I know it is not everyone’s cup of tea, but I do so enjoy an ol’ fashioned fire and brimstone sermon.
Week before last we had a visiting priest to our parish. I didn’t catch his name because we had several children with only one shoe and thus we were a minute or two late and didn’t hear the introductions. This, unfortunately, is not an uncommon occurrence. Anyway, we stood in the narthex because the baby was cranky and we were late. The narthex is windowed with speakers so you don’t miss anything there.
Anyway, I didn’t catch Father’s name but he told us that he was eighty years old. By the sound of his voice, I think he probably grew up in Ireland but had been in the States most of his life, his brogue only detectable on a few words. Father may have lost most of the sound of the ol’ country but he was most certainly still old school.
This mostly bald eighty year old man had a booming voice and knew how to use it. Throughout his 30 minute sermon he shook the rafters more than once. I am a fan of the speaking style that uses a judicious amount of yelling surrounded by almost whispering. I think it is a very effective technique that is widely ingored in favor of the card reading monotone of many parish priests.
This eighty year old priest did not need cards, he knew what he wanted to say. He talked about things you hardly ever hear about anymore. For instance Hell. Demons. Yes, you read that right.
Father was talking about the nature of sin and what it does to us and what it means to us. The beginning was a rather typical dissertation on sin when he moved on to mortal sin. Softly, he explained how mortal sin, by our own choice, cuts us off from God. Almost in a whisper, he reminded that God longs for us to return to Him and be reconciled with Him. But if we don’t “WE WILL SPEND AN ETERNITY IN HELL. ETERNITY! BEING TORTURED BY DEMONS. YES, DEMONS! I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP! THIS IS WHAT THE SCRIPTURES SAY. THIS IS WHAT THE CHURCH TEACHES. HELL IS REAL AND IT IS FOREVER!” Then Father returned to a near whisper, “But this is not what God wants.”
Being in the narthex, I had a perfect view of the congregation. More than one person jumped when Father bellowed these words and many people were looking at each other surprised but what just happened. So accustomed to the sing songy and spiritless fare, they were rocked by Father’s approach..
Father continued. He spoke of Jesus’ passion and the tortures that he endured even prior to the crucifixion. With great detail that evidenced the long hours Father must have spent in contemplation of the Lord’s suffering, he conveyed with great tenderness the sufferings he endured. The beatings. The Mocking. The Crowning with thorns. Softly Father said, “In mockery of the title King of the Jews, a crown of thorns was placed upon his head. Do you know who placed this painful crown upon the head of our Lord? WE DID! WITH EVERY SIN THAT WE COMMIT WE DUG THOSE THORNS DEEPER AND DEEPER! OH HOW OUR LORD SUFFERED BECAUSE OF ME! BECAUSE OF YOU! DO YOU EVER THINK ABOUT IT? DO YOU? I DID THIS TO JESUS! YOU DID THIS TO JESUS!” and back to a whisper “but He forgives us” and almost near tears, “He forgives us…”
This time I looked at the congregation from my window on the nave, but they didn’t look at each other. This time they looked down. Heads hung. It was clear to me that many people were really thinking about it. I know I was. Really thinking. Contemplating our sins.
As we walked back to the car I said to my wife, “Gimme that ol’ time religion — any day.”