Tuesday, July 27, 2010


Last week, after my angel homily, one of the Malachy parishioners came up to me and said, fairly disgusted "Are you ever going to preach on the Gospel? Gosh, I came here excited because of the Martha and Mary Gospel, and then I had to listen to you talk about angels?" I calmly explained to her that the priest has options when preaching, and can use any reading, but she wasn't really listening at that point. Ironically, yesterday a different parishioner, one who knew nothing about the previous lady's gripe, came up to me and said, "I want to thank you for not preaching on Martha and Mary. We hear about them all the time, and it was so refreshing to hear about angels because we don't hear about them very much." I could barely contain my smile.

I say this not to get people to feel sorry for me, but to raise a couple of important things with regard to homilies that I think it is good for people to keep in mind.

1) The 2nd Vatican Council says that priests should preach on A) one of the readings or B) some other phrase or text used at Mass. When I was growing up, I never heard anything from the Old Testament preached, and a lot of times wondered what was going on in the Old Testament. I had a professor in the seminary who encouraged us to preach on the psalm response from Mass on occasion because he said that was often ignored. I had another professor who encouraged us to preach on the Old Testament from time to time. The point to all of this is that, while the Gospel is the "high point" in terms of the reading, the priest can and should preach on other things besides the Gospel at times.

2) Along those lines, as the new translation of the Mass comes out, expect more homilies to be utilizing option B above as priests will be helping to introduce the changes in wording, and why those changes matter.

3) In the seminary, someone once told us, "Quit listening to the homily thinking about what you would be saying differently." That was excellent advice, because for Catholics it is easy during the homily to think "If I were preaching I would say..." and then when our little fantasy is over, we find we've missed the actual homily. The Church believes that, even if the message is horrible or unorthodox, that the message is still Christ speaking to the hearts of all the listeners a message they need to hear. If the message is bad or unorthodox, then perhaps that message is meant to inspire us to point that out the problem with a homily to the pastor and encourage him to become more faithful to the Church. Regardless, I think we do well to listen to the homily in the moment as opposed to running with it in our minds.

By the way, keep the feedback coming, and certainly constructive criticism is most appreciated.


  1. Your homily on angels was a great kickoff point for a discussin of angels and their importance in our lives with our children following Sunday dinner. Thank you Father, and may the Holy Spirit continue to guide your homilies and your priesthood. We look forward to the upcoming liturgical changes and the greater sense of reverence they will bring to the Mass.

  2. I certainly can't speak for anyone else in the Parish, but I was in a Catholic institution for my education from K-8, 9-12, and 4 years of college, and I can't think of one particular time I was awe-struck by a homily summarizing a reading or Gospel. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but in today's society, I personally believe people truly need to hear homilies about difficult life situations, challenges, moral issues and the development of faith in God from such events. When a priest or deacon simply paraphrases the readings and Gospel, it just doesn't stick with me personally. I think it's wonderful when a priest can challenge the audience with thought provoking topics, even if unrelated to the Sunday readings, that make people think beyond the typical theological discussions. Keep up the good work!

  3. Tim,

    I agree wholeheartedly - there is nothing more painful than a summary of a reading. I think anything more than a 5 second recap is over the top. Any short summary should only be used to highlight something that you are then going to dive into as a homilist. I've heard some that were ten minute summaries of the Gospel featuring conjectures and hypotheses about what things meant. Anybody can do that - tap the Holy Spirit if you are going to preach! The Holy Spirit authored the Bible - he got it right the first time - no need for a priest or deacon to water it down for us!