Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Decision to Preach on Abortion

I get the impression from my very infrequent perusal of varous liberal "catholic" media that people from that camp mostly view young priests who preach on abortion and/or contraception as all coming from the same idealistic mold.

Often the caricature (with a bit of embellishment) goes something like this:

All the young priests in each diocese gather monthly in the basement of a gothic Church for a secret meeting. After 2 hours of devotions and novennas, they recite the "creed of conservative priests" (in latin of course), the creed being mostly a tribute to John Paul II and Benedict XVI. We then recite the syllabus of errors and share strategies for how to anger and antagonize unorthodox Catholics. The climax of these meetings, however, is when the leader of the young priests asks, "Has anyone preached on abortion or contraception this month?" Several young priests stand up, and the rest applaud raccously, and the young priests are congratulated for their bravery and given a metal of honor for their preaching.

In reality, the decision to preach on abortion is a most difficult one. I want to walk you through how I came to my decision in the hope that it will slay some of the stereotypes that are out there.

When I am preaching the coming weekend, I almost always get my nose into the readings on the Monday prior. On Monday, I'm not necessarily looking for a topic just yet; I'm more trying to get a sense of the themes, and I'm also trying to get the words in my head so that I can kick them around in class, when I'm running on the tread mill, or driving to work. Last monday was no different; when I read the readings nothing jumped out at me, and I let them stew. I picked up the readings again on Wednesday, and the word "womb" jumped out at me so clearly that I knew instantly that God was asking me to preach on that. It is always that way with homilies for me; there comes a certain moment where it is quite clear what I'm to preach on. My first reaction, far from being one of joy or excitement, was authentic dread. I literally said to myself "oh no!" I became instantly anxious and nervous, and remained that way through the weekend.

On Friday I was so nervous that I called a priest friend from Tulsa, OK, Fr. Brian O'Brien (hands down the coolest priest name in the country). Fr. O'Brien and I were good friends at the seminary, and we were both active in pro-life work there. He is an extremely humble man but is also a fantastic leader (he is the president of Bishop Kelly High School in Tulsa). I was so nervous on Friday that I asked him if he had any advice for how to preach on abortion. I knew Fr. O'Brien had broached the topic by now because of the fact that he was ordained several years before me. We talked for a long time, and he gave me unbelievably helpful advice. At no point was there any "congratulations"; both of us are well aware of the solemnity with which such an issue must be treated.

I then went in to Ritter at 6 am on Saturday and worked on the homily until 3, with a 2 hour break to root on the Raider Swimmers at Speedway). I wrote, rewrote, read it out loud, rewrote it, practiced it in the chapel, and rewrote it again.

At no point was there joy in my heart about preaching on such a topic.

May we reach the day when NO priest has to preach on the issue of abortion!