04 April 2017

Survey on Preaching the Homily

St. Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis have all called the Church to engage the New Evangelization at the beginning of this new millennium. 

One of the areas most often cited for improvement is preaching. 

Tell me:

1). What does "effective preaching" look and sound like?

2). What have you heard and seen from the pulpit that didn't work, or actually made it more difficult for you to participate in the Mass?

3). If you could sit down with a class of third year seminarians and transitional deacons, what would you tell them about preaching? 
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  1. Effective preaching looks lovingly confident - not brash or arrogant or angry, not cute or flippant or buddy-buddy. It looks like some time was spent in preparation, both proximate and immediate. A priest without a strong prayer-life will be hard-pressed to be an effective preacher - he might be an excellent public speaker, an excellent speech-writer, but there is much more to a homily than that, much of which is intangible. The best preachers I have heard spend time in the confessional.

    Turn-offs include the wandering preacher, the priest who focuses on only one demographic (eg. talks only to the children when it is not a school Mass), jokes/stories which do not further the lesson.

    What I would tell third-year seminarians and transition deacons . . . how much time do you have? But in a nutshell, I would tell them to remember who they are (priests of God) and what their calling is. If they remember who they are, their preaching will reflect that knowledge.

  2. Anonymous1:59 PM

    Don't address the people in the pews with the sermon you've given the last three years in a row on the 3rd Sunday of Lent, don't use a sermon you've read on line or subscribed to in some sermon service or one that a fellow priest has given and you liked it. Speak to them as friends, people you know and with whom you share a parish. Address them like Jesus did with the people of the time. Address their needs, concerns and their world. Be positive.

  3. My parish has 3 priests. One is Elderly but he is the Pastor. His homilies tend to ramble without much point. Or have several points, none of them connected because of the rambling nature of the the Homily. There is also usually a pre-Homily Homily that happens at the beginning, which is usually better than the real Homily. Point being, he does a good job, if he sticks to one or two points. The other priests are not native English speakers and are usually very hard to understand. So this is a topic I care greatly about.

    1). What does "effective preaching" look and sound like?
    Effective Homilies, in my opinion, explain why the readings are about Christ, and how it pertains to the relationship between Him and us. For example, everything in the old testament points to Christ. Why? And why was the author inspired to write about it? A little context helps too - we aren't Biblical scholars. Everything in the new was written about Christ and tells us why he is who he says he is. As Bishop Barron often says, if Jesus isn't God and wasn't physically risen from the dead, then forget about it. Jesus is just another teacher. But if he is who he says he is - we have to change everything and follow Him.
    The more you understand the depth of the scriptures, the easier you can apply it to your own life and experiences. Learning who Christ is, I think, is part of forming a deep relationship with Him.

    2). What have you heard and seen from the pulpit that didn't work, or actually made it more difficult for you to participate in the Mass?
    Homilies that don't have anything to do with the readings. Perfect example - this past weekend after the awesome Gospel of the Raising of Lazarus, the priest took the opportunity to lecture everybody about the importance of attending the Reconciliation Service this Tuesday night. Yes, the Gospel had a LOT to do with sin, and absolution. Yes, its VERY important to go to Confession. Yes, we as a congregation need to go more, understand why we have it, etc. But there was absolutely no tie in to the Gospel at all. None. Didn't even mention Lazarus once. What a missed opportunity to teach why the Raising of Lazarus is about many things, one is sin and forgiveness. So go to confession so God can say "Untie him and let him go".

    3). If you could sit down with a class of third year seminarians and transitional deacons, what would you tell them about preaching?
    Read other Homilies. Listen to the resources on the Internet - The Lanky Guys Podcast, Bishop Barron, get deep into it. There is usually a theme or a few points that can be extracted or that really stand out to you. Focus on that. Read the Homily you have to - nothing wrong with that if it helps you stay on topic. I know another elderly priest who still writes and reads his homily every Mass. And they are always great.

  4. 1) This is a little bit "I know it when I see it," but on the whole I would say it looks like someone speaking with authority about Jesus Christ. It is "speaking with authority" because the person knows Jesus (as opposed to "I am up here because of my degrees, my smartness, my wit," etc.--an attitude which really changes the color of the preaching-- and rather than being about the individual's own struggles or insecurities, is about saying with a certain amount of confidence "this is who Jesus is and how He can change our lives."

    2) Showing me your rough drafts: "I was thinking about what to preach about today, and first I thought the reading was about x, and then I realized..." Don't waste my time about what it isn't--just skip to the good stuff and tell me what the reading is about. Likewise gimmicks like "this phrase is so important, let's all say it together." In general, anything that makes me feel like my time is being wasted and the person is not getting to any sort of point just jars me out of the experience.

