Ask yourself, what is a Catholic pastor?
What are his duties?
Specifically, does he have any obligation to preach on matters of human sexuality?
I ask this because so often I hear folks say their pastor and the associate priests at their parishes rarely, if ever, preach on pro-life issues. Not too many Mass-attending Catholics hear a sermon condemning abortion, much less contraception, IVF, or euthanasia.
I thought I would try to answer this question by consulting the Canon Law of the Catholic Church. I was curious to see what duties a pastor has canonically speaking.
Canons 515 through about 540 describe the duties associated with being a pastor of a Catholic parish.
Having read through these, it gave me a greater appreciation for my pastor and for the Catholic priesthood in general. I recommend you read through these and keep your pastor and all Catholic priests in your prayers daily.
I wanted to highlight one Canon in particular—that being Cannon 528. It reads as follows:
“Can. 528 §1. A pastor is obliged to make provision so that the word of God is proclaimed in its entirety to those living in the parish; for this reason, he is to take care that the lay members of the Christian faithful are instructed in the truths of the faith, especially by giving a homily on Sundays and holy days of obligation and by offering catechetical instruction.
“He is to foster works through which the spirit of the Gospel is promoted, even in what pertains to social justice. He is to have particular care for the Catholic education of children and youth. He is to make every effort, even with the collaboration of the Christian faithful, so that the message of the Gospel comes also to those who have ceased the practice of their religion or do not profess the true faith” (emphasis added).
WHAT IS A CATHOLIC PASTOR? ONE WHO “INSTRUCT[S] IN THE TRUTHS OF THE FAITH.”
Every Catholic pastor understands his obligation to proclaim the saving truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As Canon 528 points out, every pastor is to ensure the members of his congregation hear the Gospel proclaimed every Sunday.
Pope Saint John Paul II raises the ante though. He asserts that proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ includes an obligation to preach also the Gospel of Life. In his wonderful encyclical Evangelium Vitae, the late Polish Pontiff calls the Gospel of Life “an integral part” of the Gospel of the redemption offered by Christ Jesus (#78).
He goes on to state Catholics, as baptized members of the Body of Christ, “are the people of life… We have been sent. For us, the service of life is not a boast but rather a duty” (#79).
Pope Saint John Paul the Great stresses the need for the Gospel of Life to penetrate the Sacred Liturgy, as well. This is most easily done within the Sunday sermons. “Together we all sense our duty to preach the Gospel of life, to celebrate it in the Liturgy and in our whole existence, and to serve it with the various programs and structures which support and promote life” (emphasis added, #79).
WHAT IS A CATHOLIC PASTOR? ONE WHO PROCLAIMS “THE MESSAGE OF THE GOSPEL” EVEN TO THOSE WHO HAVE FALLEN AWAY FROM THEIR FAITH OR WHO HOLD TO FALSE DOCTRINES.
Many priests, pastors included, are hesitant to proclaim the Gospel of Life from the pulpit. They are wary of serving a guilt trip to those who may have fallen short in keeping true to the Church’s teachings on human sexuality.
Yet, this is precisely why these truths needs to be proclaimed. For one, those in the pews each Sunday deserve to hear the truth. By hearing it, they can be prevented from committing a grave sin.
Think of all those Catholics using contraception to this day. How many of them ever heard their pastor tell them not to? Who would want to be their pastor answering to God as to why he never told them it was a grave sin?
And second, any sermon on the Gospel of Life does not need to condemn a single person. It can be an opportunity to state clearly the Church’s teaching on a variety of topics and then an invitation to go to Confession for those who need forgiveness and healing. That sure beats the alternative of ignoring the fact that many Mass attendees do contracept, have procured an abortion, or think IVF is morally acceptable.
Pope Saint John Paul II agrees to speak of these things from the pulpit takes fortitude. “To be truly a people at the service of life we must propose these truths constantly and courageously from the very first proclamation of the Gospel, and thereafter in catechesis, in the various forms of preaching, in personal dialogue and in all educational activity” (emphasis added, #81).
Yet, the Pope calls for these hard truths to be proclaimed nonetheless. “‘Preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching’ (2 Tim 4:2). This exhortation should resound with special force in the hearts of those members of the Church who directly share, in different ways, in her mission as ‘teacher’ of the truth” (emphasis added, #82). And as Canon 528 asserts, a Catholic pastor is a “teacher” of the truth, thus he is bound to proclaim the Gospel of Life.
The late Polish Pontiff gives a warning. “May Paul’s exhortation strike a chord… in all those responsible for catechesis and the formation of consciences… [M]ay they never be so grievously irresponsible as to betray the truth and their own mission by proposing personal ideas contrary to the Gospel of life as faithfully presented and interpreted by the Magisterium.”
WHAT IS A CATHOLIC PASTOR? ONE WHO IS WILLING TO OVERCOME THE DESIRE OF BEING WELL-REGARDED BY MAN
Finally, I imagine most every priest and deacon who preaches from the pulpit wants to be well-received. The consolation that comes from a pat on the back after a good sermon feels good. Thus, to broach on subjects that make people squirm in their seats means risking to be disliked.
Pope Saint John Paul II foresaw this and has an exhortation for those facing this human frailty.
“In the proclamation of this Gospel, we must not fear hostility or unpopularity, and we must refuse any compromise or ambiguity which might conform us to the world’s way of thinking (cf. Rom 12:2). We must be in the world but not of the world (cf. Jn 15:19; 17:16), drawing our strength from Christ, who by his Death and Resurrection has overcome the world (cf. Jn 16:33)” (emphasis added, #82).
Want to see you pastor give more pro-life sermons and get more involved in the pro-life movement? Great!
Maybe print out a copy of Evangelium Vitae and hand it to him.
And then fall on your knees each day and pray for him to have the fortitude to tell his congregation the truth.
Our priests need our prayers.