Thursday, June 4, 2009

Homily Gone Bad

From the pews, a homily that bombs is rarely comprehensible.  We ask the priest to do one thing, say a few good words.  What is so hard about that?

Except, it’s not just one thing that a priest is asked to do.  There’s the baptisms and the funerals and the marriage prep and the hospital visits and the school visits and the parish council meetings.  And there are fewer guys and diocesan meetings and parish subcommittees and bishops who’d like you to do one more thing and factions in the parish fighting and people waiting for you to say one wrong thing before they go to the bishop, and it doesn’t matter what thing you say, someone in the parish is pretty much going to be offended if you say much of anything, including “God loves you”, because what about those lousy terrorists, knuckleheaded Republicans or baby killers, you soft-on-abortion embarrassment. 

And then there’s the opposite case – you work on a homily, work hard, really knock yourself out, reading the commentaries, mulling things over, pushing yourself to say something that will be meaningful, that actually expresses something of the mystery that is God and love and our fallen but still kicking humanity.   And it still fails.

Believe it or not, that really does happen.  I know, practice makes perfect and the early bird gets the worm and something about the grasshopper, but it’s true. Sometimes you knock yourself out and the rocket still fails to launch. Or it gets going and then suddenly loses steam and begins falling end over end. Or it just explodes.

And other times, you have no time to prepare, you are literally considering the readings for the first time 6am Sunday with three masses to follow, and nothing much comes but self-recrimination, but when you’re standing up there feeling absolutely naked and foolish yet again it all just falls into place, there’s a lit path and good words and a breath of fresh air and maybe even a moment of beauty and you have no idea where the heck it came from but you’re grateful as hell.

There’s a lot we can do as preachers to improve our odds of speaking something inspired and worthwhile on a Sunday. And frankly, if we’re not doing some sort of preparation, we really can’t be surprised that the final product isn’t much, anymore than we’d be surprised that a band making up its music as it goes along doesn’t produce a quality set.

But just when I think I’ve got it all together, I’ve done all the work and I am going to nail it, halfway through the first section it falls apart like cheesecloth in my hands and I realize it’s not quite as simple as that. 

Congregations should still expect all that they do, if you ask me.  Just as long as they realize, it's still a human venture.   And so it just doesn't always work out.  


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