ChatGPT has grown to over 100 million users and has made some not-so-great headlines in recent months after students used it to improve their work.
PROSPECT HEIGHTS – Famed 20th-century author GK Chesterton once invoked the task of “writing your own love letters, or blowing your own nose” to say that there are certain things man does for should do himself. According to Father David Mowry, this also applies to the writing of sermons.
[RELATED: We Asked an Artificial Intelligence Chatbot to Write a Homily and This is What it Came Back With]
“There are certain things that ministers should just do for themselves, including writing their own sermons, and even if they’re bad, they’re theirs… and it should come out of that individual wrestling and wrestling with Scripture and tradition and what where God is, emerging at work in the midst of community so that an authentic sharing of faith can then take place,” Father Mowry, Ernest and Marilyn Waud Chair of Homiletics at the University of Saint Mary at Lake Mundelein Seminary in Illinois, told The Tablet.
Father Mowry’s perspective raises a question at a time when the use of artificial intelligence, particularly ChatGPT (Generative Pre-trained Transformer), has gone mainstream: Can it be used to write a Catholic sermon?
Technically the answer is yes, but Father Mowry and other homiletics and scriptural experts argue that there is no scenario in which it should be used. Simply put, Father Mowry said that AI “is not acceptable in the homiletics method”.
ChatGPT is an artificial intelligence tool – a chatbot – that can use its machine learning algorithms and huge amounts of stored data to have human-like conversations with the user, answer questions, write essays, compose emails, etc. The program was developed by OpenAI, a non-profit research foundation largely funded by Microsoft.
ChatGPT has grown to over 100 million users and made some not-so-great headlines in recent months after students used it to improve their work, prompting New York City to ban access to public schools. It is also claimed that the AI has a left bias.
It also does not agree with church teaching. The Vatican’s Homiletic Directory states that “the minister must place the Word of God at the center of his own spiritual life and poverty, in order to invite the Holy Spirit as the chief representative.”
Father John Cush, professor of dogmatic theology at St. Joseph’s Seminary in New York and editor and chief of the Homiletic and Pastoral Review, went a step further and called the AI soulless.
“So the fact of the matter is that an AI, no matter how ‘intelligent’ it is, is incapable of relating to God,” Father Cush said. “It has no intellect, it has no soul. It’s not what we call a person, so a sermon would never be a reflection in faith.”
Another ChatGPT headline in late January was religious – A New York rabbi wrote a sermon with it, which he then shared with his congregation. He was the first known rabbi to do so.
There has not been a documented case of ChatGPT being used to write and deliver a Catholic sermon.
Father Richard Veras, director of pastoral formation and professor of homiletics at Saint Joseph’s Seminary in New York, disagrees. He said that ChatGPT “overrides the humanity of the preacher.”
“Many of the church documents speak of the importance of prayer in preparing your sermon, so it requires a priest to prayerfully review the Scriptures and have knowledge of the special people in his parish,” Father Veras said. “I don’t see the AI in everything they do, there’s no human open to God, there won’t be the special relationship between priests and parishioners.”
Ethics aside, The Tablet tested ChatGPT to see if it could write a sermon and asked them to “write a Catholic sermon on this week’s Gospel, Mt 4:1-11.” Matthew 4:1-11 was the gospel passage for Sunday February 26th. About a minute and a half later, ChatGPT produced a 427-word sermon entitled “Temptation of Jesus.”
The passages quoted therein have been confirmed as correct.
The sermon, produced by KI, began with “My dear brothers and sisters in Christ” and ended with “May God bless you all”. It explains what parishioners can learn from Jesus, who remained faithful to God after being led into the desert by the Holy Spirit to be tempted by the devil:
“[Jesus] showed us that even in the face of temptation, we can overcome it through prayer, fasting and faith in God,” ChatGPT’s sermon read. “As this Lent begins, let us follow Jesus’ example in preparing for our own mortal ministry. Let us pray, fast, and seek God’s will in all things so that we can overcome our own temptations and draw closer to Him.”
But Father Mowry noted that no matter how good this or any ChatGPT-generated sermon is, its use will also create an inevitable rift between the priest and parishioners. He gave the hypothetical situation where a parishioner asks the priest for help in a specific situation in his life related to a recent sermon, but since the sermon was AI generated, the priest doesn’t have much of an answer.
“Unless the minister has done the actual work and wrestled with this idea as it comes from Scripture, there is not much that can be offered in these individual circumstances,” Father Mowry explained.
Everyone The Tablet spoke to said they had never heard of priests using ChatGPT to write sermons, nor had it caught on among their students, nor do they necessarily expect it to. However, they acknowledged that they can see the temptation for some preachers, no different than for priests who turn to other resources to write their weekly sermon.
Father Mowry highlighted situations where “lazy ministers, overworked ministers, burned out ministers will reach for the easy, quick fix.”
Still, he said that there is a distinct difference between ChatGPT and other sermon writing tools.
“In the case of a sermon, let’s say everyone who writes to us, we hope that they have at least an authentic love for Scripture, for the Church and for God’s people, and to deliver a message consisting of that feeling of love in the hands of one others so that they can deliver it,” said Father Mowry.
“But with an AI chatbot … which has no inner workings, no relational connection to the ultimate recipient of the word, it just mechanically responds to the prompts that are given, and there’s no sense of community, no sense of love that enlivens the craft.” and composition of this text,” added Father Mowry.