Good Preaching Needs Listening and Learning
Homilies must be relevant to those who hear them, and there are ways to achieve that, as KELVIN BANDA OP explains. Religious orders or congregations tend not to train their members on how to give a good homily. It is the people whom we serve who aid us in preparing and giving our best homilies.
The service of religious ought to be full of God’s pure love. Consequently, as preachers, if we are not thinking of service and better ways to serve God in people, then that means we are not thinking about the mission of Christ: proclaiming to all the nations (Mt 28:9).
As a people chosen, set apart to serve, we need to have a standard — QSCV: quality, service, cleanliness and value — towards the people of God.
People we serve must be valued, loved and cared for. The QSCV standard will encourage them to return and appreciate our services.
Service is not a matter of showing off; it is letting God work through you and me. Thus by being instruments of God, we become instruments of service.
This brings in a spirit of humility — a skill of listening to the divine voice of God and applying what the voice is entrusting to us.
In addition to service, preachers need to build a partnership with others. We need to interact with others in order to diversify our preaching.
This may be done through learning additional methods or techniques of preaching; how to develop a homily; or preach a retreat to different groups of people.
We need to build strong, mutually beneficial relationships among ourselves to enhance the preaching ministry. We always need to seek new ways to better our preaching alliances.
Preach ‘sign of the times’
Preaching is not all about searching for a homily saved on a computer that was preached four years previously and simply reading it to parishioners. Preaching, as Fr Albert Nolan OP has put it, must move with “the signs of the times”.
This can be achieved through our alliances with other religious or priests.
It is not a sin to seek advice from our own brothers and sisters on how they manage to give wonderful and moving homilies or retreats that bring people closer to God. It is an attitude we need to develop, practise and appreciate. It is a strategy that has to be developed, and should continue to be developed, for as long as we remain preachers of God’s word.
Furthermore, the quality of an individual’s preaching is important. If a preacher always begins a homily with a story that is out of context, then it could indicate that he has not studied well the signs of the times — the needs of the people being preached to.
Preaching must speak to the current situations people are facing or undergoing. It is indeed good to recount stories; however, stories or examples must be linked to the signs of the times—they must hit or touch and be able, if possible, to heal the wounds people are suffering from.
As ministers of God, we need to manage a parish-driven preaching strategy; a preacher needs to know the needs of the parishioners.
Parishioners stand in the centre of our preaching ministry. No one can be called to preach unless there is someone to be preached to. The goal must be to preach so that parishioners find value, happiness, peace, love and healing in what is being preached, and also helping them to build strong relationships with God, between family members, and with others.
Above all, preaching must be parishioner-valued. This means that, before a homilist preaches, he must have analysed and engaged with parishioners to find out what difficulties or problems they are encountering — economic, political, psychological-emotional, or social — and the sufferings as well as the joys they are encountering.
A preacher requires a careful parishioner analysis for a given context. The parishioners we hope to save or preach to have different needs.
The task of a preacher is to divide up the total of one’s reflection or homily, choose segments that are best suited to its strengths; to revamp, revive and empower the souls of people—empower people spiritually. The word of God must be the natural environment that nourishes humanity.
Therefore, as preachers, we must win parishioners from the roaring lion, the devil; keep them by allowing God to be God of their lives through delivering greater and valued homilies that challenge, change, touch and heal them.
The change of an individual’s interior life is God’s work, not ours. Our homilies must be nothing but the best, imparting messages that suit the signs of the times guiding our people to God.
Preachers need to be wise enough to focus their efforts on meeting specific spiritual needs of individual parishioners.
Parishioners are interested in more than just a homily or a story told to them; they are interested in the full package of the homily that will help them find peace; that will uplift them; that will make them have the “aha-experience”.
They need a two-way communication — their spiritual expectations being met and nourished upon having listened to the word of God.