Wednesday, September 10, 2008


There was once a priest that I somewhat idolized and when I made mention of the man to another priest along with the naive comment that he seemed well liked by everybody, he rolled his eyes and said in his driest, most droll tone, “Everybody has his detractors.” Alas and alack he was right.

The reverse of that saying I suppose would be that, “There is a priest for everybody.” There are men who work for you and those who do not. It must be difficult to be in a parish where you love the priest and then he is replaced by a new “father” that perhaps you do not get on with quite as well. This would be not so severe as but along the same lines of a child having a “new daddy” he does not like as much but is told he must now love and respect. What are you going to do?

I was having a heart to heart with another priest the other day and we admitted our desire to liked by all those to whom we are sent to minister though we know of the impossibility and the pointlessness of that wish. We have been on the other side of the equation too. So though I feel most welcome and appreciated in my new assignment I have no illusion that the feeling is universal and when the honeymoon period is over I shall probably be made most aware of it.

This came to mind Monday last when I had the opportunity out of necessity to attend the Mass on the feast of the Birth of Mary incognito at a parish that shall remain anonymous to protect the innocent. The homily for this weekday Feast was longer than I preach on the weekend. This would not be so bad save that it was also strikingly insipid. The homily went along these lines:

“Today is the Feast of the Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is a very old feast celebrated in the Church. We have been celebrating for about 1500 years. And so as you can see it is very ancient since we have been celebrating it for so long. It is a lesser celebrated feast day. The reason that this ancient celebration is a lesser celebrated feast day is because it is not in the Bible. But we know Mary existed because she is in the Bible. And if she existed she must have been born. And if she was born she must have been conceived. And therefore he can celebrate this ancient Feast of the Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary.” Etcetera ad naseum

At this point the ancient urge of “fight or flight” kicked in as it does when I am not properly centered. I had about a minute of struggling to stay in the pew which I know many Catholics also struggle with week after week, maybe some in my own congregation. For you I pass on this bit of wisdom that has saved me in situation just like this one.

As a seminarian I went to go hear a Lenten talk at one of our parishes. The speaker was the Rev. Frank Hoffman. To tell the truth I do not even remember the contents of his talk. The most important thing he said for me that day was contained in his first sentences. He said that if we should find him boring we were lucky because we had the next hour to be in the presence of Jesus (he indicated the tabernacle) to pray to and contemplate. Funny how little comments like that can have such a profound effect on your life.

For those of you who are so unfortunate as to not have either a homilist that you like or the presence of the tabernacle in the sanctuary to focus your thoughts, here is one more tidbit. The Rev. J Glenn Murray once said this, “Even if the homily is as dry as sand on toast in the desert, God still works.” And it is true (though not an excuse.) Evidence of this is that I have thought some about the homily that I heard on Monday last and had Mary on my mind because of it. (Boredom is in the receiver not the giver.)

God finds a way often in spite of us when we are open to it.


Father Schnippel said...

Good thoughts, and important to keep in mind.

I think, as a priest, we can very often get caught up in our own 'positive press,' so to speak. It is good to remember that we preach to a wide variety of folks,and we must give the encouragement for the ones who may not agree to come forward and speak with us, and be open to them when they do so. After all, we follow the example of the Master.

Anonymous said...

"if we should find him boring we were lucky because we had the next hour to be in the presence of Jesus"

Wow! I think my universe just shifted. I'll never roll my eyes at a homily again.


Anonymous said...

Is that Fr. Frank Hoffman that was from Pittsburgh that's now in Chicago? That sounds like something he'd say. He was my favorite confessor. One day I told him I felt guilty about falling asleep in church or during the homily and he reassured me that I was making an effort to be in church and God knew when I was legitimately tired and wasn't falling asleep because I wasn't paying attention or was bored. That really helped me and I've done a better job at paying attention during mass and not falling asleep due to boredom. It's amazing how small comments like that can put things into perspective.

Anonymous said...

In response to the title of your post....Does that happen to be in reference to Fr. Yahner's homilies? He always ends his homily in, "and the church say.." we respond "amen."

Speaking of homilies, do you happen Sr. Mary- Ann Wieseman-Mills,OP.? She is a brilliant homilist!

Anonymous said...

Okay, I'll admit it, I'm dying to know why a priest goes to Mass incognito. What could possibly be the necessity? Do tell!

There's a saying that no book is completely bad

Odysseus said...

My mother, an on again off again Catholic, stopped going to her nearby parish (an awesome multi-million dollar parish the likes of which I have never enjoyed) because she didn't like one of the new priest's homilies.

What a profoundly Protestant thought! And very American.

