Saturday, March 29, 2008


Trying to answer the question, "What do priests do?"


How do you write a homily?

I drive the other priests in the house nuts. They have their homilies written sometimes weeks in advance. Mine come when they are good and ready and not a moment before. It’s not that I do not want them to. Sometimes I beg God, “Please! I’ve read through the Scriptures and all the commentaries, I did my research, I have prayed about it! Why not let something happen?” I should have learned by now (you would think) that it is because something is going to happen yet that will supply that which is still missing. The only problem is sometimes that cuts it awfully close.

Take Easter morning for example.

I had been pushing to get my homilies done for Holy Week. Sometimes a mere glance at the Scriptures will reveal a homily from introduction to final tag line. Other times it is like trying to speed-ripen a tomato using only your brainwaves. There will be a lot of sweat and stress but very little progress.

So Easter morning is on the horizon and I have nothing but blank sticky notes (upon which I scribble my humble ramblings). I sit with a cup of coffee, a lectionary, and a couple of commentaries and just think. And think. And think. And nothing happens except that the coffee grows cold.

Later I take a pen and my yellow pad and go before the Blessed Sacrament. For a long time the pen sits limply in my hand. But I will not be deterred! A homily will come out of this sitting! There is a deadline coming after all! So it is forced through. Fine! Done! Off to other projects that need to be finished before the weekend. (I should have known better.)

Saturday night was the Great Easter Vigil. The pastor gave his usual brilliant talk and I looked over at the people I have been working with to bring into the Church. Their faces are so bright, they look so hopeful, and they cannot wipe the smiles off of their faces. I want to speak to people like that on Easter morning. I want to feed them! Bolster them! Get them excited about God. My homily is not going to do it.

Back in my room, too keyed up to fall asleep yet I look over my homily. “X”s are drawn through passages, arrows drawn, new notes inserted in red. Sleep seems finally possible.

The next morning I sit in my spot in the Choir loft and listen to Fr. W’s homily and know once again that mine will not cut the mustard. You must speak to those who are life long Catholics looking for inspiration as well as C & E Catholics who are more interested in Easter bonnets and bunnies. How do you draw everyone in? Between masses more stickem’ notes are added, others tossed, more “X”s and arrows. But it is now ready and none too soon.

In general, my homilies do not translate well to the written word, but here is the homily that finally came together that Easter morning:

He is risen! Indeed He is risen!

Welcome to the Wedding Feast of the Lamb! Is that not a great image? A wedding feast. In order to show us how much Jesus loves us the image used most often in Scripture is not mother and child or shepherd and sheep, but bridegroom and bride.

“I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you.”

I thought it might be good to be reminded of these words because they get so little play in popular entertainment. Where once worn out plot lines involved the terrible mother-in-law coming to stay for a week’s visit, now the worn out plot-line concerns a couple either on the verge of a terrible divorce, in the middle of a terrible divorce, or dealing with the aftermath of a terrible divorce.

I can tell you half the plot line of Tom Cruise’s next five movies even though they have not been written yet. He will have been through a bitter divorce. He will be a dad. He will be misunderstood. No matter how hard he tries situations will keep coming up to ruin his relationship with his family. In at least one scene he will be crying over his estranged kid.

A lot of good these images do us if we want to understand how God loves us. How God loves you. So lets take a look.

Christ is called the bridegroom. The Church is the bride. “Church” is not an institution, it is not clergy or Rome, it is you. He gave Himself for you. And not a general idea of you or for all future people but for you specifically. “From the womb before the dawn I knew you.” You are that bride.

Paul tells us – men – love your wives as yourselves and let no stain touch her. You are no longer two but one flesh.

Christ gave Himself completely to us that we might be washed clean of any stain of sin. He took on the form of a slave in order to live with us. Every aspect of His life was an example for us. Every word He spoke was a lesson for us. The torture He endured He endured for our sins. His death was for our sanctification. His resurrection gave us new life. His ascension opened heaven for us. And He did not do this for His benefit but for ours. One of our prefaces for the mass reads, “You have no need of our praise yet our desire to thank You is itself Your gift!” So it was out of pure love that He chose you.

But that was not enough.

At Passover He took bread and wine and declared it to be His Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity. The bread and wine have ceased to exist and not is left now but Jesus so that He might always be physically present with us. And He was not satisfied with that! He was not asking us to be satisfied with coming to church and worshipping Him at a distance. No! We are invited to touch Him, to take Him on our tongue or in our hands and bring Him into our bodies so that there is nothing left even possible for Him to give us! There is nothing about which we can say, “God why did you withhold this from me?”

That is the gift God gives you. That is what it means to be Catholic! That is what it means to have Christ as the bridegroom. And this cries out for a response!

You know what the response is because you have been in love before.

What does it look like? With the one you are in love with you go out to eat, maybe down to Little Italy or over the other’s parent’s house. You talk on the phone. If you are younger than I am you send text messages. You just spend time together. What is this but mass and prayer?

With the one you love, because you love, you patch up any problems between you as quickly as possible. And you get to know and love those who they know and love because they are important to them. What is this but confession and being part of the community of the Church?

Your love for another invariable causes you to strive to be a better person and what is this but growing in a life of virtue in the Holy Spirit as Christ taught us?

That is why this is the Wedding Feast of the Lamb! That is what our resurrected Lord wants for you and from you today and every day, in good times and bad, in sickness and health so that you might rejoice with Him forever in the life to come in heaven.
The holy water then will rain down upon us reminding us of our baptism, the day we were made Christ’s. May it also move us to live lives that bring honor to the name we received that day, “Christian.”


Anonymous said...

I like your homily, and I think people need to hear more about the Wedding Feast of the Lamb...they don't understand it. So awesome you described love of God in these spousal terms.

uncle jim said...

i like your preparation style - i like the sticky notes and the x's and the arrows ... and i think and think and think.

it sounds very much like my approach
when i have a talk togive.

eventually it comes ... and usually it ain't too bad - it seems to hit the target [even if not the center bull's eye].

but, boy, the agony and sweat as the deadline approaches and nothing quite jells yet.

good post - again

Anonymous said...

Amen, Fr. V.


Anika said...


I laughed at your post...again. I write for a living and know the agony. :-)

The homily was *wonderful*. The part about passover, being invited to touch God through the eucharist reminded me of when I was at the bat mitzvah of the daughter of some friends of mine. They presented the party with a huge cake, and the top layer was made of marzipan in the shape of an unscrolled Torah. I asked my friend if it was typical to make a Torah out of cake. He said with a twinkle in his eye: "We eat our book, you eat your God. What's the difference?" He was joshing me, but it did remind me that we Catholics have an amazing privilege in receiving God like that (ok, Lutherans too, etc...)

Thanks again for a good post.



Anonymous said...

You know, when I give talks, I write notes and do my research, mark pages, etc, too.

But several years ago, I read or heard that Fulton Sheen used to write his homilies in the Adoration Chapel with the Blessed Sacrament. I think other Saints have done the same thing.

So that's what I did when I began teaching. At times, I'd have NO IDEA how to approach a particular topic. One year I had to give a talk to the RCIA class on the readings for the first week of Advent. And I stared and stared, trying to figure out what to say. So I went to one of our priests for suggestions. His answer: "When you think of something, let me know." He had to come up with a homily that weekend and had no IDEA either, what to say! LOL! (He told me: Now you know what it's like....)

But I went into the chapel, and suddenly there it was, Jesus told me what to say. Over and over again I've gone into the chapel to pray about it and He has literally written my outlines. From nothing.

But Fr. V., I'm sure you already do that anyway and Jesus is just harder on you because you know more and suffer more for it making your suffering more efficacious for your parish. :-)

Odysseus said...

-There will be a lot of sweat and stress but very little progress.-

I would love to free you of the burden. I can't stand the homily. I mean, there are some good (short) ones that get the job done (explain the connection between OT and NT readings, express whatever doctrine or dogma apllicable, relate it briefly to modern life) and I liked yours, but I believe that homilies:

1) Are listened to by a few fringe liberals who want to make sure the priest says the right fluffy things

2) Are listened to by right-wing nut jobs who want to make sure he scolds jews and chastises heretics (and promptly write a letter to the bishop when he doesn't)

3) The rest of us are just waiting for the liturgy of the Eucharist

OK, I know lots of people listen to homilies, but I think many would be lying if they didn't admit that they tune-out frequently, if it goes over a few minutes. And trying to watch my boys, I don't even hear that much. Sorry.

I would be happy if there was a rule that said all homilies had to be less than five minutes. Really.

IMO, the priest's most important job is the litrurgy itself, not his public speaking.

Anonymous said...

At least you write your homilies ahead of time and don't come up with them walking from the chair to the ambo!! LOL
This was a good one.


Adoro said...

Rob ~ I'm shocked1 Granted, with children you're going to tune out...that's part of being a parent, I think.

But we are at Mass, not just for the readings, not just for the Eucharist, but for the things that come to us prior to the liturgy of the Eucharist that make Christ more present...and one of those things is the homily!

You may be one of those highly educated people who really doesn't "need" a homily because you know so much...but what of the rest of us? We NEED our priests to explain the readings, to reveal Christ to us before we receive Him. And guess what...YOU need that too, even if you don't think so!

And darn it, I don't care if you're offended by that statement! Even if you know more than the priest, then it's your job to be silent and take from the homily what God wants you to receive, even if it DOES last more than 5 minutes!

I have been affected by dissident priests...maybe it's the "even the broken clock is right twice per day" syndrome, and I've heard blah homilies from great homilists. But that doesn't mean what the priest had to say was any less useful; because even if it isn't meant for us, it's meant for someone. Maybe one single soul. And maybe that one single soul is destined to become a Saint because of one single phrase in an otherwise horrible homily.

We never know.

