Is good oratory absolutely crucial or is it low down on the list of sought after priestly qualities?
This week priests were urged to spice up “dull, flavourless” homilies by using colourful language and stories drawn from the Bible. The advice came from Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture. He told delegates in Rome that homilies had to be compelling in order to engage worshippers used to the thrill of television and the internet.
Most people would agree that homilies should engage their listeners. But by encouraging clergy to compete with Facebook and The X Factor, isn’t there a danger of putting style over substance? A priest may resort to gimmicks in order to grab people’s attention. They may think their main duty is to entertain.
Pope Benedict XVI, in the book-length interview, God and the World, suggested that a talent for public speaking might not be such a crucial quality for clergy:
“Recently a parish priest in a large German city told me that he had come to his vocation by the particular agency of a priest who was actually bereft of all exterior gifts. He was a hopeless preacher, a dreadful singer, and so on, and yet under his care the parish really blossomed. In the end four or five priestly vocations were awakened in this city parish, something that happened neither under his predecessor nor under his successor, both of whom were far more capable. We can see here how the humble witness of someone who does not have the gift of persuasive speech can itself become a sermon, and how we should thank God for the variety of gifts.”
On the other hand, homilies delivered poorly, even if they are full of truth and wisdom, may leave Catholics uninspired and drifting away from their faith. If homilies were entertaining then they might engage those who are struggling to listen.
So, does it matter if a priest is a bad public speaker? Or is it far down the list of sought after priestly qualities?