Sunday, September 16, 2012

What Do You Want in a Homily?

One of the things I'm finding after being a priest for a while, is when it comes to the homily you really have to ask yourself, what am I trying to do here?   Because it's pretty easy to get sidetracked.

What do I mean by sidetracked? Well, for instance, the homily that's about providing a solution to a problem.  You see a problem in the world or in our lives or in the Scriptures and your homily is your attempt to tell us how to (re)solve it.

There's nothing wrong with this as an approach from time to time.  Except, I don't know, do people really come to Mass for answers?

I can see that one line getting excerpted and taken around the internet for a spin.  Ah, the love it will spawn.

But I'd say one of the problems in our church today is too many of those holding the mike thinking they've got all the answers. Or that they're supposed to.  It's true, a lot of graces come with the holy oils, but that ain't one of them.

And confusion, mystery -- these are biblical things. The sort of moments that break through the great ongoing data stimulation/monologue of our lives and make us stop and say, wait, what now?

Of all the evangelists, it's Mark that knew that better than anyone.  His is the gospel that ends without a resurrection. The women go to the tomb the morning after the Resurrection, and the stone's been pushed away, and they're told by a person in white that Jesus has gone. And the women are so freaked out, they run away and don't tell anyone.

I think that's a part of what a homily is for: not to smooth it all out for us, but to name, uncover, provoke, wonder.  They probably shouldn't run away screaming, but if they leave wondering what the heck was that all about, well, they may be a little bit closer to God than they were when they got there.

Or maybe I just had a bad Sunday.  You tell me.


Anonymous said...

Some of the best homilies have left me running away screaming! That's because I've heard exactly what I didn't want to but desperately needed to. Too close for comfort if you will.

I agree, there are far too few of those at a moment in time when we need so many more.

Jane Marie, OSF

Peter Johns said...

AS i've stepped away from the fundamentalism of my youth I've become far more comfortable with ambiguity and mystery.

Some of the best homilies that I have heard have not provided answers but have provided a space for me to ask better questions. Questions that are not caught up in my own dysfunctional ego.

It scares me when people talk with absolute certainty about divine mystery.

Jim McDermott said...

Ooh, I like that turn of phrase Peter -- a homily that "has provided a space for me to ask better questions." Wow, that's a great way to put it.

Carol said...

4 A part of the reason I go to Mass (other than the fact that I am going to Mass, that is,) is for the homily. Occasionally, I do need some comforting, but I find that just about any conundrum I've managed to get into in my lifetime is primarily of my own making, and the answers to it were located somewhere in Scripture, had I bothered to look. Nowadays, while I love the friendliness of my home parish, and I support it with my contributions, I usually take a trek downtown and go to the Mass at the Jesuit parish. Why? Because you guys make me THINK, same as back in school! I think a good part of the problems in the Church nowadays are precisely because people don't bother to stop and think, to do a good examen, and to act on what they find. So keep on making us think, Father!

Anyways, it's a lot better than getting overly reassured, or worse yet, have to listen to some lesson extracted from my pastor's latest golf game.