Introducing the weekly homily studio.
Increasingly the internet has become an important tool for preachers in preparing their homilies and sermons. This essential research, partnered with the preachers personal intimacy with Christ, and pastoral and practical immersion in the joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the people, is the stuff of homily preparation.
Unlike some preachers, I enjoy the homily preparation process. Most times I end up with too many ideas, and more material than I can use in a 7 minute reflection. In the past few years I have blogged some of these ideas through the following weeks. Often the material is set aside unused.
Each week I will upload a post entitled “homily studio,” followed by the date of the relevant Sunday eg 26 Jan. An artist’s studio is usually a bit of a mess with bits and pieces of potentially useful stuff all over the place. That’s what this page is like, a place where early each week I will drop a selection of possible homily starters and resources for the following Sunday. It is up to the preacher then to pick and choose from the smorgasbord of possibilities.
I hope you find it helpful
Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
26 January 2014
Words which set hearts on fire – some encouragement for the preacher from Pope Francis’ “The Joy of the Gospel” (par 142 – 143)
142. Dialogue is much more than the communication of a truth. It arises from the enjoyment of speaking and it enriches those who express their love for one another through the medium of words. This is an enrichment which does not consist in objects but in persons who share themselves in dialogue. A preaching which would be purely moralistic or doctrinaire, or one which turns into a lecture on biblical exegesis, detracts from this heart-to-heart communication which takes place in the homily and possesses a quasi-sacramental character: “Faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes by the preaching of Christ” (Rom 10:17). In the homily, truth goes hand in hand with beauty and goodness. Far from dealing with abstract truths or cold syllogisms, it communicates the beauty of the images used by the Lord to encourage the practice of good. The memory of the faithful, like that of Mary, should overflow with the wondrous things done by God. Their hearts, growing in hope from the joyful and practical exercise of the love which they have received, will sense that each word of Scripture is a gift before it is a demand.
143. The challenge of an inculturated preaching consists in proclaiming a synthesis, not ideas or detached values. Where your synthesis is, there lies your heart. The difference between enlightening people with a synthesis and doing so with detached ideas is like the difference between boredom and heartfelt fervour. The preacher has the wonderful but difficult task of joining loving hearts, the hearts of the Lord and his people. The dialogue between God and his people further strengthens the covenant between them and consolidates the bond of charity. In the course of the homily, the hearts of believers keep silence and allow God to speak. The Lord and his people speak to one another in a thousand ways directly, without intermediaries. But in the homily they want someone to serve as an instrument and to express their feelings in such a way that afterwards, each one may chose how he or she will continue the conversation. The word is essentially a mediator and requires not just the two who dialogue but also an intermediary who presents it for what it is, out of the conviction that “what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Cor 4:5).
- A brief online commentary on each of this Sunday’s readings
A few of my thoughts:
- In his commentary on today’s scripture Scott Hahn gives a brief and useful explanation of the importance of Zebulun and Naphtali. This kingdom promised to David will fall, but the restoration will be seen “precisely at the spot” where the Kingdom fell. Isaiah prophesies this new beginning in the welcome hope: “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light” This hope is remembered in today’s gospel. If you think some of your listeners are familiar with Handel’s great oratoria “Messiah” perhaps reminding them of the bass aria of this text. You might take five minutes now to sit back, relax, savour the prophecy now at this link.
- You could make a link between the great light of Isaiah’s prophesy and the feasts of light over the past month: Christmas, Epiphany, Baptism of the Lord, John the Baptist.
- The psalm is often forgotten in preaching, but it always provides a great catch-phrase for the people to take home. It is the only text that the people pray together four or five times in the liturgy, and therefore provides a useful prayer on which to hang all the messages of the liturgy. Remember “Here I am Lord, I come to do your will” from last Sunday. This Sunday we will pray four times together “The Lord is my light and my salvation” another great pray for the week ahead. We used to call these brief prayers “ejaculations” but I suggest you avoid the term in preaching! Alternatively these brief prayers were called “aspirations” and that would be a good term to reintroduce into Christian prayer.
