Tuesday, February 6, 2024

Pay Attention to the Homilies

The homilies I hear at Sunday Mass are generally very good. You can tell the priests and deacons put a lot of time and effort into preparing their sermons. I can’t imagine how hard it must be to come up with something each and every week. 

Oh, wait. Maybe I can imagine that, since I write these Merry Catholic essays every week. What I meant to say is: I can’t imagine how hard it must be to come up with something INTERESTING each and every week.
Personally, I really like it when the homilist at Mass has his sermon written down. There are some priests and deacons who memorize their presentation, and while I admire and envy that skill, it often causes one of two problems. First, sometimes he forgets a key point, and so the homily isn’t nearly as effective as it could’ve been. The second problem is that he forgets that most people can’t pay attention for more than seven minutes, and when he drones on and on, sharing every random thought that pops into his head, half the congregation keeps glancing at their watches and muttering, “I can’t believe he’s been talking for 20 minutes! What are we, Baptists?!”

Maybe the main reason why I like it when the homilist at Mass has his sermon written down, is the fact that if I were up there talking, I would be so nervous I would forget all my key points, and then I’d fill the time by sharing every random thought and every personal story that popped into my head. No doubt my awkward, rambling, far-too-long performance would guarantee that half the congregation goes home after Mass and investigates other church denominations to join. (“Let’s try this church next week, Louise. I know they’re Baptist, but at least their ministers PREPARE their sermons in advance.”)

Anyway, as I mentioned earlier, I have been hearing some very good homilies at Mass lately. And I appreciate how much hard work goes into composing an essay that explains one or more important theological points — and in a manner that people of varying ages and educational levels can understand — all-the-while being based on that day’s Scripture readings. That is not an easy thing to do. Especially considering there is an acute priest shortage nowadays, and the priests we do have rarely have adequate time during the week to fine-tune and rehearse their compositions. 
I’ve noticed something in recent years. Depending on the parish, the ordained permanent deacon may only have an opportunity to preach once per month. When the weekend rolls around when it’s his turn to give the homily at each Mass, the deacon is usually very, very prepared. I’ve known many deacons over the years, and one told me he often begins to work on his homilies three weeks in advance. I’m sure very few parish priests have this luxury, since their schedules are way too busy. Plus it’s tough to think about a sermon topic three weeks from now when you haven’t prepared anything for three HOURS from now.

We all should be listening attentively to the homily at Mass. After all, the homily is supposed to explain and build upon the divine message contained in that day’s Scripture readings. And of course, the Scriptures are the inspired Word of God. So, the homilist has been given the solemn responsibility of preaching and teaching the Good News of the Gospel; that is, the awesome story of God offering salvation to a sinful world. It really is, as the old movie title declared, “The Greatest Story Ever Told.”

Please pay attention during the homily, especially when it’s the deacon’s turn to preach. Don’t lose sight of how difficult it is to write something inspiring and then present it in front of a crowd. And when you hear words that help you grow in your faith, don’t hesitate to tell the priest or deacon that you appreciate his efforts. You have no idea how much that will mean to him. 

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