If you are a homilist, you know what it is like to look out at the assembly on Sunday and see a sluggish, disengaged assembly. Most people may not even be looking at you. And those who are, are staring and stone-faced, arms crossed, almost daring you to be interesting.
Most homilists want to be compelling, even stirring in their preaching. They want the assembly to be engaged and energized. Mostly, homilists want their listeners to hear the word of God more deeply and be moved, at least a little bit, to a deeper level of faith.
It is discouraging to preach every Sunday and receive little or no reaction. And it is easy to blame the listeners for not paying more attention or trying a little harder to engage. But at the end of the day, the only person you can change is yourself. If week after week your homilies are not connecting, it’s time to do something different.
I think most homilists know this, and yet they continue to preach in the same manner, not really doing anything different and not getting any different result. Why is this?It is discouraging to preach every Sunday and receive little or no reaction. But if week after week your homilies are not connecting, it’s time to do something different. Click To Tweet
It is definitely not for lack of resources. Just google “How to improve homilies,” and you could give yourself a master class on preaching. The roots of homilies that do not engage your assembly are deeper than not knowing how to improve your skills. If you really examine your heart, you may discover that your current preaching style keeps you safe.
If that is true for you, here are five roadblocks you may have to overcome before your preaching will begin to connect with your Sunday assembly.
Lack of self-confidence
All change is risky, especially a change in something so creative and vulnerable as proclaiming your faith publicly to hundreds and hundreds of people. It takes confidence to stand in front of people and say firmly, “This is what I believe.” I often hear homilists tell me what the scriptures say or what the Catechism says or what the pope says. I hear them tell me what I should believe. But I seldom hear them say in an authentic way what they believe.
Life is stressful. You have dozens of number-one, house-on-fire priorities on your plate right now. Preaching usually doesn’t rise to a level of urgency that requires you give it your full attention. It is safer to respond to a “bigger” crisis first. No one sees you spending a day or more writing your homily. Lots of people see you expertly handling parish or family troubles.
Fear of failure
If your routine so far has been to churn out an average, serviceable homily each week, you know that works. You have gotten good at preaching at a level that is “good enough.” But if you try to stretch for excellence, who knows what could happen? You might fall on your face. You might completely blow it. You want to avoid the Icarus effect. So you stay calm and cool, well below the sun, knowing that there is no chance of getting burned.
For some of us, we like the ease of nestling into a system we have mastered. If everything is going smoothly, and no one is complaining, why rock the boat? The irony is that just about every gospel you are called to preach on is about rocking the boat.
Lack of faith
When I think about my own roadblocks that keep me from improving in important areas in my life (like becoming a better writer), they all really boil down to this one. I just don’t fully believe God’s promises to me. I don’t believe I have enough gifts, enough strength, enough creativity to do everything that is expected of me. If you really want to be a better homilist, start with this prayer: “God, show me the next small step I have to take to be the preacher you made me to be.” And if you are super honest with yourself and discover you don’t really want to improve, that your preaching is just fine as is, start with this prayer: “God make me want to want to be a better preacher.”