Wednesday, November 4, 2009


A homily is a tricky thing. A precious few minutes are allotted to bring to light one sliver of truth from Sacred Scripture or about the feast of the day or season. It can be a particularly delicate challenge when the message of Christ is not rainbows and blue birds. Jesus Himself mentions such things as hell and condemns such things as extra marital sex. A preacher facing a congregation from babes in arms to those who have already said good bye to their octogenarian years, from those who are well established in their faith to those who are hanging on by his fingernails has to find a way to proclaim such truths of the faith so that as many people will listen to the message without anyone else storming out I protest. (Actually I only saw that once but it was quite dramatic.) One way to do this is to avoid all controversial topics. That would certainly make the trial much easier but it would of course be denying the community the fullness of the Gospel.

Another sticky wicket is the one shot listener. When it is time to mention something difficult, say divorce, there will be that one person who came back to the Church after a long absence due to an ugly divorce and who will walk out never to return again. Or perhaps you have been moved to preach against a societal wrong and all of a sudden realize that in this case it will only make things worse. A silly example that will help get the point across is say that you were railing about how Martians should be treated better by our parish and it turns out there is one green Martian in the room and now they stick out like a sore thumb and feel 12 times more uncomfortable than they did before.

Then there is the unexpected. I once wrote a wedding homily about the difference between real love and the artificial mimics that people push off as love. An example was used between real flowers and those awful plastic artificial flowers that people sometimes use. Now I have never had before a wedding that employed artificial flowers nor have I since, but when that bride came forward to exchange her vows she had a full bouquet of fake flowers made by her grandmother. (She was a good sport about it by the way.)

There is the temptation to qualify every statement that is made. “THIS IS TRUE,” followed by a disclaimer reminiscent of a pharmaceutical commercial. “DIVORCE IS WRONG (unless you are in abusive relationship, a same sex marriage, the marriage is unlawfully procured, the marriage was never consummated, you are exercising the Pauline or Petrine privilege, or one of you is a Martian. Consult your canon lawyer before administrating. The Catholic Church does not recognize divorce except for the legal separation of property so you may still qualify for the sacraments. You may qualify for an annulment which does not cost a shiny penny if you do cannot afford it no matter what rumor you have heard. This also does not affect the status of your children. God will not stop loving you. This offer as well as marriages themselves are void in heaven.) Well, that is about the time we have for this homily. Come back again next week when I pick up with my second sentence.”

That is why preaching is fun, requires all the planning and cunning of a good crime, and runs all the excitement and risk of sky diving – you just have to know that if you dive enough one time you will do something wrong, you shoot won’t open and there is going to be a price to pay! But it is so worth it.

Perhaps that is why the Church in her wisdom never says that you have to say “Amen” to the homily.


Adoro said...


(sorry, I just couldn't help myself...) ;-)

ck said...

I remember making out with a rock star in the back of his tour bus and he mentioned that marriage was the worst year of his life. I remember thinking, “I am doing something wrong here? Does God consider this guy married?”

One of my best friends just got diagnosed with breast cancer. She married a divorced man outside the Church, but still attends a Catholic Church and got her kids baptized there. No priest has ever given her the impression that anything is wrong. Death is looking her in the face and she’s scared, but she believes everything is fine between her and God. Why would she believe me if I tell her otherwise?

The stuff about divorce in parentheses is what we need to hear. It only took me 15 seconds to read it. We don’t need a course in Theology to get the idea. We need some specifics to hang our hats on, not allusions.

Cracked Pot said...

Father, Thank you very much for all your effort at preparing your homilies. I always learn something. Some of your homilies are "better" than others only because they may address something with which I am particularly struggling.

Joe of St. Thérèse said...

Like Adoro, I can't help but say Amen

Anonymous said...

"That is why preaching is fun, requires all the planning and cunning of a good crime, and runs all the excitement and risk of sky diving...."


Anonymous said...

This was not only EXTREMELY amusing and true, but I loved the end. Fr. Y. always finished his sermons with: "And let the church say........" soliciting the "Amen."