All posts tagged: homilies

Effective Preaching, From a Listener—Part 2

In the first article of this series, I talked about effectiveness as “preaching that sinks in like good butter on warm toast.” Much is written about the “good butter” that a homilist is to prepare. In the last segment we talked about the Holy Spirit who is the source of that “sinking in.” But what makes for “warm toast?” What would be helpful for preachers to know to help us listeners to grow in faith?[1] First, understand what our lives are like. Week after week, you are like a rock star. As you walk thirty feet or drive 60 miles to the church building to say Mass, hundreds, maybe thousands of us are getting ready to hear you. After the fight with the ten-year-old over brushing his teeth, after changing the diaper or the bandages, after putting on the knee brace or the hearing aids, we turn the handle to the church door, file in and slide into the pew. Phew! We got here. Do you know how much effort it takes for us all …

Dying to Christ

“In that day, says the LORD, courage shall fail both king and princes; the priests shall be appalled and the prophets astounded.” Then I said, “Ah, Lord GOD, surely thou hast utterly deceived this people and Jerusalem, saying, `It shall be well with you’; whereas the sword has reached their very life.” My anguish, my anguish! I writhe in pain! Oh, the walls of my heart! My heart is beating wildly; I cannot keep silent; for I hear the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war. Disaster follows hard on disaster, the whole land is laid waste. Suddenly my tents are destroyed, my curtains in a moment. How long must I see the standard, and hear the sound of the trumpet? “For my people are foolish, they know me not; they are stupid children, they have no understanding. They are skilled in doing evil, but how to do good they know not.” I looked on the earth, and lo, it was waste and void; and to the heavens, and they had no light. I …

Effective Preaching, From a Listener—Part 1

There is a mystery dimension to effectiveness in Catholic preaching. For example, I can sit in a pew with five faith-filled folks who hear the same homily and one will say, “Wasn’t that inspiring?” while another will shrug, “meh. . .” A lay preaching student told me that when she was in Preaching I class, she analyzed Pope Francis’ homilies for why he so touched people and wondered, “Just as an experiment, if I preached those same homilies, would they have the same outcome?” In the twentieth chapter of Acts, St. Paul preached on and on—so long that a young man was overcome by sleep and fell out of a window; yet the folks in Troas continued to listen to Paul speak on and on until daybreak. So what is “effectiveness” in Catholic preaching? And how do we get to “it” in ordinary homiletic practice? As Fr. Michael Connors, C.S.C. and I have been preparing for the Notre Dame Marten Program’s conference next summer—“To Set the Earth on Fire: Effective Catholic Preaching”—we have had in-depth …

Effective Catholic Preaching—Part 4

This is the fourth and final installment in our series examining the characteristics of effective preaching in the Catholic tradition today. You could call this a postscript, “What Not to Say or Do in Preaching for Effectiveness.” Here are some admonitions I give myself: Avoid moralizing. We have a lot of moralistic preaching today, I think. I’ve heard moralisms of the right (which usually have to do with sexual morality) and moralisms of the left (social justice). Moralism is moral challenge without the love relationship which makes discipline and right action desirable and achievable. Is there moral challenge in the Gospel of Jesus Christ? You bet, and plenty of it. But it is grounded in a vision of joyful discipleship, as Pope Francis continues to remind us. Before you challenge, you need really Good News to plug people into, making meeting your challenge possible. Avoid using the words should, ought, and must in preaching. However true or well-intentioned, those words sound dictatorial rather than persuasive. Lead people into the arms of God and they will …

Ambitious in Humility

Brothers and sisters, in relations with one another, clothe yourselves with humility, because God “is stern with the arrogant but to the humble he shows kindness.” Bow humbly before God’s mighty hand, so that in due time he may lift you high. Cast all your cares on him because he cares for you. Stay sober and alert. Your opponent the devil is prowling like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, solid in your faith, realizing that the brotherhood of believers is undergoing the same sufferings throughout the world. The God of grace, who called you to his everlasting glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish those who have suffered a little while. Dominion be his throughout the ages! Amen. (1 Pet 5:5b–11) Entering Notre Dame through the main entrance, one passes by Cedar Grove Cemetery. I sometimes think of the dead, welcoming us to this university, imploring us to use our time here wisely, reminding us that death comes for us all and urging us to think of …

