Top Secret: The Five Greatest Homily Resources Ever
Since high school, I have worked ‘behind the scenes’ with Catholic clergy in various capacities; first as a LifeTeen musician, then a youth minister and later, a theology teacher managing the liturgical interactions between the chaplain and the student body. This opportunity provided for me a sort of Gorillas in the Mist experience; one that has allowed for the observation of our shepherds in their natural habitat without the pressures of external stimuli (i.e. “the flock”) that inevitably influence the behaviors of those at hand. Truth & Charity attempts to aim a little higher than the failure-inducing People Magazine, so you won’t find any discussion of which bishops detest the usage of EMHCs or how many priests blame their colds illness on people licking their fingers during communion. Nay, in an effort to soothe the concerns of those considering the priesthood or even a career in public speaking, I wish to reveal the most commonly used methods Catholic clergy utilize for the development of homilies.
- The Inspiration of the Holy Spirit – Every Catholic, at one time or another, has experienced personal revelation during Mass. Most interestingly, this revelation usually coinsides with the post-Gospel homily, when that member of the faithful is suddenly struck a single, undeniable truth: He’s making this up as he goes along. Sure, the homily wanders from lepers to malaria, Africa to world hunger, local hunger to dinner plans, but when the Spirit moves, every subject is on the table. What’s most interesting about this method is that the Holy Spirit tends to inspire more profoundly those priests who thought to make an outline.
- The Dictionary – When a homily begins by the holy invocation of St. Merriam Webster, it’s a sure sign that the homilist wants nothing but the facts. Like a land parched, lifeless and without water, so the uninspired mind looks for it in the library. Always be on the lookout for the heavy-hitters that cite Google’s 64 million results when searching the theme of the homily.
- Magic Book of Homilies, Years A, B and C – It’s out there and everybody knows it. Scandal to the Protestant, the use of this arcane text is only perceivable every three years when the readings repeat their cycle and the homilies follow suit. It is only a coincidence that priests receive new parish assignments every few years. Nothing to see here. Move along, move along.
- U2 – Driving to Mass, still wondering what he’ll preach on, the priest hits the CD player in his car, prompting the gentle crooning, “I can’t live with or without you.” Wait a tic – sometimes people fight living with God, but can’t stand to live without him… YES!!! Such a universal approach to life worked for Bono 25 million times, why wouldn’t it work for a homily once? The only known variation of this method belongs to Fr. Barron, whose penchant for Bob Dylan skews the sample a bit.
- Lectio Divina – also known as Eenie Minie Miney Mo, the homilist stands at the ambo, overlooking the expectant congregation, and surveys the lectionary in before him. He zeros in on the psalm and begins to speak. He passes the 20 yard-line and refocuses on the first stanza and takes it to the 50. After repeating the most penetrating line once, twice, maybe three times, he sees nothing but daylight. A single word, unique for its simplistic profundity is defined and expounded upon until the goal line is in sight. After a quick, “tell ‘em what you told ‘em” that heads the syllabus of Public Speaking 101, the last yards are crossed and the homilist can taste the end zone. At the last second, he jukes toward the good ol’ standard, “… and we see this in our daily lives.” TOUCHDOWN!!! CUE THE INTERCESSIONS!!!
Alongside the sacraments and abstaining from meat on Fridays during Lent, discussing Father’s homily on the ride home is a near-universal practice within the Catholic faith. While this may come as a surprise, not every bishop, priest and deacon answered their call to Holy Orders out of a love for public speaking. Some of the humblest and most moving homilies I have heard have come from those priests who fear the ambo, yet speak from an obedience to their vocation. And, at least for that, a good number of them should be thanked and admired.