You might think you don’t have much influence on the homilies at your parish. But think again. One important principle from Vatican II was that all the faithful, by reason of their baptism, have the right and duty to participate fully, consciously, and actively in the liturgy (cf. Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy [CSL], 14). This includes the homily since it is “part of the liturgy itself” (CSL, 52). Before we look at ways that you can influence the homily, let’s explore what a homily is meant to be and do.
The homily isn’t a time when the priest, deacon, or even the bishop gets to talk about whatever he wants. Nor is the homily simply an explanation of the Scriptures or teachings of the Church. In 1982, the United States Bishops made this remarkable statement:
Since the purpose of the homily is to enable the gathered congregation to celebrate the liturgy with faith, the preacher does not so much attempt to explain the Scriptures as to interpret the human situation through the Scriptures. In other words, the goal of the liturgical preacher is not to interpret a text of the Bible as much as to draw on the texts of the Bible as they are presented in the lectionary to interpret people’s lives. (Fulfilled in Your Hearing: The Homily in the Sunday Assembly, 52)
The homily isn’t a time to learn spiritual self-help techniques, nor is it just a motivational speech. As the US Bishops said in 2012, the homily is a revelation of “the startling beauty and promise of the Kingdom of God and of Jesus who embodies it…” (Preaching the Mystery of Faith: The Sunday Homily, pp. 10-11). Further, “[i]f a homilist conveys merely some example of proverbial wisdom or good manners, or only some insight gained from his personal experience, he may have spoken accurately and even helpfully, but he has not yet spoken the Gospel, which ultimately must focus on the person of Jesus and the dynamic power of his mission to the world” (p. 11).
Put simply, the homily is the meeting point between Christ the living Word of God and the community of the faithful striving to live out that Word in its daily life. Therefore, in order for the homilist to prepare a good homily, he has to know not only the Scriptures and the teachings of the Church but also the realities of the assembly who hears those Scriptures and who is called to live out those teachings.
Now, those of us who are not called to ordained ministry also must assist with the homily. Here are some simple ways each of us can do that:
Prepare yourself to encounter Christ the living Word
Come to Mass ready to hear the Word proclaimed and preached. Read the readings before Sunday (you can find them at USCCB.org). Use your Bible or other resources to learn more about the background of at least one of those readings. Then pray with them each day through a practice called lectio divina (search online for resources).
Encourage your homilists
Instead of complaining about your homilists, try encouraging them. Each Sunday, listen in the homily for at least one thing that touches you. Then share that with your homilist that same day either in person or by phone or e-mail. Tell him what you liked about his homily, and be specific. Tell him how that specific thing he said or did in the homily helped you come closer to Christ, or to celebrate the Eucharist more authentically, or to live your faith with more joy and hope. You will find that, over time, the more you encourage the good things in your homilists, the more they will repeat them.
Share your life with your homilists
Preparing a homily can’t happen in a vacuum. Your homilist not only needs to know the Scriptures, church teaching, and current events. He also needs to know you and the community for whom he preaches. The Spirit works through you as well and reveals Christ’s presence in the ordinary and not-so-ordinary moments of your life. If you strive to build a relationship with your priest or deacon where you can share with them your own joys and sorrows, your concerns about the world, and the hope your faith gives you, in a way your story becomes part of the homily. That’s because you are giving him the gift of your perspective and the unique wisdom that the Spirit has given to you alone. The two of you along with the entire community become collaborators in listening carefully to the Spirit and giving words to what the Spirit reveals. In return, your homilists will sense more clearly the urgent need to make their homilies connect to real lives.
Pray for your homilists
When a community can see themselves as collaborators with their priests and deacons in discerning God’s Word for God’s People, we all begin to see that each of us needs the power of the community’s prayer to fulfill Christ’s mission given to each of us of preaching the good news. Your homilists rely on your prayers as they prepare their homilies, and they depend on your mercy and kindness when they fall short. So pray for them, and ask them to pray for you that you may hear and live God’s Word more clearly. For by our baptism we all share this sacred work of preaching the Gospel by our lives.
Image credit: Photo by Carolyn V on Unsplash.