St. Matthew, Child of God

Reading: Ephesians 4:1-7, 11-13 Brothers and sisters, I, a prisoner for the Lord, Urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received With all humility and gentleness, with patience, Bearing with one another through love, Striving to preserve the unity of the Spirit Through the bond of peace: One Body and one Spirit, As you were also called to the one hope of your call: One Lord, one faith, one baptism; One God and Father of all, Who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each of us According to the measure of the Christ’s gift. And he gave some as Apostles, others as prophets, Others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers To equip the holy ones for the work of ministry, For building up that Body of Christ Until we all attain to the unity of faith And knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, To the extent of the full stature of Christ. And he gave some as …

Improving Catholic Homilies, Part 3: Explain the Liturgy

I have in parts one and two of this series dedicated to improving Catholic homilies suggested two major pieces of advice. First, avoid homilies that are unfocused and difficult to absorb by driving home only one important point per homily. Second, avoid sentimental moralism by grounding every homily message in the Good News of what God has done for us as the foundation of anything we might need to do. I might in addition suggest a handful of other ideas to help improve Catholic homilies. One would be simply to make time to prepare homilies. Priests are often so busy that preparing homilies can get short shrift. But focused preparation is essential to a good homily. I might also suggest keeping homilies to less than ten minutes long. There again, the adage “less is more” pertains when it comes to communicating a key point effectively. But I think one other substantive suggestion is particularly important. Homilies should take advantage of opportunities to explain various parts of the Church’s liturgical practices throughout the Church year. Many …

Improving Catholic Homilies, Part 2: Less Moralism, More Gospel

In the first installment of this series, I addressed one problem with Catholic homilies: the tendency to focus on too many points, rather than a single teaching or idea woven throughout the homily. The second common problem with bad Catholic homilies is this: far too many preachers neglect the Christian Gospel, true evangelization, and instead merely peddle sentimental moralism. Too often Catholic homilies are bad because they do not always work from and toward the amazingly Great News of the Christian Gospel. The center and key of all reality is that God the Father has primordially loved every human being from all eternity and is at work reconciling each of us and our entire sinful world to himself in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Now that is great news! And that Gospel message is the only and totally sufficient basis, orientation, and motivation from which all of Christian faith and life must be believed and lived. There is no other foundation, no other reason, no other energy than this Good News …

Preaching Beauty

Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. . . . You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would not have been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. (Augustine, Confessions X: XXVII) As I sat on the bus, the sunshine of the morning sky flickered through the windows. We wound up and up through the hills toward the Golan Heights in upper Galilee. As we bounced and jostled, I realized how deeply early sandbox experiences of the warmth of the sun have impacted my image of God. I also wondered, as we drove north from Nazareth, how the radiance of the sunshine and the tenderness of the early morning breezes impacted Jesus’ youngest images of God his …

Improving Catholic Homilies, Part 1: One Point at a Time

It is common knowledge that the homilies offered in many Catholic parishes (how can one say this charitably?) often have a lot of room for improvement. The quality of Catholic homilies, of course, varies widely according to the specific parish and priest involved. I have actually heard some of the best sermons of my life in Catholic Masses. But I have also heard plenty of lousy homilies too. So, if the common view on Catholic homilies has at least some basis in fact, it can only strengthen the Church if those responsible for offering homilies consider ways to improve them. As a sociologist of religion who has studied and reflected upon church meetings and sermons for many years, I suggest the following, which I think can significantly improve the quality of many Catholic homilies. One of the main reasons that homilies and sermons are bad is because they are unfocused; they try to make too many points at once. If so, that problem is readily fixable. How? Before addressing this problem, let us remember as …