Homiletics 101

Well, it’s been forever since I’ve posted – but believe it or not, I’m back!

It’s been almost 6 months since my ordination to the Permanent Diaconate, and I must say it’s been an amazing experience. There are tons of things I could talk about that I’m now doing by virtue of Ordination, and I may get to them eventually, but the most visible thing that we Deacons do, of course, is preach.

And it’s been a blast so far.

I preach about once a month with an extra thrown in here or there for things like Christmas and I it occurred to me that I have a forum right here where I could post my homilies (more or less after the fact) and maybe generate some discussion and perhaps a little spiritual spreading of the word to a wider audience. And we newbie preachers can most certainly use some good, honest feedback I’m a tellin’ ya, so please consider yourselves invited.

Before I start posting my homilies, however, I thought maybe a few words of explanation might be in order, sort of as a way of quantifying the entire purpose and process, with hopes I suppose that some good experienced preachers might offer me some words of encouragement and advice.

I will say right up front that the response I have received so far has been not only amazingly positive but almost embarrassingly so as I keep saying thank you so much my head spins. But like I’ve told both my pastor and my parishioners, when it’s good, that’s the Holy Spirit, if it’s ever bad, that’s me.

Regarding the homilies themselves – first the mechanics.

Each one is designed to run about seven minutes and I’ll accept being about 30 seconds either way as hitting that mark. My spiritual director/ mentor told me that while this is a tough discipline to maintain but it will pay great dividends if you can stick to it for the first year and as I trust him implicitly in all matters, I always strive to live up to his teaching in this regard.

Homilies of course are intended to be proclaimed to an assembly within a liturgical setting, not read as words on a page or screen, so I order to inject onto the page my intentions as to how I intend to proclaim any given passage, I “write out” how I want to speak – lots of sentence breaks and capitalizations to indicate pauses and emphasis. The entire homily is intended to be proclaimed with slow and deliberate diction but without ever sounding pedantic or as if it were designed for second graders – one of my biggest complaints against a lot of preachers, particularly in years past as opposed to now so much, is that they too often “dumb down” their both their content and their delivery WAY too much, often insulting the intelligence of the assembly. But I digress . . .

My homilies themselves are actually untitled, although I will probably title them for their postings here in order to give some sense of what they’re about up front (my wife’s suggestion in fact.) Normally all I do is name them for the Sunday for which they are to be proclaimed, referencing both the Liturgical season as well as the Cycle year. This helps me keep from repeating myself as I may preach the same set of readings again from time to time, as well as allowing me to keep track of where I’ve been regarding themes, approaches, illustrations and techniques. I desperately do NOT want to be predicable or repetitive in any way – the assembly deserves the best preaching possible, as our Senior Associate has told me many times. I will also note the readings used at the beginning of every posting –  right after the title so anyone who wishes to reference them can do so – indeed the homily itself is not really worth much without them.

Finally – regarding content.

The homiletic process that I was instructed under, and which is implicitly endorsed by the church at large in at least the broadest terms, highly suggests (they don’t go so far to “require” as any such pronouncement upon such this type of process would be ridiculously restrictive) that the homilist draw upon the scripture readings of the day in at least some fashion or in lieu of that at least from the feast of the day or the time of the current liturgical season. Some preachers I know play REAL fast and loose with this, and while we all ultimately have the freedom to preach on whatever any one of us determines needs to be covered – I have always tried to respect the intent of this scriptural/ timely school of thought as I think it forces us to keep the Holy Spirit in charge and not ourselves. We’re an integral part of the process of course, but like inspired scripture, the ideas must ultimately stem from the Holy Spirit first and foremost, no matter the subject, if we are to be true to our calling and our responsibilities as ordained clergy entrusted with the care of souls.

You’ll find I tend to try and invoke emotional responses a lot and passion, zeal and energy are the methods I try to employ in most cases – how well or not I do that I leave to the assembly or reader to judge.

I always write for MY PARTICULAR ASSEMBLY first and foremost, so you will see many references to them and I try and keep the scriptures from week to week together and often reference the “larger picture” the Church is trying to create in their selections of the Sunday readings, not to mention the Evangelist’s original purpose and intent. Me likes a little Biblical exegesis in me homilies – gives ‘em good flavor, aye.

You’ll find I try and respect the “both/and” approach to our Catholic theology – almost to a fault – but I will admit up front that I have little respect for the “it’s all about us” approach that so many seem to delight in giving preeminence. It’s about Christ first, and yet as we are an integral part of him I try to apply his person and his teachings to us in the pews in at least some peripheral way in every homily.

One last thing that I always try and remember regarding all my homilies is that the Gospel of Jesus Christ means “Good News”.  I don’t mind taking people down rocky roads or occasionally to the depths of sadness or even anger, but I always make sure that I never leave them there – there must be something good to come from the homily in the end, or as my grandpappy used to say “It tain’t worth diddly”.

How well have I done so far? Well, like I said I’ll leave that to all of you to judge. I will post all of my homilies in chronological order – this first grouping will cover from the end of September in Cycle A to this past Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time in Cycle B, including the Christmas Vigil mass.

Going forward I will try and post them as I do them – more or less a few days after delivery (although if I feeling a little naughty I may post them a few days beforehand.)

Comment is always invited and I thank you in advance for your input!

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