One thing we have often stressed on this website and blog is the importance of decent homiletics. This pertains not only to the content of a homily, but also to its delivery and length. It is ironic that homiletics is in such a particularly dismal state today, given that the post-Vatican II Church was supposed to "break open the Word of God" to the people with increased Scripture readings, more Gospel-themed homiletics, and a focus on the "pilgrimage of the People of God." These "fruits", like others of the "new springtime", have not materialized. By and large priests today do not know how to give a homily. They flounder about looking for ways to make the Gospel "relevant": we get anecdotes from sports, banal personal stories, terrible jokes, interpretations of the Scriptures that we fluffy or doctrinally suspect, and worst of all, it all goes on too long.
Yes, despite the fact that numerous statements have been made from various corners of the hierarchy suggesting the ideal homily be somewhere around 10 minutes in length, priests continue to abuse their parishioners with 20-25 minute homilies - or longer. And yes, an extra long homily is a form of liturgical abuse.
We are pleased to present this homily of Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, and President of the Episcopal Conference of the Philippines. In this homily-about-a-homily, the archbishop criticizes the poor homiletics in the Church today and encourages priest to set the hearts of their people on fire with their homilies - and to "pity the people of God" and stop abusing them with "long, winding, repetitious, irrelevant, unprepared homilies." The homily was given on April 2 in the diocesan cathedral.
"Today we make a spiritual journey again to the Upper Room to remember our priesthood. We come once again to thank the Lord for calling us to be priests. The Lord took a risk. He entrusted to us His Church. The longer we stay in this vocation, the more clearly we see that it takes more than will power to remain a good priest. It needs grace. We need God. We need God to stay focused. We need God to stay on track. We need God to protect us and preserve us.
We have seen many abuses among the clergy – alcohol abuse, sexual abuse, child abuse, gambling abuse, money abuse, travelling abuse, vacation abuse. 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. 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. 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.
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. Saint Joseph Cupertino said: “A preacher is like a trumpet which produces no tone unless one blows into it. Before preaching, pray this way: Lord, you are the spirit, I am your trumpet. Without your breath I can give no sound.”
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. We will be better homilists if we dare to smell again like the sheep.
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 – patama sa sermon. Simplicity also demands that we keep divisive election politics away from the lectern. 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. 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. 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. A double life, a secret dark life is stressful.
Be careful with every homily. God will judge you for every word you utter. Believe what you read. Teach what you believe. Practice what you teach.
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.
How Long Should a Homily Be?
St. Augustine on the "Wholesome Sweetness" of Good Homilies