Giving a good homily PDF Print E-mail
Saturday, 27 February 2016 13:41



Worried about the complaints many people make about priests’ homilies, the Vatican has issued a Homiletic Directory that gives tips on how to give good homilies.

It cannot be denied that people nowadays, rightly or wrongly, judge the quality and the attractiveness of the Mass by the homilies priests give.

Of course, their judgment is not the ultimate criterion to use to evaluate the effectiveness of the homilies and much less, of the Mass itself. But their observations count a lot because the homilies are meant to make a certain impact on their lives.

If their reception of the homilies is not good, if they find them boring or too pedantic and abstract, or heavily peppered with rhetorical gimmicks and pompous words, etc., then most likely the desired effect of the homilies of fostering greater holiness and closer intimacy with God and more love for others, would already be aborted.

Homilies are meant to be an organic extension of God’s continuing dialogue with men. The priests who give them should be most aware that the words are not his, but Christ’s, and that they have to be most faithful, if not, vitally identified with Christ.

You can just imagine with what preparation and dispositions the priests should have to properly deliver them. They—we, me included—should prepare the homilies with prayer and appropriate study. We have to acquire and assume nothing less than the very mind and sentiments of Christ.

That’s why only priests or, at least, deacons can give the homilies, because they have been ordained to personify Christ as head of the Church who preside over the Mass, even if it is the whole assembly who offers the Mass. Only the clerics have the power to preach the homilies, even if there are laypeople who are more gifted in theological knowledge and rhetorical skills.

Like Christ, we, clerics, have to be mediators who link both God and men, and therefore, should be intimately identified with God and with men to be effective mediators.    The homilies then cannot be other than a message of salvation, of mercy, which in the end is the very mission of Christ. They somehow have to proclaim the whole nature and mission of Christ all the way to the cross and his resurrection. They just cannot be too focused on the cross without the resurrection, nor on the resurrection without the cross.

In fact, the homilies should be an expression and manifestation of Christ himself. When the assembly listens to the homilies, they should have the sensation and conviction that they are listening to Christ.

The homilies should somehow show God’s eager desire to save man, and man’s necessity to be saved. The homilies should somehow manage to portray the concrete human conditions of a given people at a given time which are in need of divine redemption. Thus, homilies are not meant to be generic messages of salvation. They ought to have a specific focus even if the message of redemption remains the same.

To be sure, the effectiveness of the homilies is not only a matter of techniques, though these are always necessary. It is more a matter of the genuine sanctity of the homilists. Homilies should not be reduced into some kind of theatric performance, or a class lecture.

Thus, more than just honing up our studies and rhetorical skills, we, clerics, should really work on our spiritual life, on our real identification with Christ. We should be filled with nothing less than the spirit of Christ. We should be most generous and heroic in our prayers and sacrifices.

Obviously, this process will always be a work in progress. It will be a lifetime concern. We should not think that it is undoable, because while it’s true that it’s really a daunting duty, it is also true that God has already given us everything for us to be what we ought to be and do while giving the homilies.

What is needed is trust, faith and hope in God’s word, his grace, his mercy. And like a baby goaded by his mother to start to learn to walk, we just have to make the first step, then the next, and the next, till we can walk steadily and with elegance, never mind the occasional missteps and setbacks.

If properly done, the homilies will always have the qualities of Christ’s words—with wisdom and charity, with power and humility. They will have a transforming effect on those who, with faith in God also, would hear them.

They will be words that would bring us eternal salvation!