I gave up worrying about the homily. The associate pastor at my parish gives soft, unfocused, mildly heretical homilies and hints at the likelihood of women's ordination in the future. But when he begins the Liturgy of the Eucharist, he disappears and Christ is there, consecrating the bread and the wine as he says, "This is my Body. This is my Blood."

I've said it before, Father V. Relax about your homilies. For a few minutes, every time you say mass, no matter how good or bad your homily, you are Christ for us.

(and you have a cool blog.)

Anonymous said...

Dear Father, Your comment about bordeom being within the person was excellent. I taught my son many years ago that Mass (like other "good for you" actions, e.g., brushing teeth) was not meant to be entertaining. Having said that, Catholics have always faced the dilemma of the boring homilist. Most of us pray or daydream until time for the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Boring homilies are not the problem. From other priests than yourself I have heard homilies designed to "afflict" us by "inflicting" upon us a biased, politically-motivated agenda. I myself can always "tune out." But what about when my sister visits and attends Mass? She is not practicing her faith very strongly. She does not need to hear a "sermon" against the Pope, for example, or some political message disguised as "the Gospel." How do such homilies build up her weak faith? They don't. As I said, "boring" is not the problem.

Anonymous said...

There is no shortage of excuses for those who don't want to go to mass, and the homily is a very common one. Very interesting take on Gordy's "Let the people say . . . " but I like him and would give him some credit for not using the phrase as a way of making everyone agree with him. It's a good reminder that as presidiers we need to think long and hard about the things we say. Another really annoying thing is inserting the sign of the cross like parentheses at the beginning and end of a homily, as if it's not a part of the mass. Pretty much just another "let the people say . . . " routine

Fr. V said...

Fr. S - And even Jesus had His detractors!

Raven Smiles - Yep!

Christina - I'm usuall busy during his homilies and didn't even realize he said that. Yes, I know of sister but have not had the opportunity to hear her but many of spoken of her abilities.

Anon - Oh, it isn't that exciting - just long and uniteresting - taveling - dressed down for the heat - got to where I was going late - just time to dash in for Mass at a place I did not expect . . .

Rob - Thanks - you have a knack for putting things into perspective.

Pat - Here, here.

Anon - Yes. Thanks for you insight.

Anonymous said...

Fr. V.
Don't worry about your homilies, so far they have been absolutely great. I'm sure you put a lot of time into preparing them, even the short ones on weekdays.
That being said, it's still good to hear other priests and their different styles now and then.
Thank-you !

uncle jim said...

and I have said 'amen' after a homily ... and it is an affirming exclamation point to the words spoken [or the actions taken, as i believe augustine observed regarding 'preaching the gospel at all times' and 'using words if necessary']

Anonymous said...

Homily doesn't matter all that much, but it can be a strong influence, whether you like it or not. And a homily many times is a reflection of the Priest. Many times it is a reflection of the Priest's personality, interests, struggles, problems,tiredness, laxity, idiosyncracies, etc. And that's NOT what a homily is supposed to be.

Famous saying from "The Soul of the Apostolate by Jean-Baptist Chautard, OCSO . . .

"If the priest is a saint (the saying goes), the people will be fervent; if the priest is fervent, the people will be pious; if the priest is pious, the people will at least be decent. But if the priest is only decent, the people will be godless. The spiritual generation is always one degree less intense in its life than those who beget it in Christ."

From St. Alphonsus. . . "The good morals & the salvation of the people depend on good pastors. If there is a good priest in charge of the parish, you will soon see devotion flourishing, people frequenting the Sacraments, and honoring the practice of mental prayer. Hence the proberb: like pastor, like parish.

Please pray daily for all our Priests that they may be Saints in pointing & directing us to Jesus and His Mother.

Anonymous said...

That is great news to know.
Our Bishop, God Bless him, has a monotone voice...........and :0) Luckily I only hear it once in a while. I have been known to fall out of seats before...because of being asleep!..quite embarrassing!
I will have to say I am following your blog because:: 1) I like what you say, it makes sense! 2) I am dying to find out what happened at that meeting you had the other day....kinda of like a soap opera!!!
God Bless

Joe of St. Thérèse said...

I must admit, when I was younger I was constantly falling asleep because of "boring" that my Faith has been recharged, I can't even find the monotone homily "boring" as there's always something to take out of a homily (though i prefer sermon)...

That being said, I do like when the priest ends his sermon with "Amen"...Homilies that do I have found are always sound and orthodox, as well as the priests who end in the sign of the Cross. Even though I as person in the pews (or at the altar serving the EF) don't reply, there's something edifying when a priest does that :)