Gumdrop Catechesis and Marshmallow Sermons


Jelly_Beans candy EasterI really can’t remember the last time that a homily made me squirm in my seat and cast a downward glance at being convicted of my sinfulness. I can’t call to mind ever leaving mass with a zeal and fiery passion to go make a difference that was so hot I wanted to jump in the Baptismal font just to cool off.

I don’t mean to be facetious.

Let me state first off that it is my deepest desire to go to heaven.

However, I am human, a sinner, and in desperate need of unabridged, pure, uncensored truth. As such I long to be inspired, motivated, incriminated, and called to redemption. I need the gentle, and sometimes not so gentle, guidance of the shepherd’s staff to direct and keep me on the narrow path. I hunger for Scripture to be opened up and made relevant, as well as doctrine and dogma to enlighten my mind and direct my footsteps. Father Barron says that “too often the dogmas and doctrines of the Church are presented in such an abstract and disembodied way that their transformative power is largely overlooked.”

I have sat in talks and been preached at in pews, as the speaker danced and side stepped around any word or phrase that has the potential to offend me in some unintended way. I once heard a Deacon preach on Ephesians 5:22, literally apologizing his way through the entire sermon, leaving the whole congregation totally befuddled and perplexed.

Why are so many fearful to save our souls, but doing back flips not to offend our puny egos?

I want to learn, to grow, to be provoked to change my habitual tendency to sin. I want the leadership in our Church to be the shepherds God appointed them to be and to do whatever it takes to bring their congregations to heaven. Teach us, arouse our curiosity about all things God, wake us out of our long slumber and lethargy.

Why are so many Catholics leaving the Church? I dare say it has more to do with being lulled into a coma instead of rallied for battle – a spiritual battle with eternal consequences. Shame on us all if anyone ever leaves the Church for it is in her loving arms that we find Christ Crucified, Christ Risen and Christ Present in every Tabernacle and at every Mass.

But how do we know this when we only hear marshmallow sermons and get gumdrop catechesis?

Is what we hear worth dying for? The early Christian martyrs were willing to be fed to lions, skinned alive, and tortured to death for the truth that we today are so afraid of speaking because someone might look at us sideways.

What will it take to turn things around? How long will God be patient with us as we cycle back into widespread apathy and prevalent disobedience fueled by subjective relativistic banter? What can each of us do as laity to lift up, encourage, and rekindle fire in the hearts of believers? How can we speak to our priests and catechetical leaders and call them to be catalysts striving to set humanity on fire with the winds of the Word and the Magisterium as the fuel which ignites the flames?

I don’t want to hear any more personal theologies, inclusive language, and whack ideologies. I really don’t care what your opinion is, either. Give me the truth, give me the facts, and get out of the way and let God pierce me to the marrow.

Personally I am at wits end.

I have been blessed on occasion to hear some of the great voices of our time and I lapped up the truth like a thirsty man at a spring. I can’t get enough. I want more. I want to dive in head first and swim in the waters of knowledge drinking up every last droplet. The more I learn, the more I realize I don’t know anything at all and yet, I crave all the more to taste the Infinite God.

We are fat and our teeth are rotten.

Stop feeding us junk, and reintroduce us to a good old fashioned fire and brimstone keep us out of hell sermon that has the power to transform us into a people willing to go the distance; even if it means being the main course in the lion’s den.


About Author

Blessed daughter, sister, wife and mother. Married to my darling husband Mark for 32 years, loved and challenged by our five young adult children. Working full time in the Diocese of Phoenix as a youth and marriage minister for over ten years. Writing for me is a means of sharing my observations of the Lord's work and Presence in everything from the smallest to the most obvious moments.

  • Allison Grace

    We are at our wits’ end, as well. The 3 in our area are all the same.

  • Suzy

    Our pastor preached on the readings as given last Sunday and made it very clear that Hell is one of the possibilities. He was very clear that just saying you’re Catholic isn’t going to cut it. Of course, we’ve heard more about Hell, purgatory, the importance of confession, etc. in the past 5 years since he’s been here than I heard in the previous 12 under the former pastor. We LOVE our pastor. There really are some good priests out there.

    • Barb Lishko

      Yes there are many good and holy priests! You are blessed!

  • Barb Lishko

    All priests are amazing and a gift to humanity. I hope that is not in question in the article I wrote above. I have encountered many, many good men of deep faith and conviction. There are those whose gift it is to sit and pray with the sick and dying. There are priests whose missionary zeal brings so many to Christ. There are those who are incredible homilists who preach without fear and teach their congregations about the beauty of the fulness of truth as handed down by Christ to His Apostles. They help us understand what is required to stay on the narrow path.
    There are other good men, priests and deacons, who for whatever reason, avoid topics that are controversial, politically incorrect, or are cultural hotbeds. Their congregations do not receive the fullness of truth, and are left vulnerable to whichever winds blow the strongest and sound the most convincing as they do not know how to refute the cultural lies. It is those marshmallow sermons to which I am referring.
    Speaking truth is a dangerous occupation for all of us, yet, Christ will not leave us out there hanging and the Holy Spirit will give us the words when we need them. Not preaching the truth deprives humanity, risks eternal souls and continues the confusion that the devil is so good at stirring up.

  • Elizabeth McClintic

    My pastor preaches without fear of whether we are comfortable or not. I appreciated hearing the Truth and being challenged to get out of the pew and into the world armed to evangelize. In the three pews in front of me Sunday I counted 16 children. Nuff said.

  • JesuMaria

    I can think of one reason – Money! Financial support! We hear it all
    the time from different priests. We are in a smaller area with smaller
    parishes. Priests are expected to keep the parish lights on and to send cash in support of Diocesan programs and its one area where the flock will express
    displeasure if they don’t agree with something, especially their consciences
    being pricked. My son experienced this in a much larger parish too though,
    where he relocated to several years ago and approached the priest about ‘lack of content’ after trying to get involved at different levels. The reason: not
    hurting others feelings and “I have to keep the lights on”.
    While I agree with much of what you said – I also think that I have observed-that when priests are personal friends with many of the folks, it’s much harder to ‘preach it”. That being said- Because we can’t change our priests, although we can change parishes, I think there are other ways we can be inspired to be moved spiritually instead of depending on whether or not a priest can preach and that is something we can do something about.

    I have heard that in our Church’s historical past, that parish priests did not
    always preach sermons…that itinerant preachers (like the Dominicans) came
    through town to preach for local parishes…because not all priests could receive the higher forms of education that it took to exegete the Holy Scripture. Some of our local parishes sponsor retreats with well known priests or ‘organized preaching societies’ to come to the area for the Lent and Advent. (One parish brought in Fr. Bill Casey for Lent). And we should all be thinking seriously about annual retreats for ourselves to inspire and reflect on our lives; personal or communal.

    I think we all realize that our pastors cannot be all things to all people. Who
    is? We even have priests from foreign countries here in our mission area, and I think that many of them are holy or at least –striving- to be- as we all are. That doesn’t make it easier for many in the congregation to understand every word that they preach. I have been in a situation where it was not possible to attend Mass regularly… and I am so grateful for the availability of daily Mass whether the priest is on fire or not. If I get one or two words that a given priest is saying, I try to follow the train of thought- usually something can be gleaned. I now subscribe to different publications which give more insight and reflections on the readings…there are so many choices today. Our parish provides one of these publications for daily Mass goers as well.

    I believe (or maybe was pushed into it) that we are all called to take some responsibility for our own growth too – we have endless access to books, podcasts, you-tube videos, lectio-divina, etc., where prime preachers can impart messages instantaneously and that can be downloaded and replayed. I don’t think it’s just in our culture, but we have grown too used to sound bite messages delivered with flare and inspiration and sometimes overly much. (Too much excitement can disturb reflection). (Also for more education: the Knights of Columbus sponsor a rack of the Lighthouse CD’s for the parish). It’s usually sold out after a few weeks.