I'm with you on the fringe groups...they need to get a life. But the rest of us, we need to greatly value the homily because it is a moment for conversion. When I was seeking, I didn't understand the readings and I was looking for guidance. And I appreciated even a bad homily...because at least something was being explained.

I'm so glad I didn't read your comment back then. It would have scared me away from the Church.

Sorry for the honesty but there it is and I won't take it back.

Odysseus said...

-because you know so much-


I know little and wish I knew less. :-)

uncle jim said...

my take is that i appreciate a good word - i try to listen and take something from it.
the liturgy of the 'word' isn't all that much subservient to the liturgy of the 'eucharist' and does indeed complement it.
and to that point, i think the homily sometimes fails because too many of those who deliver homilies are poor homilists - and that is what robs those in the pew.

Anonymous said...

I don't think most Catholics have been as cynicized as Rob, and will appreciate the work the JA puts into his homilies; RW is quite brilliant and most likely never gives a bad homily. Most of the people in the pews will appreciate if work has been done, regardless of if they agree/disagree. If Rob can't figure out the difference between preaching and public speaking, why go to church at all?

Anonymous said...

I have heard homilies many times that really speak to somthing that is troubling me or that I am going through. It makes me feel that I was meant to be there and hear that particular homily. It's the Holy Spirit. Because of that I really try to listen to what is being said. I think most times we can get something if we keep an open mind and really listen.


Odysseus said...

-If Rob can't figure out the difference between preaching and public speaking, why go to church at all?-

Good point. I guess I'll keep my calendar free on Sunday mornings and watch sports!

Fr. V said...

Rob -

Don't worry - I understaqnd your point. We used to be taught - if you can't be good - be merciful - so I try to stay to about 6 stickem' notes. ;>)

So forget sports until the afternoon. If you have chips and dip I'll come join you. (If I don't have baptisms.)


Fr. V said...

Rob -

Don't worry - I understaqnd your point. We used to be taught - if you can't be good - be merciful - so I try to stay to about 6 stickem' notes. ;>)

So forget sports until the afternoon. If you have chips and dip I'll come join you. (If I don't have baptisms.)


Anonymous said...

Similarly to reading how "no one goes to church anymore, 'they' are all becoming atheists and neo-pagans, the world's going to hell in half a handbasket," I was recently reading a woman's dismay of how not ONE priest ANYWHERE has EVER even mentioned Divine Mercy Sunday, let alone celebrated it in its own right. One would think from this pronouncement that she'd been all over the world, or at least all over the country.. or at least all over her state.. um, all over her city? It's 100% unlikely that she has ever been anywhere for Divine Mercy Sunday but in one of her 3 parishes!

We filter things through our own experiences and generalize too much--even on the other "Our God Is Awesome!!" end of the spectrum. The Church is human and thus, imperfect. Only her Heart there in the Tabernacle is perfect. Christ not only knows that, He wanted it that way, that the Church (we all) would always understand that we need Him. That's the only way He can give to us.

There are homilists, and there are homilists; there are good homily days, and not so good, too. It's life. I for one am fascinated by such as the whiz-kid Melissa Scott -- did her father (Eugene) feed her Scripture for breakfast in two languages?? -- and sometimes the Joel Osteen kind leaves my heart smiling and/or deeply impressed. These people really hang onto Scripture until it becomes a blood cousin! I could be called anathema for that, lol, but I tell you what, I have heard a priest say no more than, "We have to love one another as He has loved us," while looking into our eyes, and it went all the way home in all of us.

That is a beautiful homily, Fr. V, and a beautiful presentation of the Church and the love of God for us.


Anonymous said...

Rob ~ OK, I take it back. I was in oppositional-defiant mode last night for some reason. But I do still like homilies...when they're good! LOL! (And you DO know a lot...and you'd have to agree that you know a great deal more than the average person in the pew.)

Odysseus said...

-ONE priest ANYWHERE has EVER even mentioned Divine Mercy Sunday-

My late pastor (who could barely speak due to a throat disease, hence the reason I loved him so much) was a huge St. Faustina follower. He ALWAYS brought it up and stocked the gift shop with St. Faustina books, T-shirts, coffee-mugs, etc.

But his successors don't DO Divine Mercy. I guess, since it just came about so recently, it's not everyone's forte.

Fr. V said...

"who could barely speak due to a throat disease, hence the reason I loved him so much"

Geez - you really DO hate homilies. LOL! I hope still hope we meet some day but I promise not to say anything. ;>)

Odysseus said...

I don't hate homilies.

I just think they should get to the point! :-)

Adoro said...

You know...about the getting to the point....several years ago I was intermittently attending Mass, and it was a church without a regular priest. So it was like a box of chocolates...we never knew what we were gonna get!

Well, one Sunday, a foreign priest whom we could barely understand gave his homily...and when he got to the end and wrapped it up...he launched into it AGAIN. And AGAIN. And AGAIN. He continually stated and re-stated his point, each time building it from the ground up. He spoke for 45 minutes...maybe more...saying what COULD have been stated in 10 minutes or less.