31 December 2005

Mechanics of a homily...

Several readers have written asking me to explain what a “homily” is, meaning, I think, that they want to know what a homily is supposed to do in the liturgy. I’ve directed them to relevant church documents, etc. but I think the question deserves a more direct answer. In the comment boxes on Jimmy Akin's site I listed off a few things that parishioners could look/listen for in a homily so that they could give Father constructive feedback. I made a dramatic plea for the Catholic faithful to hold priests to high standards of preaching. The bottomline is quite simple: if you don’t care about the quality of the homily, Father isn’t going to spend much of his rapidly dwindling time on quality preparation. He needs to know that you think it’s a priority!

Q: What is a homily?

A: Let’s start with what it ISN'T

* several stories of dubious humor strung together with a “moral” tacked on

* a pep talk, an appeal for money, an update on parish construction, or a book review

* a report on Father’s last visit to his shrink/therapist/spiritual director

* a stump speech, a rousing call to political arms, a psychology/sociology lecture

* an academic essay on Things Theological-Philosophical-Scriptural

* a love-letter to big money donors

* 8-15 unscripted minutes of the Mass where Father gets to show the crowd what a great guy he is by blowing off the homily!

…so, what IS a homily?

* a liturgical device of Speaking the Word, giving the Word of God voice for today

* authentic, authoritative instruction in the living faith of the Church

* an exhortation to communal and personal holiness, encouragement in the face of despair

* an “unpacking” of the readings in a way that addresses real problems of faith

* a liturgical device for raising questions, suggesting answers, stirring up trouble, getting into fights

Q: How is a homily prepared/written?

A: Every preacher is different, of course. I can give you a brief outline of how I do it:

I read the lectionary readings about a week ahead of time to see what strikes me. I usually mumble to myself about how dull the reading is or how I’ll never squeeze anything out of THAT text or how we just had that reading two weeks ago, etc. Then I will read it again a few days later—having forgotten it by then—and something will strike me as odd/weird/brilliant/curious. I will grab a commentary to check on any cultural references or historical oddities, and then I will begin to pose a question or a problem to tackle. I will locate the readings in a Bible (I own five different English translations!) and look at “where” the readings are in the larger narrative. This almost always gives me something to work with in the homily. All this time, I am praying for inspiration, for insight. I don’t write a word of my homily until the morning of the day it is to be preached. I am a morning person, so I’m up at 4:30am, coffee in hand, ready to roll! Weekday homilies are 550-650 words, Sunday homilies are twice that.

What’s basic, I think, to any good homily is an application of the readings to real, contemporary problems. I don’t mean to suggest that the homily needs to be a “fix-it” talk where the priest gives the assembly quick and easy DIY solutions to complex problems; however, the homily can be a great way for the preacher to raise issues, questions, problems that are common to his parish/ministry and show how the readings and the tradition might help to address them. This means, of course, that a good preacher is listening, listening, listening to what’s troubling God’s faithful.

I always try to do the following in every homily…

* preach the gospel in front of me, not the gospel I think the congregation wants to hear, or the gospel that will get me the fewest complaints, or the gospel that will get me the most compliments!

* include a humorous story if there’s one that’s truly relevant (I’m a Southerner born and bred, so I exaggerate like I breath—loudly and on a regular basis.)

* use an image, a phrase, or a line from ALL four readings; the Psalms, sadly, often get shortchanged

* preaching is an oral form, so I write for oral presentation: lots repetition, alliteration, “unpacking,” and frequent use of language from the readings, the liturgy of the day, and the tradition

* say something truly challenging and maybe even unnerving! (I’m a Dominican, so I am not particularly inclined to spoon feed folks religious pabulum or feel-good psychobabble just to keep things sweet.)

* I am downright tenacious about preaching the following: a) the universal call to holiness; b). our salvation understood as our divinization; c) our salvation as an undeserved, unmerited, totally FREE gimme from God; d) our responsibilities to the Body of Christ as members of the Body of the Christ; e) the need for true humility before the authority of the Church to teach the authentic faith; f) the absolutely indispensable necessity of a powerful private and common prayer life (cf. CCC Part IV), and g) our responsibilities in revealing Truth, Goodness, and Beauty to one another!

Q: What needs work?

