Continuing Canon Anthony’s reflections on the Eucharist as we approach the feast of Corpus Christi.
One of the presents I received on my 60th birthday was a little book titled 101 Things To Do During a Dull Sermon. Last year a parishioner sent each of us priests a more helpful book, Preaching Better: Practical Suggestions for Homilists, written by a bishop, Ken Untener. The bishop suggests that the task of the homilist is to help the flow of what Christ is doing, for Christ is the leader of all liturgical prayer. He suggests that the first thing the priest must do in preparing a homily is to stand humbly before the Lord.
Several times, Pope Francis has commented on the length of sermons. In February this year he encouraged priests to keep their homilies to ‘no more than eight to ten minutes’ and always include in them ‘a thought, a feeling and an image,’ so that ‘the people may bring something home with them’.
But he also said that the faithful in their pews need to do their part. He encouraged us to read the Bible more regularly so we can better understand the readings at Mass. How many of us look at the readings before we come to church on Sunday? As one writer said:
‘The homily should be part of an active relationship between preacher and parish. None of us, speaking or listening, should stop trying to improve the experience. Revelation is not revelation unless it is received. All of us can help our preachers feel that they are talking to people who are listening. And those listening might get a little more out of it.’
I find as a priest, that I often don’t give sufficient time to preparing my homily. I am responding to the urgent things of the week rather than dealing with the important things. Yet, as we are reminded in the Catechism of the Catholic Church — Bishops, with priests as co-workers, have as their first task ‘to preach the Gospel of God to all men,’ in keeping with the Lord’s command. They are ‘heralds of faith, who draw new disciples to Christ; they are authentic teachers [of the apostolic faith] endowed with the authority of Christ’. It is not good enough for me to put thoughts together at the last minute.
In his letter The Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis has some important advice for me: ‘The preacher …needs to keep his ear to the people and to discover what it is that the faithful need to hear. A preacher has to contemplate the word, but he also has to contemplate his people.’ In this way he learns ‘of the aspirations, of riches and limitations, of ways of praying, of loving, of looking at life and the world, which distinguish this or that human gathering,’ while paying attention ‘to actual people, to using their language, their signs and symbols, to answering the questions they ask’.
The one piece of advice that I remember from my days as a seminarian was given by Father Bob Bogan. He said that we need to come to know the people with whom we share the Good News. Be aware of their fears and joys, their anxieties and worries, their needs and the circumstances of their lives. We hear the living word of God proclaimed as we listen and the homily enables us to celebrate the Eucharist and bring this Good News into our daily lives.
Canon Father Anthony Parish Priest