The Louisville Institute

The Louisville Institute
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Proposal Summary

Words of Spirit and Life: Theology, Preaching, and Spirituality

Mary Catherine Hilkert

University of Notre Dame


Although most theological work on preaching takes the Word of God as its starting point, the thesis of this project is that a pneumatological lens can contribute a fuller trinitarian understanding to what it means to speak about the Word of God as “living and active” (Hebr. 4:12). The primary goal of this project is to make a contribution both to scholarship on the theology of preaching and to the revitalization of the preaching ministries of the Christian Church.

This proposed book will emphasize that it is the Spirit who empowers the proclamation and the hearing of the Word of God as a word that is creative and prophetic and one which calls forth a response. Core chapters will explore the work of the Spirit in empowering believers to discover wisdom in the face of the folly of the cross and to testify with their lives to a radical hope in the power of God to bring life out of death. The volume also will consider the gifts of the Holy Spirit bestowed at baptism in relation to the authority to preach and address the importance of the spirituality of the preacher. Finally, the book will grapple with the challenges and the opportunities that arise for preachers of the Gospel from the awareness that the Holy Spirit is at work in “many and varied ways” in the Jewish Covenant and in other religious traditions as well as throughout creation.

The primary audience for this book is a broad group of theologically educated preachers, pastors, catechists, religious educators, spiritual directors, and other ministers of the Word from a wide range of Christian denominations. The book should be of particular interest to those who share what is sometimes referred to as a “sacramental imagination.”


The primary goal of this project was to make a contribution to scholarship on the theology of preaching and to the revitalization of the preaching ministries of the Christian Church through a book which approaches theological questions related to preaching from a pneumatological perspective. The role of the Holy Spirit in the preaching event (Chapter 1) is situated within a broader treatment of a sacramental and prophetic understanding of the word of God (Chapter 2), the church’s preaching mission/ evangelization (Chapters. 4 and 7), the paschal mystery at the core of Christian preaching (Chapters 5 and 6), and the vocation and spirituality of the preacher (Chapter 8).
The major challenge of the project has been to develop this approach to preaching in the context of an awareness of the Spirit’s role within all of creation (Chapter 3) and in other religious traditions, with particular attention to the privileged and ongoing role of the Jewish covenant (Chapter 4). The chapter which has proved most difficult was the one which I originally envisioned as addressing how the Holy Spirit is at work ‘in many and varied ways’ in the Jewish Covenant and in other religious traditions. My research for that chapter has prompted further thinking about the unique and central role of Jewish-Christian dialogue for Christian preachers who regularly proclaim and preach texts from the Hebrew Scriptures. This in turn challenged my earlier assumption that that unique relationship could be dealt with in a single chapter which also attempted to address the question of the role of the Holy Spirit in other religions of the world. I am currently working on reshaping that chapter to focus on Christian preaching of texts which are shared by Jews and Christians and the danger of anti-Jewish bias in Christian preaching. I also intend to revisit the chapter on proclaiming the wisdom of the cross in light of this research.
Based on lectures that I have given to diverse groups on this work in progress, I have found particular interest in three areas: 1) the ecological significance of the chapter on preaching from the Book of Nature; 2) the discussion of the wisdom of the cross which goes beyond my earlier work on preaching and lament and identifies that wisdom as at work beyond the bounds of Christianity, and 3) the explicit treatment of the vocation and spirituality of the preacher.

Related Publications

PublishersTitleYearTypeContributorContributionOther Info
_N/ACatherine of Siena, and the Voices of Women Today2013Book ChapterMary Catherine HilkertContributorin “Ces gens ne sont-ils pas des hommes?” –Evangile et prophétie, ed. Mariano Delgado, pp164-177
Liturgical PressFeasting at the Table of the Word: From Dei Verbum to Verbum Domini2014Book ChapterMary Catherine HilkertContributorIn We Preach Christ Crucified, Edited by Michael E. Connors, CSC; pp8-26