Book Review: How Beautiful the World Could Be
Writing and reading good homilies is a rich theological and literary tradition due for revival. Good preaching has always been worthy of a wide audience (think of the Cappadocians, St. Augustine, St. John Henry Newman), and today’s best preaching contributes to that tradition.
Gratitude is due to Eerdmans Publishing for this collection of everyday homilies offered by an ordinary preacher in How Beautiful the World Could Be. Of course, Frederick Christian Bauerschmidt is a well-known theologian and author (his book, The Love That Is God, is excellent), but he is by no means a spiritual “influencer.” Rather, Bauerschmidt is firstly a deacon serving a parish. And that’s what the collected homilies are: parish preaching by a Church deacon.
Indeed, their ordinariness is what makes these homilies such a worthy contribution. “Preaching is theology at perhaps its most particular,” Bauerschmidt writes. A good preacher should not only “pull the Scriptures into our moment but… pull our moment into the Scriptures.” He preaches the Gospel in relation to the economy, war, abortion, racism, Covid and more. He brings the Gospel of Jesus Christ alive, to bear upon his parishioners’ hearts and minds, inviting his listeners—and now his readers—to see how God works within this world’s worst and best, resisting politicized reductions and inviting us all to imagine just how beautiful the world could be. Such is precisely what it means for a preacher to be a “mediator of meaning,” which Deacon Bauerschmidt ably proves himself to be.
His book is also worthwhile—especially for preachers— as a textbook on preaching or, better, as an exemplum. St. Augustine said that it’s often better not to teach preaching by going over the rules of rhetoric but, rather, by learning from good preachers. This book offers such an opportunity. For each homily and each section of homilies, Bauerschmidt provides a brief introduction, rich in homiletic experience and wisdom. While reading this book, I kept thinking of fellow preachers with whom I wanted to share it. Hopefully, it will find its way into the hands of many—deacons, priests and bishops—anyone humble enough to learn a new homiletic thing or two.
But you needn’t be a preacher to read or be enriched by How Beautiful the World Could Be. Its wider readership will likely be laity, for whom it is not just a collection of homilies but a spiritual guide as well. Such is a trait of homilies worth publishing: those that serve the reader’s meditation and prayer.
Father Joshua J. Whitfield, a priest of the Diocese of Dallas, TX, and author of The Crisis of Bad Preaching: Redeeming the Heart and Way of the Catholic Preacher.
How Beautiful the World Could Be by Frederick Christian Bauerschmidt; Eerdmans; 242 pages; $22.99
This article appeared in the August 2022 edition of The Catholic Telegraph Magazine. For your complimentary subscription, click here