Homily Help

17 Dec

Homily HelpPope Francis devotes a substantial portion (paragraphs 135-59) of his apostolic exhortation on the joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium, or “EG”) to the preparation and delivery of homilies, as he recognizes their pivotal role in the proclamation of the Gospel.

One cannot help but chuckle at the Holy Father’s opening comment that homilies can be a source of suffering for ordained ministers and the faithful alike (EG 135). Yet, the fact that most people will readily nod their heads at this light-hearted comment shows that the Church too often falls short in this area. For this reason, it is refreshing that the Pope would pay such meticulous attention to all that goes into the preparation of a homily, recognizing that through the homily God reaches out in love to His people (EG 136).

The Pope stresses the liturgical, Eucharistic context of the homily, which requires that the homily is less a time for meditation or catechesis than it is a time for an encounter between God and the community (EG 137). The homily is a distinctive type of presentation, one that is neither “entertainment” nor a dry speech or lecture (EG 138). It should not be so long that the minister, rather than the Lord Himself, becomes the center of attention.

Pope Francis reminds us that the Church is our mother.  Her preaching should be likened to the way a mother speaks to her child. The faithful should always come away from a homily knowing that they are loved and trusting that the Church has their best interests at heart (EG 139). This “warmth” is fostered by preaching in the faithful’s native language (EG 139) and by the engaging, joyful, and unpretentious manner of the homilist (EG 140-41).

The Holy Father considers preaching to be something much more than the cold, detached communication of truth. Rather, in the homily, truth goes hand in hand with beauty and goodness and is thereby ordered to a heart-to-heart encounter with the Lord (EG 142). This emphasis on the heart is a game-changer, as it moves the typical response from one of boredom to one of authentic fervor (EG 143). Still, it’s not enough that our hearts be on fire; they must also be enlightened by the fullness of divine Revelation (EG 144). This Revelation gives us our identity and makes us desire the embrace of our heavenly Father.

Pope Francis then turns to the important subject of homily preparation. He says that a “prolonged” period of study, prayer, reflection, and “pastoral creativity” must be devoted to the homily. A preacher who does not take this admonition to heart is, according to the Holy Father, “dishonest and irresponsible” (EG 145).

The homilist prayerfully approaches the Mass readings. These biblical texts must provide the subject matter for the homily. The ordained minister manifests “reverence for the truth” by patiently and humbly striving to understand the meaning of a particular text (EG 146). While every detail is important, the preacher must never lose sight of the primary message that the sacred author is trying to convey. For example, “if a text was written to console, it should not be used to correct errors” (EG 147).

Also, to ensure that a passage is not taken out of context, it must be read in light of “the entire Bible handed on by the Church” (EG 148; cf. Catechism, no. 112).

A point of emphasis for Pope Francis is that the preacher must have “a great personal familiarity with the Word of God” (EG 149). He’s not referring here to scholarly erudition, but rather holiness. “Whoever wants to preach must be the first to let the Word of God move him deeply and become incarnate in his daily life” (EG 150). People “thirst for authenticity,” and this thirst can only be quenched by preachers who are living witnesses to what they preach.

In fact, Pope Francis quite bluntly states that a homilist who does not spend time with the Word of God in prayer is “a false prophet, a fraud, a shallow imposter” (EG 151).

As one traditional way of listening to God’s Word, the Holy Father recommends lectio divina. Such a meditative reading of Scripture begins with a study of the literal sense of the text but then leads to the consideration of the spiritual senses, so as to bring about personal enlightenment and renewal in Christ (EG 152; cf. Catechism, nos. 116-17). We must never stop taking pleasure in the daily encounter with God’s Word! (EG 153).

The Pope then turns to the question of how to bring the message to the people. He says that it’s not a matter of “shrewdness or calculation” but a matter of “evangelical discernment,” which leads the preacher in the Spirit to say what the people really need to hear (EG 154). Therefore, the homilist must not seek to answer questions people don’t have, nor should he strive simply to be hip or interesting—the Pope says we have TV for that! (EG 155).

The Holy Father says homilists should frequently use “images” that help the faithful connect the message to their own lives (EG 157). The best homilies are simple, clear, direct, and well-adapted to the audience (EG 158). And, in the concluding the section, Pope Francis calls for homilies that are “positive” (EG 159), which offer hope, point to the future, and offer attractive ways to grow in love of God and neighbor.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: