration for the priests and bishops who are striving to reach their flock the best they can.

The Holy Spirit should speak through the priest during his sermon. “The preacher’s first responsibility is to get out of the way. But God always desires to work through secondary causes; he desires to work through human means. When he came and spoke authoritatively to us in his Son, it was by way of his Son’s human nature. And so our Lord spoke in a particular language in a particular place with idioms and expressions and phrases that they could understand, that would appeal to them,” said Fr. Scalia.

Jesus “sets the pattern” for every preacher who has come after him. Scalia explained, “The preacher has to be very mindful of his time and place in order to speak coherently to the people but at the same time he has to be rooted in eternity. He can’t be bound by time but he has to know how to speak to people in a particular time but what he’s speaking to them needs to be timeless.”

Timely and timeless. It’s a tall order. “The two mistakes would be to preach in a way that doesn’t resonate with those who are hearing … and the other mistake would be to appeal to the people in such a way that the truths are shortchanged. You know, cutting corners on doctrine,” explained Scalia. This looks different for each pastor, who needs to speak to his congregation in a way that they can understand while also delving into the issues they need to hear.

Part of this is up to you, sitting in the pews. “There has to be a receptivity on the part of the hearer. This is what our Lord’s phrase throughout the Gospel means: ‘Let him who has ears to hear, hear.’ It’s kind of a funny phrase, but what he means of course that it’s not enough to hear the words—there needs to be an openness to them and a willingness to respond to them. They need to resonate not just physically with the ears but also interiorly with the heart,” said Scalia.

Listen to the full segment here: