Breaking News vs. Good News
We need to be ready to confront the urgent issues of our day
Every once in a while, breaking news seems to overshadow the Good News.
On a Saturday morning in October 2018, a gunman entered a synagogue in Pittsburgh and slaughtered 11 people while Sabbath services were underway. It was horrifying and brutal. The bloodshed at the Tree of Life Synagogue became the worst anti-Semitic attack in U.S. history.
What can a preacher do when a major news event on Saturday is all anyone will be talking about on Sunday?
Sometimes, when catastrophe strikes, what we had planned to say may not be what people need (or expect) to hear. That beautifully crafted homily you spent days working on needs to be filed away for another time.
Be flexible. Be adaptable. Be prepared to start over.
The fact is, at certain moments, what will matter isn’t our eloquence or intelligence, but our relevance. The news sometimes can leave a congregation grieving, confused, anxious. We need to offer a sense of consolation, reassurance and hope. We need to let the People of God know that God is still here.
It isn’t easy. Several times over the last few years, I’ve found myself staying up late Saturday night to pray over and rework what I was going to say Sunday morning. It happened with the tragedy in Pittsburgh, but also with the white supremacist march in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the fire at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. These are events that seized the world’s attention, dominated the news and broke our hearts.
They also touched on our natural feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. There is much the Church and sacred Scripture have to say about all of this — lessons in compassion, perseverance and faith. These are lessons all of us need to carry into the world, and the ambo is a good place to start.
Often, we need to be ready to confront the urgent issues of our day, even when the wounds are still raw. That includes, perhaps most painfully, the sex abuse crisis. As that scandal exploded over the late summer and early fall of 2018, it seemed like every week brought another jolt, another damning account or accusation. I heard again and again of parishes where the priests and deacons just didn’t want to bring it up, let alone address it in the homily.
The fact is, when it comes to this particular story, deacons can be powerful agents of healing. The deacon is especially well-equipped to stand before the people and say: “You’re not alone. I understand. I know what you’re going through. I’m feeling this, too.” On this topic and others, the deacon can confront the events of our time and the anxiety of our age with immediacy, with urgency and with something even more important: a sense of solidarity.
He shares in the struggles of many of those sitting in church on Sunday morning. He can help them know they are not alone.
During troubled times, he needs to give voice to what is in people’s hearts — just as he gives voice to their petitions in the prayer of the faithful. He can remind the people in the pews that he lives with them, stands with them, walks with them on the journey of faith — even when that journey has setbacks, barriers or potholes.
Even when that journey feels like a trail of tears.
Preaching on a devastating news event sometimes will mean stepping away from discussing the Scriptures of the day. But those who hear your message will still hear the Gospel — the Good News of redemption and hope — and, perhaps, hear it with new ears.
And most importantly: If you have done what you set out to do, it could also lead them to living it with new hearts. Isn’t that what an effective homily should do?
DEACON GREG KANDRA is the creator of the popular blog The Deacon’s Bench at Patheos.com. A veteran journalist, he works as multimedia editor for Catholic Near East Welfare Association. He serves as a deacon in the Diocese of Brooklyn, New York.