by Humbert of Romans
CONCERNING THE EXERCISE OF PREACHING
With regard to the exercise of preaching, we shall discuss: firstly, the culpability of those who neglect to preach; secondly, the base reasons which dissuade some from this office; thirdly, what would constitute a lack of judgment in this office; fourthly, the conditions which are favorable to its proper fulfillment; fifthly, the qualities of good preaching; sixthly, the reasons why those who have received the gift of preaching ought to cooperate with this grace wholeheartedly.
XV. The Culpability of Those Who Neglect to Preach
The prelate who does not preach is first of all deserving of this reproach, for he is bound by his very office to do so.
“And Aaron shall be vested with it in the office of his ministry: that the sound may be heard, when he goeth and cometh out of the sanctuary in the sight of the Lord; and that he may not die” (Exod. 28:35).
Regarding this text, St. Gregory, speaking of the priest who has the care of souls, observes that a priest is worthy of death when he goes and comes without being heard, for when he passes his life without preaching, he brings down upon himself the wrath of the Invisible Judge.
Next we note the culpability of the gifted preacher who does not put to good use the gift he has received. It is at such that St. Bernard directs his reproach:
“You certainly deprive others of good when, although gifted with knowledge and eloquence, you enchain in a damnable silence the word which could help so many.”
Equally to be censured is the person who has received the order to preach and does not do it.
“If when I say to the wicked,” said the Lord to Ezekiel, “thou shalt surely die: thou declare it not to him nor speak to him that he may be converted from his wicked way and live, the same wicked man shall dies in his iniquity but I will require his blood at thy hand” (Ezek. 3:18).
Particularly reprehensible is the one who remains silent before an audience disposed to listen to him. St. Chrysostom, expounding the text of St. Matthew in which it is written that
“Jesus seeing the crowds, he went up the mountain”(Matt. 5:1)
to preach, remarks that Our Lord was prompted to preach by the aspect of this crowd, just as a fisherman is moved to throw out his net, when he finds a favorable spot. What kind of a fisherman, indeed, would he be who let a catch slip through his fingers when the opportunity came to him? Still more blameworthy would the preacher be, if the people were not only disposed to listen to him, but earnestly besought him to speak.
“The little ones have asked for bread,” says the Prophet Jeremiah, “and there was none to break it unto them” (Lam. 4:4).
“What a chastisement,” says St. Gregory, “do they deserve who see souls dying of hunger, yet do not distribute to them the bread of grace, which is theirs to give!”
They are still more guilty when they refuse those who are in dire need of their services. “Imagine,” says St. Gregory again, “the crime of those who are unwilling to preach the good word to their brethren enmeshed in sin, and keep from the dying the remedy which would have restored life to them!”
It is also necessary to point out that there are times when much fruit would result from preaching, but due to negligence these opportunities are lost. Regarding this it is written:
“And refrain not to speak in the time of salvation” (Ecclus. 4:28).
The same reproaches are incurred by the preacher who refuses to nourish with spiritual food the very people who have supplied him with the temporal goods necessary to sustain life. This is why Job said:
“If I have eaten the fruits thereof without money . . . let thistles grow up to me instead of wheat . . .” (Job 31:39,40).
“To eat the fruits of the land without paying for them,” says St. Gregory, “is the injustice of whoever partakes of the bounty of the Church, and does not return to her, by way of preaching, a just payment.”
Finally, we must censure those who do not preach when everyone else is silent. For this omission, while it lasts, is more serious than if someone else did it, just as when we give alms to a person who will not get them from anyone else. In this regard the Lord said to Isaiah:
“The needy and the poor seek for waters, and there are none: their tongue hath been dry with thirst. I the Lord will hear them: I the God of Israel will not forsake them” (Isaiah 41:17).
As if to say:
“Because no one does it, I myself will do it. And this is what the preacher animated by the spirit of God must practice.”
This is an excerpt from the Preachers Institute publication: