Summary: "The homily takes up once more the dialogue which the Lord has already established with his people. "

Thursday of 15th week in course 2015

Joy of the Gospel

Today we see Moses, who you remember fled from Egypt after killing an Egyptian oppressor, being called by God to go and preach to Pharaoh. The message: let all your slaves go into the desert. Let them abandon their jobs for a week or two, slow down all your construction projects, and show the rest of your people that they can do what they want. Just what were the chances of that happening right off? Less than zero. Both God and Moses knew that some level of force would have to be applied. And the warning, the preaching, had to come first, so that Pharaoh would hear the word of God and at least not be blindsided. For folks who won’t learn to obey God the easy way, there is the hard way.

But the preaching still needs doing. And so God calls priests and deacons, unworthy instruments though we are, to preach homilies like this one. As Pope Francis moves through the topics that the synod looked at, the means and methods of evangelization, he now comes to the subject of homiletics. What does the Holy Father expect of preachers?

He tells us that the homily is a touchstone “for judging a pastor’s closeness and ability to communicate to his people.” And he gets down to earth right away: “We know that the faithful attach great importance to it, and that both they and their ordained ministers suffer because of homilies: the laity from having to listen to them and the clergy from having to preach them! It is sad that this is the case. The homily can actually be an intense and happy experience of the Spirit, a consoling encounter with God’s word, a constant source of renewal and growth.”

The Holy Father asks us clergy to renew our confidence in preaching, “based on the conviction that it is God who seeks to reach out to others through the preacher, and that he displays his power through human words.” Our Lord was very effective with the common people of Palestine when He preached. Just recently we proclaimed that the people were amazed at His teaching, which came to them with authority, rather than a bunch of rabbinical footnotes.

He goes on to position homilies within the Liturgy: “The homily has special importance due to its eucharistic context: it surpasses all forms of catechesis as the supreme moment in the dialogue between God and his people which lead up to sacramental communion. The homily takes up once more the dialogue which the Lord has already established with his people. The preacher must know the heart of his community, in order to realize where its desire for God is alive and ardent, as well as where that dialogue, once loving, has been thwarted and is now barren.”

Homilies are not forms of entertainment. But they take the “then” meaning of the Scripture and of the Eucharistic sacrifice and bring that into the context of our daily lives. He goes on: “ it should be brief and avoid taking on the semblance of a speech or a lecture. A preacher may be able to hold the attention of his listeners for a whole hour, but in this case his words become more important than the celebration of faith. If the homily goes on too long, it will affect two characteristic elements of the liturgical celebration: its balance and its rhythm. When preaching takes place within the context of the liturgy, it is part of the offering made to the Father and a mediation of the grace which Christ pours out during the celebration. This context demands that preaching should guide the assembly, and the preacher, to a life-changing communion with Christ in the Eucharist. This means that the words of the preacher must be measured, so that the Lord, more than his minister, will be the center of attention.”

Here let me give some historical connection: at the time of the Protestant Revolution, many clergy were ill-trained. There’s a reason for that: global cooling for about two hundred years had brought famine and plague on Northern Europe. Perhaps a third of the population, including the clergy, had died. Seminaries and religious houses were particularly bad off. The level of training of clergy, then, was low. Homiletics suffered badly. So when Luther came along, and the other so-called “reformers,” they emphasized the sermon to offset their de-emphasis on the Eucharistic prayer. Even today, many Protestant churches only celebrate communion once a month, or even less often. Of course, they don’t believe that Jesus is really present as the Catholic Church has believed for two millennia. So the sermon is the presence of Christ to them. For us, the homily has a more balanced position, but it is still vitally important. Here’s an idea. Every week, pray for us who preach, not just on Sunday, but in the days leading up to it. That’s the time of study, inspiration, and writing, when we most need your prayers.

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