Saturday, April 4, 2015

HOMILY ABUSE?

Sticks and stone may break my bones but words will never hurt me!  Evidently a Filipino bishop doesn't believe this and in actuality neither do I.

But, in decrying the state of homiletics and priests who give homilies, do all priests have to be abused in general?

Sometimes I give good and inspiring homilies. Sometimes these are boring and irrelevant. I try to be short though, usually no more than 7 minutes and for daily Mass no more than two minutes.

My intention is not to abuse anyone when I preach, although I do believe that sometimes we have to "afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted" in what we say. Is that abuse of the comfortable?

When I was a child, I usually zoned out at the homily time. When the priest got excited or seem mad, my ears perked up. There are only one or two priests that really got under my skin when they got so excited and angry. I think they were simply angry men with anger management issues. I blame bishops for not taking these kinds of men out of ministry or placing them in a monastery. There should be monasteries or houses of prayer for priests who can't be good ministers. But who supports them?

But here is what the Filipino bishop said about us poor, horrible, worthless, despicable priests. What do you think?

Bishop to priests: 'Stop the homily abuse'

'Long, winding, repetitious, irrelevant, unprepared homilies are signs of a sick spiritual life of the priest,' says Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas. 'Homily abuse can harm souls.'

MANILA, PhilippinesBelow is the homily of Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas at the Cathedral of Lingayen-Dagupan, the St John the Evangelist Cathedral in Dagupan City, on Thursday, April 2.

Today we make a spiritual journey again to the Upper Room to remember our priesthood. We come once again to thank the Lord for calling us to be priests. The Lord took a risk. He entrusted to us His Church. The longer we stay in this vocation, the more clearly we see that it takes more than will power to remain a good priest. It needs grace. We need God. We need God to stay focused. We need God to stay on track. We need God to protect us and preserve us. 

We have seen many abuses among the clergy – alcohol abuse, sexual abuse, child abuse, gambling abuse, money abuse, travelling abuse, vacation abuse. Today, I invite you to turn your hearts to another very rampant and widespread abuse among priests – homily abuse. Yes, abuse of the kindness of the people who are forced to listen to long, winding, repetitious, boring, unorganized, unprepared, mumbled homilies. In jest but certainly with some truth, the people say our homilies are one of the obligatory scourges that they must go through every Sunday.

If you listen more carefully to what our people say about our homilies, they are not complaining about depth of message or scholarly exegesis. They are asked to endure Sunday after Sunday our homilies that cannot be understood because we take so long with the introduction, we do not know how to go direct to the point, and we do not know how to end. Be prepared. Be clear. Be seated.
We were all abused by the homilies of our elder priests when we were seminarians. When our turn came to deliver homilies, the abused became the abuser.

If a seminarian lacks chastity, we cannot recommend him for ordination. If a seminarian is stubborn and hard headed, we cannot endorse his ordination. If a seminarian cannot speak in public with clarity and effectiveness, we should not ordain him. He will be a dangerous homily abuser. Homily abuse can harm souls.

Long, winding, repetitious, irrelevant, unprepared homilies are signs of a sick spiritual life of the priest. Saint Joseph Cupertino said: “A preacher is like a trumpet which produces no tone unless one blows into it. Before preaching, pray this way: Lord, you are the spirit, I am your trumpet. Without your breath I can give no sound.”

It is not enough to prepare our homilies; the good priest must prepare himself. Preaching is a ministry of the soul and the heart not just of the vocal chords and brain cells.  Our spiritual life is the true foundation of our homilies. The question is not what we will preach but rather who will we preach?  

We preach only Jesus Christ; always Jesus Christ.

How shall we rise from the prevalent culture of homily abuse? What is our remedy?

The first call of the times is priestly sincerity. You can preach to empty stomachs if the stomach of the parish priest is as empty as his parishioners.  Our homilies will improve if we diminish our love for talking and increase our love for listening. When our homily is simply a talk, we only repeat what we know, get tired and feel empty. When you listen and pray before you talk, you learn something new and your homily will be crisp and fresh. We will be better homilists if we dare to smell again like the sheep.

The second challenge of our times is simplicity – simplicity of message and even more, greater simplicity of life. Simplicity of life will also help us to stop talking about money and fund raising in the homily; money talk has never been edifying. 

 Simplicity means resisting to use the pulpit as a means to get back at those who oppose us – patama sa sermon. Simplicity also demands that we keep divisive election politics away from the lectern. Simplicity in homilies means not desiring to make people laugh or cry – that is for telenovelas and noontime shows. Simplicity in homilies makes people bow their heads and strike their breasts wanting to change, seeking the mercy of God. To be simple is to be great in God’s eyes. The simple lifestyle of priests is the homily easiest to understand.