    Another thing that has developed- is that we have started praying for our
    priests daily after the parish rosary prayed before Mass. We have had our
    share of ‘colorful’ priests in the parish and it wasn’t pretty. One knew by the
    numerous homilies ‘preached’ – which were a reiteration of the most recent
    email that had just circulated- that something was fishy, however, maybe that
    got some folks to start looking into adult catechesis and personal
    responsibility for their growth.

    I also think it’s a lot to put on young men thinking about the priesthood. We
    have a few seminarians who may or may not be gifted orators, but will make very good and holy priests … when one sees what they deal with every day- I don’t think it’s fair to expect them to deliver a ‘Fulton Sheen” every week. I don’t know what the answer is, but we should all be more prayerful and reflective about expectations of others, especially our priests who need our prayers over our expectations. (Said by the mom who homeschooled her three children, with the greatest of expectations!)

    One last thing that spoke to me was: we have had a past parish priest go
    into missions and return to tell us – instead of a fiery sermon, which after
    much back roads travel he is just too exhausted to deliver- he tries to give the simple Gospel messages of repenting from sin, loving and following the Lord and supporting one another. I don’t think the third world countries he preaches in are less intelligent or less in need of inspiration, they are just happy to have a priest come with the Sacraments at all! A lot can be
    said too, of one–on-one catechesis, or personal witness by parishioners to one another. And last but not at all least, there is Eucharistic adoration! If we
    can attend that regularly, it could convict and inspire all of us.

  • Nate Cameron

    Barb I remember feeling like you, that was before I discovered the Traditional Latin Mass. Might I suggest that what you are longing for is likely not a better sermon from the priest, but a more spiritual and intimate experience of silent prayer and absolute focus on Christ? I can tell you that my heart is on fire for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in a way that it never was before, it’s a fire that never ever fades either! I used to feel relief about completing my Sunday obligation, reflecting on the different distractions I encountered each week, longing for something more that the priest was seemingly incapable or unwilling to undertake. I would complain to the other Ushers about the apathetic state of the laity, cringe at the utter lack of reverence, especially during communion, and fight back the feelings of hatred for the protestant radio music that continued to replace traditional Catholic hymns.

    I’m now 34 years old, that was 10 years ago, back when all my friends were former Catholics, when everyone in my family grew up Catholic but no longer practiced. I understood that what we have is the One True Faith, I couldn’t imagine ever denying what I knew in my heart to be right, but at the same time I couldn’t hide the fact that I knew something was seriously wrong in the Church. EWTN became the first sign post for me, where I was able to watch Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen’s old programs, where other the Mass was prayed in the most reverent form I had ever witnessed. But when I tried to share some of EWTN’s media with my parish, it was rejected by the pastor for ridiculous reasons. Feeling defeated I decided to “shop” the other Catholic churches in the local Diocese.

    I always assumed my parish was similar to other parishes, but I quickly learned that it was actually more conservative than most I had visited. I finally stumbled on an old polish inner city church with a priest who seemed to be genuinely dedicated to his vocation. He prayed Holy Mass with a level of reverence and orthodoxy that I had never seen before, this instantly became my new spiritual home, praise God! But the regular Mass time was 10:30 am and at 23 years old I found it difficult to get early enough to make it some days, which is when I first decided to “check out” the Latin Mass because I had seen some things about it online and I had always found EWTN’s Mass more agreeable.

    I sat towards the back that Sunday and picked up one of the red English/Latin Mass translation booklets. I had no idea what I was doing and felt extremely intimated by the silence and attentiveness of the parishioners. I remember sweating heavily because I was so nervous, but I quietly followed along best I could, standing and kneeling whenever everyone else did (kinda like a protestant who visits a Catholic Church). What shocked me was the prayers, just reading the prayers of the Mass I couldn’t believe how deep and beautiful they were, how much they dignified our Lord and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass! I also felt a tremendous sorrow for the loss of this Mass, asking myself, “why didn’t they just translate this into English and keep it exactly the way it’s written in this booklet”? At that time it was the only “indult parish” to be found anywhere within 100 miles of West Michigan.

