The Dominican brothers of St. Dominic’s Priory in Macau organized an academic lecture on preaching and invited the Missionary Dominican Sisters of the Rosary, and the members of the Dominican Lay Fraternity. The speaker was Brother Felicísimo Martínez, OP, an outstanding Spanish theologian from the Dominican Province of our Lady of the Rosary, the Province of St. Dominic’s Priory in Macau. Bro. Felicísimo is currently a visiting professor at the Faculty of Religious Studies of the Catholic University of Saint Joseph, Macau. The session on preaching was held at the Priory’s Hall on April 1, 2017. Hereafter, we have the great pleasure of publishing the text of the lecture.

The preacher and the charismatic authority to preach:

There are many manuals on sacred oratory; little has been said about the interior of the preacher, about the spirituality and the life of the preacher. The Master of preaching is the Holy Spirit; but the formation of the preacher is necessary.

Some conditions to become a good preacher:

  1. The implication of the preacher in preaching
    • It does not mean to preach oneself, to tell about your travelling around the world, but to pass the message through personal experience. That requires much contemplation.
      The preacher is a witness involved not a mere spectator. That happens with the Cyrenean in the movie The Passion. At the beginning he is a mere spectator. Then he looks at Jesus and Jesus looks at him and he becomes a committed witness.
    • Albert Magnus wrote: Teaching should not be passing ideas “ex libris in libros” (from one book to another book). Neither Preaching must be that kind or work. In that case, preaching would become mere speech and rhetoric.
    • Humbert of Romans wrote: Preaching is not the same as giving sermons. Only a believer can preach. Even a non-Christian can give a sermon. A witness is not a model; he is somebody with strong conviction and strong faith.
    • Preaching then implies a lot of prayer and contemplation, but also the grace of preaching, the charism, the supernatural vocation given by the Spirit.
    • St. Thomas wrote: charisms are not habits, but transient passions. The preacher must be very attentive to know when to preach and when to keep silence.
    • In the origins of the Order the problem was not so much to define the grace of preaching as to discern it. Some brothers like Juan de Vicenza attributed this grace to them too easily. In 1249 the expression “gratia praedicationis” was removed of the Constitutions, which did not mean that the grace of preaching was dispensed with.
    • Several criteria for the discernment of the grace of preaching: the grace of preaching is not the same as being funny o amusing the audience; grace of preaching makes the preacher more humble; the grace of preaching should be discerned by the community. The preacher is not a medium and the Spirit acts respecting his character, his reason and freedom; the true grace of preaching is a source of spirituality for the preacher; one special criterion: the fruits of preaching; Grace does not act on the surface of people, but in their interiority; a good criterion: motivations and progress in humanization in the preacher.
  2. The experience of faith and listening to God
    • The power of preaching depends on the strength of faith. Faith today is not to be taken for granted even in religious life. We are not atheistic or agnostic, but we can be short of confidence in God.
      We should not confuse the experience of faith with piety, with emotion and religious emotions. In most of the conversions, illumination is more relevant than changing in morals.
    • We should not confuse faith with moral stature. Not a faultless moral, but a strong faith is what really supports preaching. The preacher bears witness of what he has seen and heard.
    • The experience of faith is not strange to worldly experience, to everyday life. Christian experiences should be an incarnate experience. Preaching is not only to illustrate the mystery of God, but to understand it from the human experience itself and to interpret this human experience from the mystery of God.
  3. Compassion and listening to humanity
    • It is necessary to listen to God and to listen to humanity before preaching.
    • The zeal for the salvation of souls was a special trait of Saint Dominic. He meant the salvation of the whole person and of the people already in present life. A good preacher must have passion and compassion for the world.
    • Compassion obliges to hear attentively and cordially the suffering, to relate compassionately to the world. Especially in two areas: listening to the disputed issues of the present time in which the world of meaning is played; and listening to the cries of the victims.
  4. The study and the passion for truth
    • The Master of the preacher is the Spirit. But the preacher should be prepared remotely with the study and immediately with the prayer and contemplation. Preaching is not efficient “ex opere operato”.
