“Sermons in Times of Crisis” presents 12 homilies, and gives context to each, that were preached with courage in times of need. CNS photo
“Sermons in Times of Crisis” presents 12 homilies, and gives context to each, that were preached with courage in times of need. CNS photo

BALTIMORE – If the right has been given to kill “poor defenseless mentally ill,” Blessed Clemens von Galen said in his homily, then it has been given to murder all who are classified as unproductive – the incurably ill, “cripples unable to work,” those incapacitated because of work or war, the infirm elderly and others.

“It is unthinkable what degeneration of morals, what universal mistrust will find its way even into the family,” Blessed von Galen said, “if this frightening doctrine is tolerated, taken up, and followed.”

Woe to humanity and woe to the German people, he thundered, if the holy commandment of God, “Thou shalt not kill,” is not only broken, but tolerated and taken up as a regular practice without punishment.

Blessed von Galen’s homily, copies of which spread throughout the Third Reich and around the world, is one of 12 inspiring sermons published in a new book by Father Paul D. Scalia, “Sermons in Times of Crisis: Twelve Homilies to Stir Your Soul” (Tan Books, 162 pp. $27.95).

Spanning a time frame from the fourth century to the present, the carefully selected works show how some of the Church’s greatest clergymen applied the word of God and the teachings of the Church to moments of crisis.

If there’s one thread that runs throughout the selected homilies, it’s courage. The courage needed to speak out against euthanasia in Nazi Germany is obvious. Yet Father Scalia, vicar for clergy in the Diocese of Arlington, Va., also brings to light preaching requiring a more subtle kind of courage.

Father Scalia, son of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, includes an A.D. 404 homily by St. Augustine of Hippo, for example, that challenges his listeners to reject the temptation to adopt pagan practices to fit in with the larger society.

In a 1576 homily, St. Charles Borromeo urges his brother priests to be unafraid of ministering to plague victims in Milan and of the martyrdom that might ensue. St. Charles himself modeled what he preached by working among those suffering from the plague.

An A.D. 399 homily by St. John Chrysostom encourages people to show mercy instead of judgment against a fallen member of the imperial court who desperately sought sanctuary in the Church even after he had advocated the abolition of such asylum.

Father Scalia said courage is needed both to face down those who are threatening the Church and to challenge the faithful by telling them what they need to hear rather than what they might want to hear.

He believes three elements are present in a good homily: it is rooted in Scripture, it is intellectually engaging and it is applicable. Every speaker, he said, must be in union with the truth he conveys.

In his book, Father Scalia provides commentary on each of the selected homilies. Not every sermon is preached in a time of crisis, he notes.

“Indeed, we should desire that the word be proclaimed in an atmosphere of tranquility so that it can be interiorized more serenely and deeply,” he writes. “But just as the big game reveals an athlete’s talent, so the crises in the Church’s history reveal the greatness of her preachers or, rather, the greatness of the Spirit speaking through them.”