- And another thought on the psalm: John Brook, who studied with me at Holy Cross in the early 1980’s wrote a very popular little guide to the psalms arranged according to the weeks of the Prayer of the Church: “The School of Prayer: an introduction to the Divine Office for All Christians” (1992). In his commentary on this Psalm 27 he reflects on the second stanza (as structured for this Sunday: “There is one thing I ask of the Lord, for this I long…” John comments that “The psalmist is like Mary the sister of Martha, Mary who chose ‘the one thing necessary’ to life…” (p.178). This is also reminiscent of Augustine: ‘You have created us for yourself O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.’
- From all accounts the Church in Corinth was struggling in a climate of all kinds of art, philosophy and vice. We shouldn’t look on them as the baddies – because their situation is much like we find in our own cities and countries today. So Paul is writing to us as he begins his first letter to the “Church of God which is at Corinth.“. Note especially how Paul begins the letter which is the second reading for this Sunday. There is firstly an affectionate greeting (v.1-3) then an encouragement (v.4-9) then today’s reading begins at v.10 with a passionate appeal NOT against the sexual sinners (that seemed to be a bit of a hobby among the locals), but against the gossipers, the quarrelers and the dissenters (v.10ff.) Too often our parishes and communities ignore the harm caused by casual character asassination. A preacher following in the path of Paul would not tolerate this.
- We could also use this second reading to address the scandal of division among Christians. Perhaps our lukewarm approach to real ecumenism needs to be challenged. If you are in the dioceses of Auckland or Hamilton you could take the opportunity to mention Bishop John Mackey who died this week (20 January) quoting from his “Reflections on Church History:”
“History has split the community of believers,
but it has not split the saving work of Christ
or the presence of His Spirit
in all of those who turn to Him in faith.
May the little I have written be a token
of my respect for the devotion of so many who love the Lord
and love His Church in their own traditions.
“Reflections on Church History” 1975 p.viii
- And to the Gospel Reading: The first words of a new leader on a new mission are always memorable and often quoted. Remember JFK’s inaugural address “…ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country. (video) Then there was Princess Elizabeth’s first public speech on her 21st birthday, five years before she became queen: “I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong”. (video). If you had been chosen for a new role and were giving your first public address you would choose your words very carefully. In today’s gospel we hear the first words of Jesus public ministry: “Repent and believe the good news.” He follows this with a personal invitation to the first disciples: “Come follow me.”
- Too often “repentance” is limited to a confessional listing of wrongdoing and an acceptance of penance and absolution. This is necessary, but one who settles for this limited understanding of the ritual risks missing the point. The original Greek text emphasises John the Baptist’s call as a metanoia rather than a simple repentance. Wikipedia gives a useful insight into the depth of conversion called for by metanoia:
“change of Mind, a change in the trend and action of the whole inner nature, intellectual, affectional and moral.” This meaning of metanoia as a “transmutation” of consciousness contrasts with classical Greek in which the word expressed a superficial change of mind. It was in its use in the New Testament and in writings grounded in the New Testament that the depth of metanoia increased until it came “to express that mighty change in mind, heart, and life wrought by the Spirit of God”. ref wikipedia, metanoia (Theology)
- note that this “mighty change” wrought not by my own discipline or desire, but by the Spirit of God. This is what happens for the first disciples. When they were encountered by Jesus something happened in them that changed every aspect of their lives, indeed every word, every action, every thought and every breath.
- This is why the heart of evangelization (and the purpose of preaching) is to help people to see their own need for this radical and personal encounter with Jesus, and to increase in those who hear a desire for this meeting. Everything else is the fruit of this experience.
If you are one of the many who find Fr. Robert Barron’s homily podcasts helpful you can hear his reflection on these readings (3rd Sun. Ord. Time Year A) in 2011 at this link, and 2014 at this link.