MANILA, Philippines – Archbishop Socrates Villegas, St John the Evangelist Cathedral, Dagupan City, Thursday, April 2.
[edited for length]
Today, I invite you to turn your hearts to another very rampant and widespread abuse among priests – homily abuse. Yes, abuse of the kindness of the people who are forced to listen to long, winding, repetitious, boring, unorganized, unprepared, mumbled homilies. In jest but certainly with some truth, the people say our homilies are one of the obligatory scourges that they must go through every Sunday.If you listen more carefully to what our people say about our homilies, they are not complaining about depth of message or scholarly exegesis. [Yes we are complaining about "depth of message". We want cuisine not fast food; substance, not pablum.] They are asked to endure Sunday after Sunday our homilies that cannot be understood because we take so long with the introduction, we do not know how to go direct to the point, and we do not know how to end. Be prepared. Be clear. [Stay at the ambo/pulpit! Do not wander about like some attention starved six-year-old.] Be seated.We were all abused by the homilies of our elder priests when we were seminarians. When our turn came to deliver homilies, the abused became the abuser. [Homilies are much better in our diocese now than in the 1980s and '90s. Our younger priests, i.e., under 35 and a couple of the older crew, are much less burdened by an older generation's loose play with the rubrics and homiletic vocal theatrics. The best homilies are of a kind that stay focussed on the text and avoid digressions into anecdotes that draw attention to the homilist much more than the Gospel. The best homily is demonstrated by the priest praying the Mass with deeply reverent gestures united to true intent.]If a seminarian lacks chastity, we cannot recommend him for ordination. If a seminarian is stubborn and hard headed, we cannot endorse his ordination. If a seminarian cannot speak in public with clarity and effectiveness, we should not ordain him. He will be a dangerous homily abuser. Homily abuse can harm souls.Long, winding, repetitious, irrelevant, unprepared homilies are signs of a sick spiritual life of the priest.
It is not enough to prepare our homilies; the good priest must prepare himself. Preaching is a ministry of the soul and the heart not just of the vocal chords and brain cells. Our spiritual life is the true foundation of our homilies. The question is not what we will preach but rather who will we preach? We preach only Jesus Christ; always Jesus Christ.
How shall we rise from the prevalent culture of homily abuse? What is our remedy?
The first call of the times is priestly sincerity. You can preach to empty stomachs if the stomach of the parish priest is as empty as his parishioners. Our homilies will improve if we diminish our love for talking and increase our love for listening. When our homily is simply a talk, we only repeat what we know, get tired and feel empty. When you listen and pray before you talk, you learn something new and your homily will be crisp and fresh.
The second challenge of our times is simplicity – simplicity of message and even more, greater simplicity of life. Simplicity of life will also help us to stop talking about money and fund raising in the homily; money talk has never been edifying. Simplicity means resisting to use the pulpit as a means to get back at those who oppose us (...). Simplicity also demands that we keep divisive election politics away from the lectern. [Careful! A church that is disengaged from the public square, e.g., does not preach truth to power, is as irrelevant as a church that has been co-opted by the state and conformed to a worldly agenda!] Simplicity in homilies means not desiring to make people laugh or cry – that is for telenovelas and noontime shows. Simplicity in homilies makes people bow their heads and strike their breasts wanting to change, seeking the mercy of God. To be simple is to be great in God’s eyes. The simple lifestyle of priests is the homily easiest to understand.
The third and last challenge is a call to study. [Priests! - know how to celebrate the Mass with integrity and dignity! Say the black; do the red!] Reading and study must not stop after the seminary. If we stop reading and study, we endanger the souls of our parishioners. If we stop studying, then we start forcing our people to read the so-called open book of our lives – the comic book of our lives, hardly inspiring, downright ridiculous and awfully scandalous. [If you make yourself a target, don't be surprised when people fire arrows at you!] The homily becomes our story and not the story of Jesus. Reading a bank book too much is not a good way to prepare our homilies.
Be careful with your life. The people watch us more than they listen to us. Be sincere and true.
Be careful with every homily. God will judge you for every word you utter. Believe what you read. Teach what you believe. Practise what you teach. [Be faithful to the Magisterium! Pray the Mass with fidelity to the rubrics!]
Be careful with every homily. They want to hear Jesus not you; only Jesus, always Jesus.
Be careful with your homily. Pity the people of God. Stop the homily abuse. Let your homily inspire and set hearts on fire.See also:
In calling the priest to preach Word of God and teach our faithful the fundamental truths of the Christian faith, Christ the Teacher continues to speak in His community of faith today with the same vitality and vigor that He spoke with while fulfilling His teaching ministry here on earth. The four Gospels from which we read tonight in the Passion Gospels each convey different aspects of Christ’s teaching. Together they form a mosaic of Divine Teaching, the most important element of which is that God is our Heavenly Father who loves us and desires to share His life with us. This is essentially the Good News! This message must be conveyed through us not only in words but also in the way we speak with gentleness, love, and respect for each person we encounter. A true priest is someone who is able to recognize in every person a beloved child of God who is hungry for divine truth, and is called to grow in faith each and every day. It is our task to provide spiritual guidance and nourishment on this journey of growth.
Through a priest called to celebrate the Liturgy, to pray and to teach the people to pray, Christ, the High Priest is present in His Church and continues to act as intermediary between God the Father and the human race. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we are called to act on our Lord’s behalf as intermediaries, both praying for ourselves and for God’s people, and imparting God’s blessings upon all. Especially when we serve the Divine Mysteries, we allow ourselves to be instruments through which our Lord’s sacrifice, offered once and for all on the Cross, is made present today where we live and for the community we serve. I wish to especially emphasize to you and call you, dear brothers, to fidelity in serving the Divine Liturgy and other services, as well as to praying the Hours. Through these divine services we not only sanctify ourselves, but also grant our faithful the unique occasion to draw life-giving waters of saving grace from the springs of Divinity. When, on the other hand, we neglect this responsibility, we sin before God and before His People, and one day we will need to respond before our Lord’s tribunal for our neglect, which can inflict grave and irreparable spiritual damage, both in ourselves, as well as in the faithful entrusted to our pastoral care.