    • The motto of the Order is VERITAS. We are not owners of the Truth but we are bound to keep always searching for the truth, to feel passion for the truth. We should ask God that he might give us the instinct of truth.
    • Truth is a great service to justice. As Saint Paul says in the letter to the Romans injustice itself needs to kidnap the truth in order to be justified.
    • When preaching has been alive in the Dominica Family, the study has flourished and vice versa. Cardinal Cajetan, O.P. insisted on this in his intent to reform the Order.
    • Today we cannot master all the sciences, but we can be attentive to the disputed issues.
    • It is necessary to give priority to the study of theology, of the Bible. There are things that should not be repeated in our catechesis, in our preaching. The cancer in a person is not punishment for any sin at all.
    • Study allows the preacher to place the message in the gaps of the existence of persons. Preaching means to help the people to look at the world and at life as God looks at them. Preaching is to announce God who looks at us lovingly.
  5. Evangelical life and humility in the preacher and in the community of preachers
    • Preaching is a charism. Its effectiveness depends on the action of the Holy Spirit and on the power of the Word of God.
    • The authority of the preacher is his evangelical life (not his holiness). That allows the Spirit to act through the preacher.
    • Many Fathers of the Church and our Brother Luis de Granada, O.P. insisted that the Preacher should not destroy with his life what he announces with his or her words. Saint Paul repeats many times in his letters: I behave like this “So as not to discredit the ministry of the Gospel I preach” (2 Cor. 6, 3…)
    • Counting on our frailty the preacher should not preach with cynicism, but with humility. It is very important for him or her to recognize his or her human and Christian limitations. Humbert of Romans, O.P. wrote: it is better to go outside to preach and with the risk of becoming stained than to be cloistered and remain pure. In the origin of the Order, we receive a Bula in which it is said: “That your preaching could be a remedy for sins”. For old monks the remedy for their sin were the ascetical exercises; for the preachers the remedy is the ministry of preaching with all its inconveniences.
    • The preacher must be very humble to manage the failure (sermon of the chairs). But above all he or she must be very humble to manage the success. The applause of the public is not the true measure of the effective preaching of the Gospel. Kierkegaard used to say: “I won’t evaluate the success of my preaching taking into account the applause of the audience”.
  6. Toward the explicit announcement of the Gospel
    • All is preaching. I have heard many brothers and sisters saying that. I agree. But the priority in Dominican preaching is the explicit announcement of the Gospel in the most different ways: catechesis, teaching, homily, informal conversation…
    • From the Vatican II the Church has underlined the priority of evangelization: Evangelii Nuntiandi, New evangelization…
    • There are two main reasons for the explicit announcement of the Gospel in today’s world: First, because it is impossible for a person to come to the Christian faith unless he or she hears the announcement of Jesus Christ. “Fides ex auditu” (Faith comes from hearing). Second, many people today are short of meaning or sense for their lives. And the Gospel is a rich source of meaning for human life.
    • Certainly, we should announce the Gospel in proper time and in adequate circumstances, without proselytism. Neither we should invade the privacy and freedom of any person nor should we be inhibited preachers.
    • To preach the Gospel it is very relevant to fit the most adequate tone or tune.
  7. To nail the message to human experience
    • The purpose of preaching is not mere illustration, academic illustration. The last goal of preaching is conversion, global conversion of life. Saint Thomas wrote: The purpose of preaching is: instruction in Christian doctrine, moving interior affections, coming to love God, people and things.
    • Preachers should descend from the scaffolding of reason to the stratum of the heart. They have to bring the evangelical message to the center of the person. And, according to the Bible, the center of a person is the heart with all our affections.
    • In order to achieve this goal it is very important to use examples, metaphors, parables (B. Bro). All these resources were called in the Middle Ages “Exempla”. There is a beautiful example in the French Dominican Fr. Bro, famous preacher in Notre Dame. His grandfather was handicapped and could not attend mass in the church. He used to tell the small boy Bernard: “You have to report to me the homily of the priest”. By doing that the little boy received a tip. And Bernard realizes this: If the preacher put an example or told a funny story, he could recall it and report to the grandfather and he received the tip. If the preacher spoke only about ideas, he could not remember a simple word, and could not report to the grandfather. Consequently, no tip. And so, Bernard became a very famous preacher because of his using of examples, stories….