A: I read my homilies from prepared texts. This will never change. It can’t. I am tied to language as a writer, a poet, an English teacher, etc. I just can’t let go of the text and preach “off the cuff.” I will ramble, jabber on for an hour, wander around until someone chunks a hymnal at me. I need to practice more so I can be more engaging with the assembly and not so glued to the paper. I’ve been told that I talk too fast—and I’m a Southerner! And that my homilies are too complex for just listening, thus the blog site for those who want to read them. I’m always wrong about my homilies too—just about every time I think I’ve preached a real dud, I get lots of great feedback. And when I think I’ve preached a real winner—nothing, nada, crickets chirping. Oh well.

Comments? Comments from other preachers particularly welcomed!!


  1. hmm....as a newly ordained and a relative novice at preaching, i appreciate your remarks and suggestions.


  2. Vox,

    I'm newly ordained as well...just since May 21, 2005. However, as a Dominican friar I've been preaching in front of one sort of assembly or another for about six years. We start in the novitiate preaching at vespers! I'm interested in hearing what you think preaching is all about and how you do it...speak up!

    Fr. Philip

  3. Fr. Philip,

    As a layman, I am unable to preach homilies.

    However, after many years assisting in retreat ministry, as well as two years in the seminary, I found that the best method for delivering reflections goes as follows:

    Meditation on the readings or theme well before the day as you describe on a number of different occasions.

    Writing out themes and working with them through resources such as you mentioned.

    About a couple of days before the event, I would create around six points on a piece of paper that would essentially be my guide for the reflection. They may change at some point before the actual moment too.

    When the reflection would start, I would start by asking the people listening to offer a prayer taught to me by an awesome priest friend of mine as follows:

    My brothers and sisters, please take a moment to pray to the Holy Spirit to anoint my words...(I'd pause for half a minute or so)

    And then proceed into the first point and flow from there.

    This method has been honed through the guidance of spiritual directors and good instruction from priests as well as my awesome homiletics instructor.

    To me it leaves room for the Holy Spirit to speak to the hearts of those present. It also leaves me freedom to move if there is inspiration to do so.

    God bless you for offering your life up for us in the priesthood! That is so awesome, and be assured of our prayers for your ministry!



  4. Anonymous3:41 PM

    No, as female I can't preach the way priests can, but I've been listening to homilies all my life, and have an opinion. In my parish we have an Order of priests who "help out". They are Xaverian Missionaries. Their base is Italy. All these priests, except for one, are Italian. They speak very heavily accented English. What amazes me, is they walk to the ambo with no papers--no notes--no index cards--no outline. And English is not their mother tongue! (Sorry Fr. Phillip)
    How do they do it? Simple. They all follow the same pattern. They explain the first Reading, then the Second, and then the Gospel. Every single one of them does this.
    We in the peanut gallery like it. Sometimes I wonder what the heck that first Reading has to do with the Gospel. So I look forward to the homilies given by these Xaverians.
    One time we were given a parish mission by a Dominican. The day after the week's mission, this Dominican celebrated Mass to help out the parish priest. I was the Lector that day so I had a chance to talk with him. When it came time for the Homily, he announced, "You people are sick of hearing me all week, so I'll let you off the hook. God bless you."
    That was it. I asked him why he did that and he said it was because he didn't have anything prepared.
    So simple...explain the first Reading, the Second, the Gospel.
    But Fr. Phillip, I like the homilies of yours that I have read. But if you're stuck, just explain the Readings like an Xaverian.
    How could you go wrong?
    God Bless You.

  5. Anonymous4:01 PM

    I read my homilies from prepared texts. This will never change.
    Yeah, it can. I'm a Toastmaster. Toastmasters is a club for public speakers. We are not allowed to read our speeches. We memorize them. OK. I did this. One time, after a year, I was having trouble memorizing this certain speech, word for word. I tried very hard. Every time I said it, I said it differently. Yet, I realized, I was saying the same thing, only using different words. I was getting the idea across.
    Well, isn't that idea? Once I realized that I finally was doing what one is really suppose to do, I relaxed.
    I graduated from memorizing entire speeches to just an outline.
    Get the idea across, not the words. You're not delivering the same way to the 7:00 AM congregation, as to the teen 7:00 PM Mass are you? Same message, different delivery, I hope.
    I have a feeling that some day, you're going to ball up that homily and toss it, and get that same message across from your heart, not your tongue.
    Don't worry. It'll happen.

