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Inside NCR

On one hand, libraries; on the other hand, sermons

NCR readers are the most loyal and enthusiastic under the sun, not to mention the most beautiful and saintly. (I have been receiving some very disarming expressions of good cheer and good luck on my recently increased responsibilities, and the above sentiments are meant to return the compliment.)

Enthusiastic readers not only enjoy the paper, many see it as a cause. They often ask how they can best help the cause, spread the word, increase the circulation.

Gift subscriptions to one's friends are the most obvious and helpful means -- if we're that good and your friends are real friends, you obviously want to get us together. But our elves (would I make this up?) recently told us of another way.

Libraries. Who goes to libraries? Readers do. The few souls who have not forsaken reality to live in outer cyberspace. They like to read stuff. Not all of them hunger and thirst for NCR, of course, but if our elves are right, some do. Or would. If only they heard about us.

Now here's the deal. Library personnel generally do not order publications like NCR unless specifically asked by their patrons. If you visit the library, you're a patron. The library person (LP) is probably bored and also bothered by people spilling coffee and fried eggs on the library's books. The LP will, therefore, be pleasantly surprised to find a nice person like yourself with an interest in the finer things, such as reading, such perhaps as NCR.

So you tell the LP how great we are. Exaggerate if you must. She (yes, it's often a she), though impressed and gratified by your little tete-a-tete, will probably do nothing about your request. But -- but if you return a week later and repeat the process, causing her to smile, the LP would have to be a knave or a sinner -- probably even a man -- not to succumb to your blandishments.

A week or two later, NCR should appear on the library's periodical rack, and you will have done a good deed both for NCR and all the readers in your neck of the woods. And if you conspire with your neighbors to this end, that would be a conspiracy but it would not be a sin.

If you should try this and if your experiences are worth retelling, we'd love to hear from you.

A reader writes from Wisconsin: "What about a regular NCR feature...written sermons by married (non-practicing) priests?" This, the writer says, "would show your readers and the world the pulpit talent going to waste because of the celibacy rule."

Easy, everybody -- drop those pens and settle back in your La-Z-Boys. I don't know why Wisconsin thinks married priests would write a better sermon than your grandmother. For one thing, chances are your grandmother has taken a theology course more recently than most married priests.

On the famous other hand, many would agree with Wisconsin that the quality of preaching is, right now, not very high. This in turn might cause one to wonder, Was it ever very high? We don't know if Jesus, for example, was a good preacher by the standards of a Richard Rohr or a Fulton Sheen or -- take your pick. Jesus didn't have the theological background of today's priest. And he didn't have the speech training of the many actors who have played him in the movies.

But forget for a few seconds all the biblical movies and try to imagine Jesus. Perhaps your mind's eye sees an orator or an outlaw, golden words or sheer crude conviction. And, in 1997, what are you waiting to hear him say?

Words alone can be empty. Words without presence. Words without deeds. Without his particular death, not to mention resurrection, Jesus would be remembered, if at all, as a failed preacher.

But on yet another hand: There is a low standard of sermons out there. And maybe the priests can't be blamed. They have so much to do. I think, on average, married priests would do about as well, given the same vicissitudes late in the millennium, as non-married priests, and ditto for grandmothers.

I know I shouldn't write this, but, yes, we will read any sermons (not necessarily homilies) that come in, but we can't promise to publish them unless they are solid gold and divinely inspired. (And we can't return them without stamped envelope.) And even then, of course, they won't be sermons, only words on paper, not the amazing flesh-and-blood phenomenon by which a prophet might stand before us and turn our lives upside down. And who's ready for that?

-- Michael Farrell

National Catholic Reporter, February 7, 1997