The third and last challenge is a call to study. Reading and study must not stop after the seminary. If we stop reading and study, we endanger the souls of our parishioners. If we stop studying, then we start forcing our people to read the so-called open book of our lives – the comic book of our lives, hardly inspiring, downright ridiculous and awfully scandalous. The homily becomes our story and not the story of Jesus. Reading a bank book too much is not a good way to prepare our homilies.

Be careful with your life. The people watch us more than they listen to us. Be sincere and true. A double life, a secret dark life is stressful.

Be careful with every homily. God will judge you for every word you utter. Believe what you read. Teach what you believe. Practise what you teach.

Be careful with every homily. They want to hear Jesus not you; only Jesus, always Jesus.

Be careful with your homily. Pity the people of God. Stop the homily abuse. Let your homily inspire and set hearts on fire.

9 comments:

JBS said...

Wise words.

Saint Joseph of Cupertino!

Preach repentance and conversion.

Leave personal anecdotes to cocktail parties.

rcg said...

I agree and suggest there are three points he could add. First, as you alluded to in your schedule goals, FrAJM, the holimly should not challenge the Liturgy for attention. Second, I thnik homilies that help explain and give context to the prayers and readings to be especially valuable. The third point, related to the second, is that homilies that are not obviously related to the Mass or readings give the impression that the preist's heart isn't into the Mass. This leads to the same conclusions as the Bishop.

Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

rcg - I could not agree more with your last comment about homilies that are not related to the Mass or readings.

In the 30 years I have been ordained, I have become more and more convinced that the power - the "dunamis" if you will - of any homily flows from the power of Divine revelation found in the Scriptures.

Of course, a priest must master, or at least become adept at, rhetorical skills. If he has an accent that makes him very hard to understand, elocution lessons are needed. If he is unimaginative in finding expressions that connect the faithful to the Word of God, he probably needs to read more, especially good novels. If he is ignorant of history, then read, read, read. As Scripture tells us, there is nothing new under the sun, so history can be very informative.



Anonymous said...

There is a priest in this very diocese of Savannah who refuses to prepare a decent homily.

I won't mention his name, but you'll know him when you hear him:

"Today, uh, Gospel, er, ah, tells us, uh, that, uhhhh…well, you know, uh…"

Then again, the people who read this blog aren't likely to be in his parish anyway.

Anonymous said...

AMEN

- Pgal

George said...

St John Vianny's homilies often dealt with particular sins that were common among those in his congregation. Of course Ars was a small village and so the Curé was more familiar with the indiscretions of his parishioners than would be the case with your typical pastor today. Being a holy man, he possessed a much greater discernment of the spiritual ills of his congregants.

From the GIRM
65. The Homily is part of the Liturgy and is strongly recommended, for it is necessary for the nurturing of the Christian life. It should be an exposition of some aspect of the readings from Sacred Scripture or of another text from the Ordinary or from the Proper of the Mass of the day and should take into account both the mystery being celebrated and the particular needs of the listeners.

The above is a general guideline and homilists in my view should not feel constrained from departing from it when circumstances or particular issues warrant it-"the particular needs of the listeners".

Anonymous 2 said...

Well, clearly he practices what he preaches. It is an excellent homily and makes some excellent points. This said, what about priests who cannot sing? Had I become a priest, the parishioners would most definitely have been abused. =) (Love my neighbor is why I do not sing in church by the way). Perhaps some other things would have disqualified me but should this deficiency have done so? I can read and proclaim without too much trouble but am vocally tone deaf. There are many gifts and all that. So, perhaps he is just a little too hard on poor homilists. By all means let priests try to be better homilists or better singers or better whatever. But we should not expect them to be perfect in every way. And this also said, am I correct in detecting a slight swelling in his cheek?

Joe Potillor said...

Agreed, and no off the cuff homilies, unpreparedness can be heard very clearly, even if one does not think they can be heard.

Petra said...

Homily abuse? Don't even get me started!

How about Fr. Oldster who hasn't thought of a new homily in 20 years, and I know that because I've heard the same one on the same feast day for the last 5 of those years.

Or how about Fr. Repeater who, because he can't think of enough content to fill up his 7 minutes, elaborates ad nauseum to make his point? "Show God's love to people where ever you meet them; on the bus, in the elevator, in the supermarket, on the train, in the waiting room, at the school, on the street, in the library, at the post office, in the (fill in the blanks)." (And no, I AM NOT KIDDING!!!)

Or here's Fr. Social Justice, who has liberation theology down pat, and regardless of the readings, must get around telling about to the structural injustice of capitalism and Jesus' preferential option for the poor, so much so you almost expect Che Guevera to stand up at some point and shout Viva La Revolucion!

And my favorite (NOT!) Fr. Historian who goes into great detail deconstructing the Gospel with historical analysis, so much so, when he's done you're not sure Jesus ever even lived, let alone that He preached about salvation.

And all I wanted to hear was the Good News preached, to bring hope to my weary self plagued by the cares of the world, needing to know it's all worth it, and show me the Way. Is that too much to ask?