  6. Thank you, Fr Philip, for this article. May the Lord bless your preaching.

    You may find of interest this article that I wrote on this subject two months ago: Preaching is proclamation of Christ.

  7. Anonymous6:13 PM

    preach the gospel in front of me, not the gospel I think the congregation wants to hear, or the gospel that will get me the fewest complaints, or the gospel that will get me the most compliments!

    So you aren't trying to keep the butts in the pews, Father? Good deal. Keep up the good work.

    We are lucky in our parish to have a priest like you who tells the truth even when it's unpopular.

  8. Thank you Father Philip. I too am a young priest and both agree with and appreciate your thoughts.

    I'm in Fort Worth, Texas. Hopefully I will meet you one of these days.

  9. The more I do it, the more I enjoy preaching.

    There are two main things I always keep in mind while preparing a homily. First is to say only one thing---not 3 main points, or four, or five....just ONE---one central connecting message that expounds and breaks open the readings, primarily the Gospel. Second, if I there is an image or a story that helps to illustrate the one message I have in the homily, I use it. Having this image or illustration helps to grab the listeners’ attention, it holds their attention longer, and it is always nice for the listeners to have a mental picture of your message so that they easily remember it.

    One priest told me that the act of preaching is an “intimate” one. What he means is that after reflecting, praying, and meditating on the texts, one discerns what God is intimately saying to you—the preacher—to your soul and spirit. The preacher then hands over this intimate message to the flock, in a manner that speaks to their lives as lay people. This to me explains why preaching can be a challenge and a task for some---because it is essentially “intimate,” spiritually.

    Two days ago I posted at my humble blog an excerpt from one of John Bunyan’s works. In it he has a few amusing things to say about his experience of preaching. Well, amusing to me anyway:


    Thanks, vox.

  10. I would love to hear your "downright tenacious" topics more often in homilies. If I am less that intensely interested in the homily, it helps me to pray (over and over) "this is my beloved Son. Listen to Him."

    Keep up the good work!

  11. I'd like to affirm vox's suggestion that the sermon should have say one, and only one, thing. This is so important, but I see it being violated by one Catholic preacher after the next. (One of the blessings of my present position is that it allows me to visit different parishes on Sundays.) It's hard enough to preach a sermon that folks will remember an hour after Mass; but that task is made infinitely more difficult by the scattergun approach to preaching. God knows that I have on too many occasions resorted to the scattergun approach--usually because of lack of preparation and sloth--but that doesn't make it right.

    Hence I find the Xaverian method mentioned above by one of the anonymous commentators inherently deficient. The idea that the liturgical homily must always tie the lessons together or must in some way always mention something from each of the lessons is very silly. The Fathers of the Church certainly never felt themselves bound to such a rule.

    I've been preaching from the lectionary for twenty-five years. Sometimes it is possible to powerfully and faithfully connect two of the lessons (occasionally all three) together; but often it's not. This is especially true during the green season, when the lectionary takes us through specific New Testament letters for the Epistle. The lectionary designers did not intend the Epistle to correlate with the Old Testament or Gospel.

    I believe that Catholic preachers could dramatically improve their preaching if they would focus more directly on one lesson, in all of its particularities. If they are then led to connect it to one of the other readings, then that's a bonus.

    For me personally, I preach best from texts that have a narrative structure. One of my criticisms of the present lectionary is that it's too heavily weighted with readings from the prophets, which I find difficult to preach. Give me stories any day. (I love preaching from Genesis!) But that's just my peculiarity. :-)

  12. Pontificator,

    Thinking that all the readings have to be tied together in a homily is silly. I guess I like to try b/c it is often a challenge and sometimes the results are satisfying. Often the gospel gives us an ideal to reach for or a goal to achieve and then the epistle will somehow address the "how" of reaching that goal. Not always, of course, but the effort to make the connection is worth the creative energy for me. Also, I am always a bit hesitant to stray too far from the lectionary texts b/c I've heard too many preachers preach homilies that are specifically designed to avoid a difficult saying or a uncomfortable teaching. The kingdom parables in Matthew are stuffed full of Jesus telling folks that there is a very unpleasant consequence to not believing the gospel: hell. The quick and easy thing to do here is focus on what it means to believe the gospel. But that ain't the whole story! Preaching has to be about telling the whole story.

