Have you ever heard the song by Benny Grunch and the Bunch called “Ain’t Dere No More”? It’s about some iconic New Orleans stores that are no longer in business, such as Maison Blanche, K&B Drugs, Schwegmann’s, etc. I sometimes have a vague feeling like that when I hear homilies and other religious talks. I wonder why certain subjects so rarely, if ever, get attention. It’s like they “ain’t dere no more.” It almost seems like a secret law was passed making particular topics off-limits! At the risk of going out on a limb, I will share a few areas that seem to be MIA. Agree or disagree, but consider:
1. The Paschal Mystery – What exactly is that? It’s the Basic Christian Message: “Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again.” Okay, I admit that we do hear about the saving Cross and Resurrection of Jesus sometimes, usually around Holy Week and Easter. But doesn’t it seem that this topic, so central to our very faith, should occupy a central place in our preaching and teaching more often than it actually does?
2. The Holy Spirit and His Gifts – Called “the forgotten Person of the Blessed Trinity” with good reason, the Holy Spirit might get a mention on Pentecost Sunday. Besides that, however, not much at all. The Holy Spirit is the Soul of the Church! Without the Holy Spirit, no sacraments, no Mass, no nothing. I believe the Holy Spirit deserves more. While we’re at it, why not something on the gifts of the Spirit? Whenever the liturgical reading is from 1 Corinthians 12 or 14, you can bet there won’t be a word said about the spiritual gifts, about which St. Paul says he doesn’t want us to be ignorant or uninformed (cf. 1 Cor. 12:1)…strange!
3. Spiritual Warfare – How often do we hear anything on the classical spiritual teaching of warfare against the traditional enemies of our salvation: the world, the flesh, and the devil? Not often enough, I believe, considering the importance of the topic. It certainly doesn’t seem to be “in” these days to talk or write about the devil, although his existence is clearly attested in Scripture, officially taught in the Church magisterium, and emphasized by all recent popes, including Pope Francis.
4. Sin, Repentance, Confession – A book came out in 1973 entitled Whatever Became of Sin? The author was not a priest, minister or theologian, but rather an American psychiatrist named Karl Menninger. It’s a good question, and he could have been referring to homilies, catechesis, or religious articles! It used to be that sin was forbidden; nowadays, it seems that any reference to sin, repentance, and confession is what is forbidden. I wonder why… I don’t think it’s because we’ve stopped sinning.
5. The Last Things – Sirach 7:36 says, “In all you do, remember the end of your life, and you will never sin.” Death and Judgment, Heaven or Hell are the traditional “Last Things.” Wouldn’t it be healthy to be confronted with a good dose of reality at least occasionally? Death and Judgment are inevitable for everyone; Heaven or Hell depends on our choices and our conduct.
6. Angels – Before you say, “Really…are you kidding me?”, consider that angels are mentioned almost 300 times in the Scriptures and the Catholic Catechism calls their existence “a truth of faith” (328). There is significant anecdotal evidence of people experiencing the activity and assistance of angels today. Perhaps they are not at the top of the list of preaching and teaching topics, but I think they should be at least somewhere on the list.
7. Virtue and Holiness – A topic that never goes out of date…who among us could not profit from being challenged to aim higher and live better! There are faith, hope, and love; prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance; the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5. One of the many strengths of Pope Saint John Paul II was his immense body of teaching on virtue and holiness – a good source to draw upon.
8. The Truth of Scripture – The first tactic of the devil when he tempted Eve was to inject doubt about God’s word: “Did God really say that?” (cf. Genesis 3:1). Satan constantly repeats this strategy to undermine Scripture by inserting doubt and a subtle loss of confidence in the truth of God’s word. However, “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the preaching of Christ” (Rom. 10:17). I believe one of the most important things homilists and Catholic teachers need to do is to build faith and confidence in God’s word to us in Scripture.
9. The Treasures of the Church (Fathers, Doctors, Saints, Spiritual Tradition) – I have to say that, in general, I tend to hear more about contemporary secular culture (music, movies, celebrities) than I do about the 2000-year legacy of spiritual riches in the Church. (On the rare occasion when I do, it feels like a drink of water in a desert!) I would like to say to all who preach and teach: don’t neglect our Catholic birthright to serve us instead a bowl of worthless pottage.
10. Praying the Mass – A strange one, you may be thinking. But I firmly believe the congregation attending Mass each Sunday could be helped by some reflection on why we are there and what we are actually doing there. It seems to me that a clearer understanding of what the Mass is could definitely lead individuals to a more profitable spiritual experience of it.
To conclude, I don’t know if New Orleans will ever get back any of the stores that “Ain’t Dere No More.” But I want to have hope that the Holy Spirit will revive and bring to mind some of these and other “forgotten topics.” We can always hope!