PRACTISE WHAT YOU PREACH

THEME: PRACTISE WHAT YOU PREACH
READINGS: Malachi 1:14-2:2,8-10/ 1 Thessalonians 2:7-9,13/ Matthew 23:1-12
31st Sunday in Ordinary Time

The readings of this Sunday draw the attention of preachers (including myself) of the Word to do an introspection. In the first of the three readings, the Lord cautioned priests about the consequence of not listening to Him (cf. Mal. 2:1-2). St. Paul, in turn, recalls that, while in Thessalonica, he and his colleagues backed their preaching with exemplary actions (cf. 1 Thess. 2:9). Then, in the gospel reading, Jesus sternly criticized the scribes and Pharisees: ‘they preach, but do not practise’ (Matt. 23:4).

The need to practise what one preaches is clearly stated in the ordination rite of a Catholic deacon. While presenting the Book of the Gospels to the deacon, the ordaining Bishop instructs him:

Receive the Gospel of Christ,

whose herald you now are.

Believe what you read,

teach what you believe,

and practise what you teach.

Obviously, the above instruction to ‘practice what you teach’ applies also to priests and bishops, since the diaconate is the first level of the threefold sacrament of Holy Orders. Practising what one preaches has, at least, the double effect of: (a) giving credence to the message preached and (b) sustaining the preacher’s grace of salvation.

  1. Credence to the Message: Since actions speak louder than words, the preacher’s message makes a greater impact on his audience if he practices what he preaches. The importance of good actions to back what one preaches could be seen from the fact that many good deacons, priests or bishops still make positive impact on their ‘flock’, even when they are not gifted preachers. A priest who comes to mind now is the late Fr. Martin Wels, SVD. For many years he was the Parish Priest of Christ the King Parish, Cantoments, Accra, until his retirement in the mid-1990s. Though Fr. Wels was not an eloquent preacher, many of his parishioners testified to his great impact on their lives due to his prayerful life, his demeanour of gentleness, humility, kindness, compassion, patience, as well as his unceasing care for the poor and needy. He came across to many as a living saint, and so a few words from him was enough to make a good impact.
  1. Sustaining the grace of salvation: St. Paul was rightly concerned that there is the possibility of labouring to preach to save other souls, while losing one’s own soul in the process. Consequently, he resolved, with the help of God’s grace to discipline himself lest he became a cast out: ‘Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! but I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified’ (1 Cor. 9:16, 27). Thanks to God’s grace, the success of St. Paul in practising what he taught could be seen from the fact that he confidently told the Corinthians: ‘Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ’ (1 Cor. 11:1).

Finally, then, pray that deacons, priests and bishops will be enabled by the Holy Spirit to always practise what we teach; that in doing so we will make ever greater impact on many souls and, ultimately, be eternally rewarded by the Lord. Amen!

By Very Rev. Fr. John Louis