    Thanks for the comments.

    Fr. Philip

  13. Faith,

    I'm delighted that the Lord has gifted you with such a great memory!

    My attachment to the text really isn't about memorization. There are a number of things involved:

    Time: sticking to a text keeps me within a reasonable time-limit for a homily.

    Language: I am a "literary-type," so I am picky about my language. Off-the-cuff homilies for me would be an exercise in public revision. Not pretty.

    Focus: I have what the Buddhists call a "monkey-mind." I think about 30 things at once. A text keeps me focused and clear.

    Preparation: Good homilies are prepared. I know this doesn't necessarily mean having a text, but I've rarely heard a well-prepared, textless homily.

    Thanks for commenting...

    Fr. Philip, OP

  14. Father(s),
    I appreciate the fact that you work so hard at making your homilies good.
    Fr. Phillip, I am like you. Monkey-minded. Public speaking sans a text would result in a jumble of incoherant ramblings.
    We have a deacon at my parish who gives amazing off-the-cuff homilies. He gave one on Mother's Day about the sanctity of life that
    was astounding. I asked him afterwards if I could have a copy. "Oh, it's not written down. I just go up and speak from the heart."
    A gifted homilist, indeed.
    We also have priests who go up with a prepared text because they aren't the .01% of the population that can speak like our deacon.
    Their homilies are almost always good, and I thank God to know that the man sat up late writing out pages and pages of words to help me better
    understand the Word of God.
    I smile just thinking about his loving sacrifice.
    One priest I know has trouble with public speaking (and reading, even. I think he might be dyslexic.) but he always tries to give a homily without text, probably because he does tend to trip over words when reading. But he is a loving, caring priest who offers a reverent Mass, he is a great Confessor, and he always ends his homilies with, "O, Mary, Mother of the Church, pray for us".

  15. Anonymous1:05 PM

    I graduated from UD in 85 and while I was a student there I used to go to the priory for daily mass. I LOVED those Dominicans. I thought they were all retired - has that changed since my time?

  16. Anonymous2:32 PM

    Thy Kingdom Come!

    Re the subject of using a text, our homiletics prof at the seminary I attend insists that for his class we will preach without notes. I can attest to the value of it at least as an exercise. On the other hand, the pastor in the parish where I am currently doing a pastoral year is one of the finest preachers I've ever heard, yet he always has the text of his homilies written out in full in front of him. He preaches without having to refer to it much, but I think after thirty years of priesthood he still feels afraid to preach without it. I would add that he continually emphasizes the same truths Fr. Philip mentions here.

    In Christ,
    Michael J. Houser

  17. An anecdote, probably apocryphal, that I was told in seminary:

    There was an English vicar who one Sunday morning found himself in the pulpit, with his manuscript still sitting in his study in the rectory. So he had to wing it. And he preached the best sermon of his life. From that point on, he always preached extemporaneously.

    One Sunday, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Frederick Temple, showed up in the congregation. After the service, the vicar greeted the Archbishop enthusiastic. "My Lord Archbishop," he said, "I am so honored to have present with us this morning. As you may have noticed, I preached my sermon extemporaneously. Several years ago I made a vow to God to always preach extemporaneously, trusting in the Spirit to guide me."

    Archbishop Temple, who was a short man, pulled himself up and spoke in a deep, authoritative voice, "I Frederick, Lord Archbishop of Canterbury, Primate of All England, doth dispense thee from thy vow."

  18. I'm always happy with the Xaverian method. I've been blessed so far and have only heard four maybe five really horrible homilies in my life.

    All I ask is that the priest not tell jokes or quote from pop music. I once listened to a priest who disected John Denver's "Contry Roads" and listened to another one (he's since been laicized) use the homily to rap about his personal ideas on sex. Ugh!

  19. Anonymous7:02 AM

    For those who disagree with the post about the Italian Xaverian priests who tied the three readings together: you say that you can't even always tie together two, and that it would be giving more than one lesson per homily.

    I respectfully disagree. The readings were originally selected BECAUSE they shed light on each other. I am a layperson, but with a Yale Divinity School degree and lots of training in exegesis. I LOVE to hear homilies in which, in Dante's words, "ogni parte ad ogni parte splende" - where each part sheds light on the other.

