I confess I enjoy preparing and offering homilies.
If I can't prepare one -- if I end up offering extemporaneous thoughts at a daily Mass -- I enjoy it much less. But when I have time and inclination fully to prepare a homily: to pray over the readings, to consult various commentaries and resources, and to be able, in relative quiet and peace, with coffee at hand, to craft the text, drawing on all the blessings of my life that can enrich it -- and then, to be able to edit, edit, edit, making it tight and polished . . .
And then, to be with my parishioners, and to share it . . . and, to have another chance at it, because inevitably, feedback or sudden insights will improve it . . .
Yes, I enjoy that.
There are many other things a priest does that matter more. A man collapsed at Mass today, and someone helpfully waved me down, right during the Lamb of God, to him; and so I went. I brought him holy communion before the paramedics took him to the hospital (I offered to anoint him, but he said no). I would make a big bet that the family will remember my attention to him far more than my homily.
As much as I enjoy homilies, the rest of the Mass matters far more in my estimation; as much as I want folks to get a helpful homily -- I pray that whatever I offer is enriching to their faith -- I also want folks to look past the homily; the better it is, the more I want that. Too often, I fear, we are dazzled by externals and impressive packaging. A good homily can -- in the words of St. Augustine, teach, delight and persuade. But the Mass is an infinite treasure; and it grieves when someone says, "the main thing for me is the homily." Oh God, no!
Yet I read what folks say about the homilies they experience; and I wonder, can it be that bad?
I think folks who tend to complain and overstate things are over-represented on blogs; I think there are folks, young and old, who when they complain, ought to be challenged: "Don't tell me there was nothing for you; it was there. Instead of focusing on the problems of others, focus on the problem of yourself." The "I get nothing out of Mass" attitude, in my judgment, is itself utterly without merit; that it gets any sympathy from me is not because it's valid, but because I think I will do more good in getting the person out of that narcissism with softness than with the eight-letter response it strictly merits: bull----!" Occasionally, the latter, blunt answer is appropriate."
But I can't dismiss the comments folks far and wide offer about their experiences of the Mass, and of homilies, simply as "complaining." And then it hit me, as I thought about this, that it has been some time now since I was in that situation.
After all, for some 4 years now, most of the homilies I've heard at Mass were my own. As I like to say, I haven't gone to Mass in years; I offer it -- and that's a very different experience. I forget what it's like to "go to" Mass.
For six years, I was in the seminary. And yes, I heard some inane homilies in those years; but I had the advantage of being nourished in my faith many other ways. It's been some time since I was just a "regular Joe" Catholic attending Sunday Mass.
So I have to defer to you, dear reader, and to my dear parishioners: it's been too long since I walked in their shoes, and I really no longer have the ability to do so, in this regard.
So: if you tell me you aren't getting nourished in homilies, then that makes me say to myself, it does matter that I get it right. And that is why I solicit your feedback.
When you say you like a homily, thank you; but if you want to help me, tell me why. This may sound very odd, but it's true: just what makes a homily effective is pretty much a mystery! Oh, I don't deny all the insights, all the valid observations about technique (and I know some of them, and when I have time, I try to use them).
I mean, rather, that after all that, one can give a homily that flunks all the tests, and yet it elicits the same, "good homily Father!" Too often, I have prepared a homily I didn't like very much; but many folks at Mass, did. Too many times, folks have said I said such-and-such, and I thought, "when did I say that?" -- that's what they heard. How did that happen? A mystery to me.
I write all my Sunday homilies; I know what I said. But only you can tell me what you heard; and what it meant. Only you can tell me why you liked it; what was good about it (for you).
Also, I figure if you get into the habit of giving me specific feedback on my homilies, it can only help you be able to offer that to your own parish priest. I realize how daunting offering that to him could be; but he needs to know.
You are obliged to be charitable, and constructive, but your feedback is vital, whether he's doing well or -- even more -- badly. If you find your bishop, priest or deacon's homilies wanting, how do you expect him to change, if no one will step up and in true charity, offer some pointed feedback? (I assure you, everyone from mediocrity and up has more than enough "good homilies" bolstering their present habits.)
So, don't hold back, please. I want your feedback, and I need it.