Don’t Fear Preaching as Jesus Preached

Msgr Charles Pope writes:

Some years ago I was stationed with a priest who, while he often liked my homilies, would often critique my use of what he called “fear based preaching.” Perhaps I had warned the congregation of punishment for sin, or even let slip that certain things were mortal sins that would exclude one from heaven and land them in hell. I would often playfully remind the congregation that missing Sunday Mass was a mortal sin by saying, “Go to Mass or go to hell.” I would also warn that fornicators would not inherit the Kingdom nor idolaters nor adulterers nor those who practice homosexuality, nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God (cf 1 Cor 6:9).

Of course I was quoting Scripture and preaching out of a voluminous biblical tradition of warning texts. Nevertheless, the older priest would often wag his finger and say, “Ah that’s fear-based preaching…fear based!”

Perhaps it was, but so what?

Rest here.



9 thoughts on “Don’t Fear Preaching as Jesus Preached

  1. Jesus KNEW the heart and soul of man, so HE said…”I have not come for the righteous, but for the sick who are in need of a Physician”. The Priest is that Physician for his people, so if he gives them a placebo or the incorrect Rx. what then…his congregation languishes in….

    Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your Priests and enkindle in them the FIRE of Your Gospel!!

    1. Margaret, Yes, the entire Gospel needs to be preached. There really isn’t much else for Christians to preach. That includes the hard sayings and those things that (rightly) make us sinners in need of a savior uncomfortable!

      Just curious though, where in Scripture does it say that missing a single Sunday liturgy is worthy of eternal damnation (i.e., that it is a “mortal” sin)? It isn’t in 1 Cor 6:9. Reminds me of days where RCs were told it was a mortal sin to eat meat on a Friday and then…the rules changed.

      1. Michael: as I understand it, ‘willfully’ missing Mass on Sunday is not fulfilling the ‘moral imperative’–“keep Holy the Lord’s Day’ and is in Truth a sin against the First Commandment. Of course, for a sin to be “mortal” it must be a) grave matter b) knowledge and c) full consent. So that would presume a ‘practicing Catholic’ who has full knowledge of their Faith and yet obstinately defies the Church’s teachings and mandates.
        As regards “missing a single liturgy”, it is deemed “a mortal sin”, not that it “is worthy of eternal damnation”, but that Holy Mother Church knows fully ( to put it simply) that the Mass is the necessary ‘Life-giving food for our Immoral Souls’–in Word & Sacrament! The Eucharist is the “source & summit of our Faith” and also that one MUST ‘hear the Word’ for It to penetrate and take root in our Lives. In other words, without the devout, consistent, persistent, minimal weekly commitment to this ‘greatest act of Worship’, we are in ‘danger of loosing our Immortal Souls’ (most serious). Danger, because ‘missing just one Mass’ is yielding to a more greater temptation…to miss another, and a another and….The Soul begins to ‘grow lukewarm’ and you know what Jesus said about ‘lukewarm souls’–“I would rather you be hot or cold…”.

        It was ‘never a mortal sin’ to eat meat on a Friday! That is called a “discipline” and a Discipline can change, depending….In the case of “no meat on Friday”, my understanding was that people were going out and say, eating a lobster dinner full-course-meal, thereby defying the very nature of the discipline, which was to take on ‘a spirit of mortification & penance”; plus people who were not meat eaters, it was not a sacrifice at all for them. So…now the ‘Discipline’ is either to abstain from meat on Friday OR to undertake an ‘act or mortification & penance’. Eating meat is not necessarily the luxury (and therefore sacrifice) it once was and so a self-imposed penance/mortification can be more closely in touch with/in the spirit of–the intended purpose of this discipline in the first place.

      2. Margaret, I understand what the RCC posits as dogma in this realm. Of course, in this area we’re discussing rules like the Pharisees had, piling them up to burden men and not the Gospel of Christ. That is why I note you can’t defend the rule from Scripture. Where did Jesus or the Apostles say “Miss liturgy once and be damned eternally”? I suspect the best you’ll be able to come up with is the Power of the Keys. But that just means misusing them to yoke men not to bring a saving Gospel. Rome’s legal model is straight from the Pharisees and we both know what Christ said about them. I much prefer a medicinal model over a juridical one! Or Wesley’s views on sanctification and holiness.

        And I’m sure we both agree that Christians should willingly and joyfully attend liturgies! But not out of a sense of fear and duty but of love and thanksgiving. (You should read the Augsburg Confession’s discussion of these human rules, esp. in the area of monastic vows.)

      3. 1. If you are really interested in the Catholic view on the issue of Sunday mass obligation, read this:
        You don’t really expect us to clarify doctrinal issues in a comment box, do you?
        2. For someone declaring to be Orthodox, your juxtaposition: the Bible vs. the Church seems, to put it mildly, a little unexpected. Well, if your “both Orthodox and Reformed” position is typical of the Western Rite folk, then the ROCOR’s recent decisions about its Western Rite diocese are not so surprising after all.