    This does NOT mean unrelated messages or unrelated lessons. I often see that it only takes a little thought to see why and how an Old Testament reading relates to one in the New Testament.

  20. Anonymous8:09 AM

    Fr. Powell,

    Thank you for sharing these thoughts. Well said, and should be required reading for every layman that's complained about his pastor's homilies (some of which probably deserve a clean-up according to your method.)

    As a development officer who has worked for three different Catholic organizations, I do take slight exception to your two barbs referencing "appeals to big-donors" and "Appeals for funds" within the Homily proper. Indeed, the Homily should encompass much more than a quick pitch for the latest Bishop's appeal. However, I find that the laity are sorely catechized on stewardship. Catholics have one of the lowest rankings in terms of sacrificial giving. We as laity need to hear our priests explaining stewardship, talking about money, linking the duty and joy of giving to not only the Church, but other worthy organizations. Some of the best parishes I've seen (in terms of growth and financial stability) are those that are forthright with their expectations about giving and living in community. And those discussions do have a place in the pulpit - from time to time.


  21. Monica,

    You might know Fr. Matt Robinson. He's still lives at the priory. However, the priory you knew belongs to the university now. We have a new priory right next door to the seminary. There are eight professed friars living here and two novices.

    Mr. Randall,

    I have no objections to the priest asking for money. Dominicans are mendicants, so we do it all the time. My complaint is that sometimes the homily is specifically designed to address the particular quirks of big donors. The content of the homily is too deeply influenced by a desire not to offend the Checkbooks in the congregation. This happens with political influence as well, ecclesial politics, especially!

    Fr. Philip

  22. Father,

    I loved this post, and I linked to it at my own blog today. Someone mentioned Toastmasters, and I would also recommend Dale Carnegie. Carnegie classes focus on shorter talks than a homily would be, and it did a lot for me.

    But, it's all a matter of what your preference is. I'll be back to your blog!

    God bless,

  23. Anonymous1:32 PM

    Father, I often wonder whether any seminaries have Toastmasters chapters -- and if not, why not?

    So many of the priests I've heard preach over the years seem like they could improve their homilies immensely if only they'd attend a few sessions.

    On the topic of reading from a text versus reading from an outline:

    Toastmasters does usually steer people away from reading from a text, because it forces them to stand behind a podium or lecturn, inhibiting their mobility and obscuring below-the-chest gesturing; it reduces eye contact with the intended audience; and because written text often doesn't sound as natural as spoken text.

    I imagine, though, that since you've got a bit of experience preaching, you know how to minimize those drawbacks -- for instance, by using relevant and impactful hand gestures and facial expressions to liven up your nonverbal communication, by glancing at the text then delivering it with eye contact, and by adapting your writing style to spoken delivery.

    As a writer, I am also very picky about my word choice, and for that reason, I often write a full-text version of a speech, then create an outline from it, and deliver the speech using that. A typical fear when moving from full-text to outlines is that you'll forget certain key expressions ... but I've been pleasantly surprised that the phrases and expressions I mean to say exactly as I've written them usually do get said exactly, but the tone is more natural than the sometimes stilted sound of written text. You may want to give this approach a try, to see if it works for you too.

  24. This is an excellent post and comment thread, with many good points. As a layman doing some work in detention ministry, I have to be able to offer some reflection on the lessons for the week, if nothing else as a basis for impromptu teaching. (One does not always have much control over the program inside. You have to be flexible, and like it.)

    Over time, my experience has been that I have to go through three separate stages: study, reflection, and preparation. As I gather information on the passages, I tend to accumulate all sorts of nifty bits and pieces of things. Several hours worth of bits and pieces, in fact. Then I spend time, often in lectio, sorting things through, being open (I hope) to being shown "the Word within the words". When I have what I need (the hook to start on, the point from the Gospel I am trying to present, and the route between) I work on writing out the reflection. (I will post one from time to time, just to keep myself honest.) I cannot carry a fully worked out reflection with me inside, so I generally reduce it to some 3x5 cards of an outline, and any key quotes or other material I will need. The process of actually writing it out sticks it in my memory fairly well, and with a good outline I can concentrate on the people in front of me without wandering.

