I read an article a few years ago with the title “How to Survive a Sermon”. It was a great reflection making one key point: there are as many people involved in the work of the homily as there are people in the church that morning.
While the preacher does have a central role, the homily is not an entertainment with a performer paid to do all the work – research, translation and presentation. Instead every person who hears the priest is a part of the team that that produces a good homily.
As a small child I would often spend weekends with my grandparents on their farm. The Sunday morning ten-minute drive to their small country church was never as interesting as the trip home when Grandma and Grandad would together pick the priest’s homily to pieces.
Back home over breakfast saveloys and throughout the day as family dropped in, the homily would often come up in conversation – more critique, more discussion, often with strong opinions about what the priest should have said, or how he could have made the scriptures more relevant to South Canterbury farmers and their families.
Most priests find the preparation and presentation of the homily a challenge. We priests are aware that in a congregation of a couple of hundred people the full diversity of the human race is represented. How is it possible for one speaker in five minutes to communicate something that stirs every mind and touches every heart?
We can also admit that most people find homilies to be the most unsatisfying part of the Mass. It’s good that the people expect more, but one wise parishioner commented once that even if the priest repeated the word “rhubarb” one hundred times for five minutes as his homily, the person who had listened to the scriptures and was praying with open mind and heart would hear God speak powerfully through the preacher’s rhubarbs1
Which brings me to a new Food For Faith project: The Homily Studio. The plan is each week to have three or four people ponder the scripture readings of the following Sunday, not as an outline from which a preacher might cut and paste, but as food for faith and a conversation starter.
Our hope is that those parishioners and preachers who take time to listen to the weekly podcasts might be helped to make connections with their own lives, and more ready to hear the Holy Spirit speak directly to them through the Sunday scriptures.
You can listen to this week’s Homily Studio, my conversation with Kath Petrie, Merv Duffy SM and Catherine Gibbs, by clicking on the image below, and sign up to receive these mid-week by checking “homily studio’ at this link.