Tag Archives: meditation

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.

Thanksgiving 24-7

14 Nov

At least in my experience, God’s will is not always been easy to discern, even with the assistance of prayer and spiritual direction. Sure, I know the boundaries of moral decision-making. For example, under no circumstances may I legitimately choose to do evil, even to get something good. Further, I must fulfill the duties and obligations that go with my state in life as a husband, father, grandfather, deacon candidate, and employee.

But what exactly does God want me to do? The answer usually isn’t black and white. We make what seems to us to be the right choice, and pray that God will bless our sincere desire to do His will and that He will continue to make His will for us known with ever greater clarity.

For this reason, I think that one of the most remarkable verses in all of Scripture is 1 Thessalonians 5:18, in which Saint Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, writes: “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

So while we might struggle in discerning our vocation in life, whether to take a certain job, or even how to spend our next vacation, when it comes to giving thanks–in other words, manifesting the virtue of gratitudeGod’s will is right there in Scripture for all to see. There’s absolutely no mystery or guesswork about it. God explicitly wills that we give thanks in all circumstances.

Many times in Scripture we hear Our Lord say something along the lines of “Let those with ears hear.” In other words, He’s telling the crowd not simply to let His teachings go in one ear but out the other. I think 1 Thessalonians 5:18 is one of those verses that requires an attentive, meditative disposition if we are truly going to “get it.” Continue reading

The Family Rosary

6 Oct

Back in 2002, Pope John Paul II issued a document entitled The Rosary of the Virgin Mary to foster a renewed devotion to the Rosary in the new millennium. This magnificent teaching was for all the faithful, but in a very special way the Pope was reaching out to families. Here is what he said to us:

“A similar need for commitment and prayer arises in relation to another critical contemporary issue: the family, the primary cell of society, increasingly menaced by forces of disintegration on both the ideological and practical planes, so as to make us fear for the future of this fundamental and indispensable institution and, with it, for the future of society as a whole. The revival of the Rosary in Christian families, within the context of a broader pastoral ministry to the family, will be an effective aid to countering the devastating effects of this crisis” (no. 6).

It’s not an overstatement, then, to say that the family Rosary can and must play a pivotal role in the renewal of our society. For that reason, especially during this month devoted to the Rosary, I want to encourage families to make the Rosary part of their daily life. Continue reading

Beautiful Game

23 Sep

In his spiritual classic Introduction to the Devout Life, St. Francis de Sales writes, “The most important thing of all . . . is that you cling firmly to the resolutions you have taken in meditation, so as to practice them carefully.”

This insight really hit home this morning, as I look forward to my son Samuel’s soccer tournament, which begins this evening. Sam’s a fine young player, and the games are so much fun to watch. No wonder it’s called the “beautiful game.”

At the beginning of the season, Sam’s enthusiastic coach gave all the players a CD containing inspirational music, including Wavin’ Flag, the theme song for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard that song in the car as I shuttle kids to and from soccer practices and games.

It’s now come to the point that I can be sitting at my desk or on the sofa, and the song will pop into my consciousness. For a moment I think of the beautiful game, and then I redirect my attention to whatever I happen to be doing.

It seems to me that God’s Word, as well as our own “resolutions” or applications drawn from the slow repetition of lectio divina, should also be so deeply rooted in us that it comes back to us from time to time during the day, drawing us to a renewed love and zeal. Sure, we need reminders, such as crucifixes and godly friends, but as people of prayer–as people who, after the example of Our Lady, hear the Word and keep it (see Luke 2:19, 51; 11:27-28)–it seems to me that the best means of calling to mind our resolutions is to have God’s Word so deeply ingrained in us that it’s never too far from our minds and hearts.

I know that I often rush through my prayer, and when I do, what I prayed about doesn’t come back to me very often during the day. But when I chew on a passage of Scripture over and over again, it does come back to me during the day, often at times when I most need a reminder.

I really don’t mind having the soccer song pop into my mind every so often, but even more, I desire to remember resolutions made in my prayer, lest the Word of God be without effect in my life (see 1 Sam. 3:19).

This day, let us take our cue from today’s beloved saint, Padre Pio of Pietrelcina who, despite the great things God did in and through him, simply wanted to be known as “a poor Franciscan who prays.”