Okay, yes, Aristotle was a pagan — but you can't blame the guy for living centuries before the birth of Christ. You can, however, give him credit for laying out the basics of a good speech. Basics, Father Damian Ference argues, that every good priest ought to keep in mind — and in practice.
Aristotle was a pagan. He died more than three hundred years before the Incarnation, and so Dante put him in the first circle of hell along with his great teacher, Plato. Yet St. Thomas Aquinas consistently referred to Aristotle as “The Philosopher,” and the Catholic intellectual tradition is steeped in Aristotelian thought. Although Aristotle never once heard a homily, he offers an excellent study of public speaking in his treatise titled Rhetoric, which can tell us a lot about what makes a homily good, or not so good.
According to Aristotle, a good speech – and in our case, a good homily – is built on three pillars:ethos, pathos and logos. So let’s examine each pillar to see what Aristotle is up to.
ETHOS: This first pillar deals with the credibility and the character of the preacher. Do you believe what the preacher is saying? Is he trustworthy? Is he worth listening to? Does he practice what he preaches? Does he have integrity and virtuous character? In other words, is he holy?...
How can the Church know what to do if the people of God forget who they are? Today, Father Steve Grunow offers his homily inspired by the scripture for today’s Mass from the Old Testament Book of Deuteronomy.
There is an interesting correlation that occurs throughout the scriptures between knowing and doing. The Bible is impatient with thoughtless activism or abstract idealism. Instead, what is proposed is that once one knows who they are, then they know what it is precisely that they are supposed to do.
Therefore throughout the scriptures there are repeated reminders to Israel concerning who they are—you are the Lord’s people. The Lord has chosen you. The Lord has set you apart. You are the Lord’s beloved. Once you were no people and now you are God’s people…
These reminders about who Israel is are most often accompanied by the invitation to Israel to do something about the fact, the truth, of their identity. Knowing who they are means they also know what they are to do.
Today’s first scripture from the Old Testament Book of Deuteronomy demonstrates this correlation very well. Moses tells the people who they are, and indicates that relationship of that identity to the Law that God gives to his people—and then he makes it clear, knowing who you are you will know what to do.