The Best Sermon I Never Heard
"Oh, if only all souls knew who is living in our churches...!"
— From the Diary of St. Faustina, 409
By Frederick Hermann
As soon as he started, I knew it was going to be bad.
The old priest began his sermon with a faltering voice, and proceeded to tell an obscure story that made no sense to me at all. I was quickly lost and bored.
This was not my usual church. I was traveling, and had just dropped in for evening Mass.
But I knew right away that this sermon was going to be one of the worst ever. The priest seemed unprepared, vague, and detached.
So I tuned him out, and started fuming inside my head. Slowly I became more incensed than the incense burning near the altar.
"Why didn't he prepare better?" I thought. "Don't they train these guys in Seminary? Here we are, after 2,000 years of Church history, and we still haven't figured out how to give a decent homily! No wonder our faith is so weak, it's because the sermons are so bad!"
There I sat, stupefied, practically gnashing my teeth. If I had been sitting in the back pew, I would have been tempted to sneak out.
At long last, an eternity it seemed, the priest ended his sermon. I seethed within myself, like a cartoon character who suffers under a dark cloud raining down daggers and lightning bolts.
I remember nothing of what he said. It was that boring. For the rest of the Mass, my mind wandered elsewhere, indignant and dismayed.
After Mass, I walked to my car in the parking lot. No longer able to contain my protest, I complained out loud to a man walking beside me; "What did you think of that sermon?"
He walked in silence beside me, lost in thought. Then he gave a gentle reply; "That was the most beautiful sermon I ever heard."
I was stunned, and looked up at him, expecting to see him grinning sarcastically. To my astonishment, I saw that he was weeping. His face was tear-stained, and his eyes glistened in the twilight.
Suddenly embarrassed, I asked what he meant.
He thought for a moment, then responded with a smile; "I've spent most of my life estranged from God, going my own way, and doing my own thing. Last year I found him, or rather he found me, and now I find him speaking to me in the most wonderful ways. Like that sermon we just heard. It was all about waking up, and listening, and hearing God in new ways. That describes my life, and the love I have found."
In the face of this testimony, I was speechless. I shook his hand sheepishly and thanked him. "He may not speak to me, but he speaks to thee," I thought.
As I drove home, I marveled at how God could use such a dull and ordinary priest to speak in such an extraordinary way to one of his beloved.
What is meaningless for me to hear, and a cross for me to bear, may be the fruitful words of life to a person sitting near.
Now I am a more humble and appreciative listener. Ever since that experience years ago, I cannot hear a boring sermon without imagining that someone, somewhere out there in the pews may be wiping a tear from their eye and smiling.
They may be hearing the voice of God speaking directly into their heart, with healing words raining down on them like a spring shower on a dry and thirsty desert.
"God thunders with His voice wondrously, doing great things which we cannot comprehend" (Job 37:5).
Frederick Hermann is a popular retreat speaker and author of "The Spirit Set Me Free," a book offering healing and joy to anyone who suffers abuse, crime, illness, or a broken heart. He welcomes e-mail at: RH222@sbcglobal.net .