    • Conversion is a question of light, vision, illumination. This is the name for baptism in the ancient Church (Hebrews, Nicodemus, Bartimaeus… and afterwards Paul, Augustin, the great converts…). I have a good collection of stories of conversion. In all of them, the main point is illumination, new light, new vision of live. Read the story of conversion of Saint Paul (Acts 9, 1-19).
    • Enlightenment must overcome the world of ideas and become wisdom. It is the work of the Spirit in the preacher and the listener.
    • The main purpose of preaching is to nail the message into the gaps of human existence. Finding the connection between the Gospel and the human experience. Here is to be found the real key for success in preaching.
    • It requires to be empathetic o sympathetic with the assembly, to pay empathic attention to the situations of the people, to listen carefully to their problems, real problems.
    • To nail the message in human experience does not mean to confirm the expectations of listeners. Many times the Gospel questions our views, our expectations, the behavior we like most.
  8. Specific traits of Dominican preaching
    • Preaching must be charismatic
      • That means that we should reinforce our preaching, not with our hierarchy as priest or religious, or bishop, but with the strength of the Word of God, of the Spirit, or our evangelical life.
      • On what authority are you preaching to us? That is the big question. It is not a matter of legal authority, but of evangelical authority.
      • Dominic´s resignations to the episcopate had this purpose. It was not a mere question of personal humility. He wanted to preach the Gospel in a charismatic manner.
      • Spiritual truth is to be preached by a spiritual person and by spiritual means. Humbert of Romans.
      • To preach like that we need the grace of preaching. In the old times, when a brother was sent to preach, the community prayed the prayer revealed to the Cistercian of Tuscany: “Might God give to the preacher the grace of preaching and the gracious word”.
    • Preaching must be doctrinal
      • It does not mean academic, theoretic, abstract preaching. In the Middle Ages the Dominican preaching was called doctrinal to distinguish it from moral and penitential exhortations. (You have to behave, you have to be good…)
      • Doctrine here means the core of the Christian creed, rule of faith, central mysteries of Christian faith…
      • Doctrinal does not mean tying orthodoxy; it is not theoretical and abstract. It refers to the central mysteries of faith (kerygmatic). It is a preaching able to break the hearts of the people, as many times happens in the Acts of the Apostles.
      • This doctrinal preaching requires much prayer, much contemplation, much study…
      • The Dominican Preacher must overcome moralizing preaching and reach the roots of Christian faith so that the Holy Spirit opens the doors of faith.
    • Preaching must be positive and hopeful
      • That means to proclaim salvation more than condemn.
      • Our preaching is in the service of hope. It must help the people to look at the world with the eyes of God. And God knows the salvific potential of human history.
    • Preaching must be prophetic
      • Being positive and hopeful does not mean being naive and ignoring the evil in the world.
      • Preaching must discern the signs of the times, distinguishing what is of grace and of sin in our world.
    •  And you know very well: the Dominican Preaching must be multiform, itinerant, preaching on the frontiers…. All that is easy to say and difficult to practice.
    •  An finally our Dominican Preaching should be Preaching in Family
      • This is not the Order of the friars preachers; we are the friars of the Order of Preachers.
      • We have assimilated more or less the effective and emotional membership in Dominican Family. We have to assimilate the challenge of being together in mission. We need to preach together. This is the way to build up the Dominican Family.
      • We need to retrieve the communitarian character of our Preaching. We need to reaffirm the common vocation of all of us in the Dominican Family, to develop common projects, to enrich our experience of the gospel.
      • Preaching in Family has some advantages: to enrich our Dominican Life, to expand the ministry of Preaching, to testify practically that all of us are equal in dignity, to reinforce the democracy in the Dominican Life.


Felicísimo Martínez, O.P.

St. Dominic’s Priory

Macau April 1, 2017