How to Preach Better Homilies
By Colleen Constable – I’m inspired by Pope Francis’ ability to be a world pastor, spiritual director and preacher par excellence.
He is known to go off-script and yet be able to deliver passionate homilies. His preaching is read by millions across the globe as his perspectives offer food for thought in a real world. He is in touch with the lived experiences of ordinary people across the world.
Pope Francis seems to be aware that at times priests struggle to deliver relevant and inspiring homilies. Yet it seems he believes it is within the capacity of every priest to preach the Gospel.
He has called on preachers to prepare their homilies diligently and to impart the Word of God with joy.
Pope Francis has asked that homilies not be boring but “touch the heart of the people because they come from your heart”.
According to research, some Catholics who leave the Church to join Evangelical churches do so because of poor homilies.
Many Catholics have lamented the quality of homilies and the challenge of listening attentively to poor ones. Sometimes these homilies may lack context for an adult congregation and could have been delivered to pre-schoolers.
Homilies Reveal Much About a Priest?
It is in the homily that the level of spiritual depth of the priest is revealed to his congregation, like an open book. He may be seen to be standing firm in his faith and his personal intimacy with the Triune God which is expressed as an inspiring example for parishioners. Or his lack of intimacy with God becomes a damper on people who know what it means to live a true Catholic faith in a modern world.
Of course, it is not easy to preach a good homily—many priests stress this point. However, there are priests who preach good homilies—homilies preached from the heart.
Such priests demonstrate strong devotion which is easily observed in their reverence for the Mass. So, what more could be done to assist priests?
There is a lot of advice and many ideas on the Internet of what makes a good homily and how to “ace” it.
Lay people advise that preparation is important. Hang out with parishioners to learn to listen and ask questions; focus on the readings; consult resources; set up a small committee whose members can act as homily consultants; do not “talk down” to the congregation and include personal experiences of faith in the homily.
Humility is Essential
But there are also personal attributes. Humility is essential—the priesthood of Christ is a humble priesthood.
Ongoing spiritual development for priests to deepen their faith is obligatory. Learning never stops, even if we think we are learned.
In parishes, support and skills development in the form of an informal small committee could indeed be helpful.
Such homily advisory committees should comprise prayerful, Spirit-filled parishioners who offer honest feedback to the priest about the quality of his homilies, advise him on areas of improvement, and give him a “reality-check” about the everyday, real-world challenges of parishioners and their spiritual expectations.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that stagnation of a priest’s ministry in a parish is observable after the third year. By the fifth year, some priests are no longer energised by their congregation and vice versa.
There are exceptions, of course. Some priests have succeeded in striking a balance through good-servant leadership, a deep spiritual life, and preaching inspiring homilies.
But it would seem that moving clergy after three-year periods is an advisable option.
Many of us will agree with Pope Francis that homilies should not be boring. Homilies must serve their function of passing on the Word of God to open ears and hearts.