A connection Between Scripture and Your Life Today
by Dc. Rob Brothers
I suspect that almost all of us have commented to one of our friends or family members, favorably or perhaps critically, on a Sunday homily that we’ve heard recently. I’d like to share a few thoughts with you regarding homilies, how they are prepared, what they are intended to do, and how you should always strive to listen for one or two key points that you can takeaway to help you be a better Christian in the days following what you’ve heard!
First, I might just point out the difference between a Sermon and a Homily. A Sermon is a spiritual talk given on a topic of the preacher’s choice. A Homily is a spiritual talk given on the specific readings of the Mass in which it is given. So, a homilist’s job is to relate to the congregation some practical thoughts and potential action points that the particular Scripture readings of that day have called to mind. Even though I am a rather new homilist I can tell you that some readings are easier to preach on than others! Nevertheless, our duty as a homilist is to preach on what the Church’s prescribed liturgical readings give us, not on a topic of our own choosing!
I typically begin to prepare my Sunday homily two to three weeks in advance of actually preaching it. I read over the prescribed readings and the Gospel; pray about them; perhaps read over one or two different commentaries from scripture scholars (a particular favorite of mine is current theologian Dr John Bergsma). I spend a week or more praying about potential ways to make those readings come alive to challenge the hearers to consider some change in their lives to bring them closer to Jesus and/or to be more charitable to their neighbors so they may be more closely aligned with God’s hopes and plans for them. Usually, a week to ten days prior to delivering the homily, I pray again, and sit down to put pen to paper (or more realistically, fingers to keyboard!) My personal experience is that for every minute of preaching time (for me, a homily is typically 10-12 minutes), I spend about one hour in preparation. Ten minutes of preaching involves 10 hours of prayer, study, and crafting of the message!
It is the homilist’s job to put in the work and use the skills and abilities that God has blessed them with, to the best of their ability. A typical Sunday Mass in our parish is an incredibly diverse group of young and old, singles and marrieds, men and women, healthy and hurting, angry or joyful people, all at potentially different stages of their own personal faith journey. The homilist knows that it is the Holy Spirit that will help those in the congregation to hear and act on what God has to say to them at this particular point in their lives. No matter how skillful the homilist is, their principal job is not to entertain (even though a quick personal story or anecdote can help to bring the readings into focus for today’s lives); nor is the Sunday homily the time to present an educational lecture (even though some teaching may occur). The homilist will do his best to relate the day’s readings and Gospel story to the lives of the people who are listening in such a way that people are motivated to make some change, no matter how small, to bring their own lives into a closer alignment with the life that Jesus calls us to!
That’s a lot to ask for in a ten-minute homily! A good homilist is always very interested in hearing your helpful comments; not just “Good homily Deacon or Father,” but specific takeaways that you found helpful (or maybe not so helpful) as you begin to think about the week ahead. Don’t be afraid to give us feedback!
Blessings to all,
Dc. Rob Brothers