      4. CC, Thanks. I have my copy of the current edition of the RCC’s CCC and a plethora of other RC sources collected over the years (e.g., Joint Declaraion on Justification). One of my favs is a book by a Jesuit priest right before Vatican II who opined that Limbo would be the next infallible doctrine proclaimed. Boy was he wrong! That will likely be Mary proclaimed as co-Mediatrix, essentially being made “equal” with Christ in salvific history? God forbid such heresy!

        I think your issue is that you expect Orthodox to be RCs but without the pope. So you expect us to pretty much accept all the accretions of medieval scholastic RCicism and reject anything and everything that you suspect has been infected by the Reformation. Though oddly that tends to mean you pretty much overlook some critical things, like the Book of Romans! So when you encounter Orthodox who say Rome’s heterodox mess has been going on for about 1500 years and who thus have an appreciation for the need for the Reformation (which even Rome recognized when it had Trent radically reorient so much and so soon after the last of their councils).

        Orthodoxy often views devotional practices and daily life discipline thru a medicinal, therapeutic model. With the priest as comforting physician who helps the patient understand they are sick (sinner) and in need of medicine (the Gospel) for a proper cure (redemption thru Christ). This goes against Rome’s juridical, legal model that views the priest as prosecutor, judge, jury, and executioner, as someone who attempts to completely control the life of the Christian from their finances, to what they eat, to their marital sexual relations. Big Brother as religious legal overseer!

      5. Michael: you say I “can’t defend the rule from Scripture”? I rest upon the three-legged stool of “Scripture, Tradition and Magisterium”, so I am not my sole authority on interpretation. And once again, the Church does NOT teach “miss liturgy once and be damned eternally”.
        What is wrong with the “power of the keys”? Did not Jesus say to Peter ” whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven”?! Did Jesus place some ‘burdensome yoke’ on HIS Church–like the Pharisees, placing heavy burdens and not lifting the load, or more appropriately is it the yoke with which Jesus invites us: “…for MY yoke is easy and MY burden lite”; I find the latter to be true. There is a Freedom and Joy in the ‘Obedience IN Faith’–an Obedience that is tightly intertwined with Love. Yes, Love is the Ultimate reason & response asked of us, but a ‘free-lance response of Love’ is a self-serving love, without the ‘Obedience of Love’–the more PERFECT LOVE–the ‘Love of the Beloved’ WHO also says “If you Love ME you will keep MY Commandments”!
        Keeping the ‘commandments of the Church’ are in keeping with Christ’s Love–a reciprocal Love, like that of The Most Holy Trinity ( an whole other discourse in itself).
        Does not a parent delight when a child obeys them, even if the motive at first is in fear of doing wrong, or of displeasing the parent? Does not the child grow in Virtue, in nobility of Character, for just ‘one act of Obedience’ (not unlike attending a single liturgy out of an ‘act of Obedience’)?! It is NOT Juridical, but IS indeed Medicinal!

        I do admit that there is a ‘Pharisaical legalism’ amongst the Faithful–clergy & laity alike. I experience it all too often and it does weigh heavy on the mind, heart & soul. However, I see it as more directly related to the ‘individual sinful nature of man’, rather than the noble teachings or holy ordinances of the RCC–Christ’s seamless garment!
        The Peace of Christ be with you!

      6. Margaret, I’d encourage you to read over a couple sections of the Augsburg Confession (1530) and Apology to same (1531) by Philip Melanchthon. You’ll see an alternative view, one that I think your Church has slowly been moving toward, though not often fully successfully. Read Article XXVI, The Distinction of Foods: “…such traditions have also obscured the commands of God, for these tradttions were exalted far above God’s commands. … there was no end or limit to the making of such traditions.”

        As he wrote in the Confession about the Power of Bishops in Article XXVIII:

        “…according to the Gospel the power of keys or the power of bishops is a power and command of God to preach the Gospel, to forgive and retain sins, and to adminsiter the distribute the sacraments.” and “This power of keys or of bishops is used and exercised only by teaching and preaching the Word of Goad and by administering the sacraments”.

        The power of the Keys is NOT about inventing human traditions and forcing them on Christians, creating new mythological “sins” for failing to observe some tradition that can be here today and gone or changed tomorrow. That is what the Pharisees did and we know what Christ said about that. For there is no love, justice, or truth in such an abuse of God’s Word.

      7. Margaret, I forgot…A key place you absolutey should study is Acts, esp. all of 15th chapter and the Council at Jerusalem. Notice what Peter says: ‘Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?” (v. 10) And what James says: “Therefore I judge that we should not trouble those from among the gentiles whao are turning to God….” (v. 19) And never forget Paul at Col. 2:16: “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath.” Seems pretty clear.

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