The Deacon's Bench

The Deacon's Bench

On homilies: “How can you plant seeds?”

posted by jmcgee

A bit fat h/t to Mike “Googling God” Hayes, who is pointing readers to this very good chin-scratcher about what makes for good preaching in the Catholic Church.

From the Pray Tell blog:

In the midst of all the bustle around the introduction of the new translations of the Mass texts, and how they might affect our liturgical practice and experience, I want to make a plea for thinking deeply about the translation that is under local control: the homily. What is the quality of that translation – the moving of the Word out of the Lectionary and into our lives?

Add in that my parish is deep into a process of examination and renewal, where we have said (among other things) that we desire challenging and relevant homilies and I’ve found myself pondering what principles one might apply in crafting a good homily. What moves me?

I want to hear other voices. No, this is not a call for lay homilists at Mass. Instead it is a plea to bring in, explicitly and regularly, voices from our long and rich Catholic tradition. Tell us what John Chrysostom, Augustine, Karl Rahner, Catherine of Siena, Hildegard of Bingen and Dorothy Day thought. What advice did the desert fathers and mothers have that speaks to us now? How might the Rule of St. Benedict make a difference in the lives of those of us who live in the thick of the secular world? What was in that last papal encyclical that we might need to hear? Please, no generic platitudes or ferverinos.

Engage us in dialog. Ask us what we heard in your homily, or didn’t. Last week I asked my 16 year old son what he might have said about the Sunday pericopes (as a weekend sacristan at the parish, he hears 3 of the 4 homilies in a weekend!). His first response was disbelief, “are you asking me what I would have said if I were the priest?” His second was to say that what he heard was a tough challenge to follow Christ , “I would have hit hard on vocations.” None of the homilies sounded quite that note. How can you plant seeds unless you have a sense of the ground in which they might grow?

Do read the rest. Especially if you are someone who spends part of each Sunday in the pulpit, preaching.

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Dcn Scott

posted June 30, 2010 at 7:34 pm

I couldn’t agree more. Too often we are tempted to dumb it down, not just out of some sense of superiority, but the laziness that doesn’t want to do the work. Preaching should be a priority, not an afterthought, which means there needs to be time set aside to prepare the Sunday homily, a whole morning or afternoon, maybe more than one.
Take last Sunday’s readings as an example, you have two very compelling stories, one from 1 Kings, the other from St. Luke’s Gospel. Let’s unpack them, see what they say to us now.
I have said it before, but I get tired of hearing homilists tell stories about the stories, especially when the stories in Scripture are much more compelling that what happened to the preacher in the store parking lot last Wednesday, or the re-telling of flat story that didactically focuses on one very narrow aspect of the reading, and one everyone has likely heard before. The Scriptures are challenging and full of surprises, as is our Tradition.

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Dcn Scott

posted June 30, 2010 at 7:36 pm

An interesting adult RelEd experience with the weekly readings is to ask people if they were to give a homily on the readings what two, or maybe three, themes, ideas they would focus on and why. This is an opportunity for the priest or deacon to learn.

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Deacon Ken

posted June 30, 2010 at 9:30 pm

In 1982, the usccb published “Fulfilled in your hearing”, a document which outlines what should be contained in a homily. If we all followed what is suggested there, we would make the Word of God come alive, & have fewer complaints.
It’s easy to take pot shots at the homilists, but it’s a different story when you get up there in front of a full assembly & attempt to do it yourself!
-Ken Maleck
Augusta, GA

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posted July 1, 2010 at 9:10 pm

Deacon Ken,
I truly did not intend this piece to take pot-shots at homilists – but to suggest that (1) we’re listening and (2) not everyone thinks the homily is to be endured!
Since I write the equivalent of a 5 to 6 minute homily (a Scriptural reflection for the archdiocesan paper) 48 weeks a year, sick, well, on retreat, traveling and on the rare occasion (though never at Mass) I preach at the Liturgy of the Hours. So I do have some sense of what it takes to do this work.
Michelle Francl-Donnay

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