    3) First and foremost, preaching is about introducing people to Jesus and letting them be changed by that introduction. If you skip to the change without talking about Jesus, it's a motivational talk. If you talk about Jesus and don't let people be changed, it's a classroom lecture. When you have both, it's preaching.

  5. You know i actually just met a Novice Dominican today.

    1. Effective preaching is someone who lives out the Gospel to the best of their abilities, everyday. May His will be done in other wards.
    2. Turn-offs for me is when the whole homily is a summary of the days Gospel. (yes i know what the gospel said) ex. Jesus brought the sword. Yes, but what does he mean?
    3. I would say keep your prayer life strong and if you can spend at least one hour in front of the Blessed Sacrament everyday. Along with readings from other great Catholic Preachers.

  6. 1. Effective preaching challenges the congregation. It does not excuse them from their obligations. Of course it does not insult them. It is about the Lord.
    2. Do not denigrate previous generations of Catholics. Do not reduce the homily to a political speech. Don't make it like a TV talk show with lots of wandering about and questioning individual parishioners. Think it through and if you've told a particular cute story recently, try to use something else this time. People retain more than you might think.
    3. Pray over John 12:21. Pray over all of the propers of the day including the Psalm and even the antiphons. Pray some more.

  7. Br Robert1:19 AM

    1. One which deepens the encounter between God and his people. The preacher is the conduit, or the catalyst, not the source. At the same time, this can only happen if the preacher himself has a living encounter with the Scriptures and the Liturgy. A good homily is one which makes me think about the readings in a different way and apply it to my life.

    2. Showing off. Repeating word for word an article you read on the internet. Ignoring the readings of the day entirely. Preaching a disordered sermon which has no central theme. Haranguing.

    3. Pray with the Scriptures. Use Biblia Clerus (I am constantly surprised how many people haven't heard of it). Speak slowly and clearly. Preach with the Creed in mind. Emphasize the reality and the seriousness of the relationship between God and his people. Don't be boring. Preach to yourself.

  8. Anonymous11:30 AM

    Effective preaching begins by praying to the Holy Spirit asking that the preacher speaks the message that the Holy Spirit wishes the preacher to speak, to pray to the Blessed Mother asking her that the homily will help lead people to Jesus and a prayer to the patron saint of preachers that the preacher will communicate in a way that the congregation will understand what the preacher is saying. It looks and sounds as if the preacher has spent time preparing the text and presents a homily that is organized and follow a logical progression. It is a homily that the preacher has spent time preparing, editing, refining, rehearsing throughout the week.

    2) Preaching the same old thing. Most of the congregation are what I call regulars and they've heard the basic message and they need to hear a message they have not heard.

    3) I would tell them to grow in prayer and in knowledge of the scriptures. There is so much in the scriptures that people have never heard and they need to hear it. Constantly study them. Listen to as many good preachers as you can. Take notes during mass when and jot down anything that speaks to you. Become familiar with the cultural aspects of the scriptures. Consider preaching on other than the Gospel, the Old Testament has much to teach us. Consider preaching on the psalms they are part of the Bible. There are many fine homily web sites that provide models on how to communicate information. Do not use jargon unless absolutely necessary and if you do explain so that it is easily understandable. Spend lots of time preparing and refining during the week.

  9. Br Robert12:46 AM

    Also in relation to Q. 3, I learnt a lot by sharing my homilies before delivery with a number of laypeople.

  10. Less therapy, more Jesus. It's striking to me that Lent is almost over and as a daily communicant who attends mass in a variety of parishes/institutions, all of them orthodox, interested in the new evangelization, and trying to do things right, I have heard daily sermons on either "our Lenten journey" as a time of taking stock and admitting vulnerability and/or sermons not directly about the actual readings of the day, but of the arc of the readings of the week or of the Sundays of Lent. As if what I most need is encouragement to stick w/ my resolutions or a broad overview of why particular readings were chosen. Astonishingly, not one word about sin (except briefly as a reminder of the desirability of going to Confession) the Cross, the meaning of suffering, the value of penance as a communion w/ the Cross, the necessity of salvation, the inevitability of death and the desire for heaven. Lots of explaining what we do in Lent, in other words, without a single word about the deepest reasons why. It's good to explain the Church's practices, but it would be nice to connect them to actual life in Christ. The most effective preaching is that in which the preacher is sincerely himself a disciple of Jesus and addresses his congregation as fellow disciples, and as if what we are doing matters. Good preaching makes Christ more present and real to us, helps us admire and love Him, helps us recognize and (in some cases) be able to laugh at our faults so as to be able to repent them and be inspired to do better, and it helps us love the Church and her patrimony for Jesus' sake.