    One note on the Lectionary. My understanding is that the Gospel and first readings are usually chosen to complement each other. But the second readings often follow a different progression, and may not have any connection to the other readings, besides the fundamental unity of Scripture itself. The Psalm can go either way. Sometimes you can work from all three, but other times you have to focus in -- and I find it easier to stick to the Gospel.

  25. Anonymous9:53 AM

    Fr. Philip, this was brilliant!!! I hope many more see it than have commented here--particularly preachers.

    Only one comment: In our tradition, the WHOLE proper of the Mass is fair game for homilies. This includes the Introit, Offertory and Communion antiphons, as well as the orations. In fact, it is really in conjunction with these that the 4 texts you've already mentioned--Rdgs. 1 & 2, the Responsorial Psalm and its antiphon, and the Gospel with its Alleluia antiphon, should be appreciated. In addition to these, there are the various rites of the liturgy itself which, along with the antiphons and orations mentioned above, further dialate the readings, giving the preacher ample material to consider as he tries to unpack something for his congregation's consideration. Additionally, if he looks at the treatment the antiphons receive in chants of the the GRADUALE, he is given a further leg-up.

    That said, I applaud you once again for delivering the homily from the list of plagues you have pointed out--even the very popular and respected trend among the well-intentioned to simply offer a redaction-criticism, which most of the time goes right over (around, beneath) the heads of the folks in front of him.

    I'm on the run, so I haven't had time to look at the comments of the others here. Consequently, if I have repeated anything already stated, please excuse me.

    Fraternally in N.S.P.D.
    Fr. Martin Farrell, O.P.
    (Canadian Province)

  26. Fr. Martin,

    Thanks for commenting...

    I couldn't agree more with your observations here. There is material enough in the Mass texts only for several lengthy homilies every Sunday. I would add that the readings from the Office of Readings--esp. the Patristic readings--are a great source of material for reflection and preaching. Since they frequently coincide thematically with feasts, saints' days, etc. they provide a different "take" that your average congregation probably wouldn't get otherwise.

    Fr. Philip, OP

    P.S. Approx. 1,200 people had a look at my thoughts on the mechanics of a homily. Special thanks go to Curt Jester, Pontifications, Ignatius Insight, Amy Wellborn, and Bill Cork for linking the piece on their sites. The overwhelming majority of hits came from these sites. Thanks!

  27. You haven't said anything that I, a Lutheran pastor, would dispute. Special appreciation for what a homily is not.

  28. Anonymous7:37 AM


    In reaction to outright criticism above, of effort and ability to tie together readings, and even of those who appreciate it...

    This ability is a matter of vision, perhaps charism, and quite simply, a matter of whether one will or will not or can or cannot tie them together.

    Sidenote. Surely God's hand, as well as the lectionary designers', was busy during the construction of the readings.

    Carroll Stuhlmueller's written works are stunning, and he does tie the readings together - a good resource for those who cannot.

    I have no criticism of other styles and focuses of 'preaching.' But, oh!, what a blessing: those gifted of God who CAN help us connect the dots, and kindly and painstakingly do so!


  29. Anonymous7:41 AM

    p.s. What is it God has to say through you? Take it from there.


  30. Reverend Father:

    I am a Deacon, ordained to the Diaconate just a week before you were ordained a Priest.

    I very much enjoyed your article on the mechanics of a homily. My preparation is similar to yours. And I almost always have a 'script,' though I rarely read it. It just makes me a lot more comfortable having it there in case I lose the thread.

    There are only two things that I would add as a postscript to your fine piece:

    First is a comment that was told me by a very wise Deacon, now passed to his reward. He was filling in when our Homiletics teacher could not be present, and he left us with an image that has been of immense help to me. Remember the old Ballantine Beer trademark, the three overlapping circles? He called the first the texts of the day: the Scriptures, antiphons, and propers. The second is the Congregation, that part of the People of God that will be present to receive the homily. The third is the Homilist. Where all three circles overlap, that's where to find the homily.

    The Second item that has helped me is the senses of Scripture: the literal, and the three spiritual senses. Keeping these in mind really helps the exegetical process, so that when I develop the homily I do so in the Tradition of the Church. (The Catena Aurea in particular, and the Fathers in general are great for this.) What can I say? I have great writers!

    Dcn. Joe

  31. Deacon Joe,

    Great images...the three circles!

    Thanks for visiting...

  32. I've seem some pictures of wrenches . I think it was some modern art or something .