Always Preach Repentance within Kerygmatic Proclamation
I did a parish mission in St Louis a week or so ago and it is continually reverberating in the life of the parish. This parish was composed of some younger families, but mostly older individuals in South County. The church itself predates the Civil War, but the current ugly building was thrown up in the late 60s, I believe. The crowd was mostly 60s+, with a heavy leaning on 70s and 80s. Not my typical crowd, but not unfamiliar. It was a beautiful church because it was filled with beautiful people and led by a great pastor.
A few weeks before this parish mission, I had a couple conversations with really good priests that are reading Forming Intentional Disciples and Divine Renovation and such, and they were asking me about kerygmatic proclamation and how they can see more fruit from these types of homilies. So the priests were preaching the gospel, but wondering why there wasn't as much turn around or "immediate" fruit as they sometimes read about or hear about, or have even witnessed when done by others, say a Father Dave Pivonka type priest at a conference or retreat.
I thought about this and asked them one question, "So when you preach on the saving love of God in Christ Jesus, do you ever have a call to repentance?" None of them did.
The reason I was given was that he thought the negativity of sin would get people thinking back to the old Catholic guilt trip view of everything, and then God would be nothing other than a disappointed, severe Judge who can't wait to send them to Hell. They felt that the key was the positive message of love, which was to counteract the moralism they had previously been pitching to the congregation.
And yet, there is the call to repentance from Jesus' lips and from the Apostles whenever there is the kerygma. I told them to go back to the drawing board and figure out how to uphold the Justice and Mercy of God and not pretend like one cancels out the other. Preach repentance.
Now back to my Parish Mission. These 70 and 80 year olds had a lot of Catholic guilt on their shoulders. They thought they were to earn his favor, not receive it. So Day Two of the mission is "That One Thing" which focuses on that one sin, habit, wound, label, or fear that is keeping them from God. Then I have them write it down anonymously and offer to Christ by putting it in the collection basket in front of the Blessed Sacrament.
Two weeks later the parish priest is texting me that people are still going to confession, confessing "That One Thing" that has kept them out of the Church for years or away from the Sacraments. Couples are getting their marriages in union with the Church. Things are still happening after I left.
Why? Because I taught them how to repent from the heart and not just from the lips.
Do not be afraid to preach repentance as long as it is contained within the power and mercy of Christ to forgive all sins, or else it's just another moralism. I hear of parish missions of "famous" people essentially yelling at Catholics to get their moral lives in order, and it's a creeping Semi-Pelagianism at best and outright Pelagianism at worst. It's not Gospel-centered, but merely gospel flavored.
Repentance means freedom for these people. It means a new start, and people are desperate for this. They tried what this world has to offer and have run into brick walls of unhappiness. When we come to them and say, "God is love and He loves you." That helps, but the thing that demonstrates and lives on that divine love is the repentance. Repentance is a trusting act, not self-flagellation... unless... unless it's presented as just another moralism.
Finally, and here's my money quote: "Catholics were never taught how to repent, but only how to go to Reconciliation." Spend time on what the Catechism calls "Interior Penance." I preached this for my parish staff last Thursday and you could have heard a pin drop.
Confession ain't enough for Conversion unless it's driven by true Contrition (and not just attrition). (write that down!)
[shakes own hand, steps off soapbox, applauds himself]