    I would never be the same after that day. Still I wasn’t ready to embrace the Traditional Latin Mass completely because I had been what I would now describe as, propagandized by every source in the Church that those who attended the Latin Mass were judgmental – holier than thou type people, mostly foreigners and old women, who were clinging to something that nobody understood or desired anymore. That Vatican2 was in came about to solve all the problems that came about because off “that Mass”.

    Needless to say, as time went on I found myself missing the 10:30 time slot for the Novus Ordo and catching the 12:30 Latin Mass. While the Latin Mass goes longer, that was never an issue for me, I always felt bad when people left early or yelled at the priest when Mass went over 1 hour anyway.

    What I’m trying to say is that it wasn’t an overnight conversion, it took several years of prayer and soul searching for sure. One thing that became clear, I couldn’t ignore how I felt leaving the Latin Mass on Sundays vs. how I felt leaving the Novus Ordo, even the reverent one by the same priest at the same Church. Eventually I married and my wife and I would refer to those who attended Mass at 12:30 (Latin) as “Latin Massers”. Funny enough, we both eventually had to admit that we were Latin Massers too. The week we decided to attend the Traditional Latin Mass exclusively was the most liberating and wonderful decision we ever made. Every day I think about Sunday, about going to Mass, I long for the intimate union with Christ in the Holy Eucharist. I long for the opportunity to assist in praying the Mass, something I never understood with the Novus Ordo (with all it’s focus on lay participation). I literally can’t wait to go to Mass, I would go daily if it was offered, I would literally find a way to go daily. When we go on trips we plan it out in advance, how far we will have to drive to the nearest parish offering the Latin Mass!

    Our 4 children (and one on the way) deserve the best, and I don’t want what happened to my parents and friends to happen to them. I know that this Latin Mass is more than just something from history, it’s everything! Receiving Christ on our knees from the consecrated hands of the priest, stepping out of the world and into something truly otherworldly, the closest thing to heaven I have ever experienced. A total focus on prayer and Christ, my children see it, they recognize it, and like the fathers of the Church and the saints, they love it! If it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for my family, and apparently it’s good enough for many other young and large families, because more than half of the community is under the age of 40, husband and children are everywhere (a stark contrast to the fatherless attendees and gray haired old ladies that populate your typical Novus Ordo). And the sermons? I bet you can figure out that they aren’t what you’re hearing either. Commit to a Latin Mass at least once a month for 6 months Barb, everything you ever longed for as a Catholic is so’s so close don’t be afraid to fight for it!

    show, like a CONCERT in the middle of mass, so everybody can clap and chat and praise the choir! Then it would be so entertaining! I mean, why should mass revolve around the Eucharist, it should be about the Priest and the community!

    • Barb Lishko

      Thank you Nate, what a wonderful testimony. You named many of the feelings that I am feeling. I really never had any interest in a mass I couldn’t understand so have always been uninterested. One of our young sons has attended the local Latin mass and liked it so that was at least changing my mind somewhat.

      I will take your challenge and at least check it out and see what God has in store. I love the mass and go as often as I can- it is food for my soul and NEED it.

      Thanks again for your sharing, it is a gift to all who read it. Many blessing on your growing family- there is much hope in the new, young, dedicated, and holy families of the day! AMDG

  • Fr. Dana Christensen

    Obviously you don’t come to Mass at my parish.

    • Barb Lishko

      Thank you Fr for your comment and and thank you for helping to get your parishioners to heaven. What do you think is required to help our wonderful priests and deacons to take the leap of faith and give us something more meaty?

      I pray for all priests and especially our pastor daily. I have even done 9 day novenas, with fasting and prayer.

      I know we have many good men and some are just tired, some are afraid of losing parishioners, I know our pastor gets nasty emails from time to time and that is disheartening to him and certainly unchristian of those that send them.
      Anyway just wondering, what your thoughts are as the faithful are open to any suggestions that might be of help.
      Thanks again for your service to God.