HOW NOT TO GIVE A HOMILY
As I was thinking about what to say today in this article I
realized how much it bothers me when the preacher begins, "As I was
thinking about what to say today. . . ." The wrong beginning can sink a
homily faster than a screaming child.
Incidentally, the reason the child is screaming is that the
parents aren't leaving. It's not that they like what the preacher is saying and
want to stay. It's usually that the talk is so bad that they aren't listening to
the preacher anyway and figure nobody else is either. Might as well let the baby
Does this article seem too stream-of-conscience? Too negative?
I hate that in homilies too.
And don't you just want to stand up and run out when the talk
goes on and on and on? And you can't tell what the point is? And the homilist
keeps talking about what you need to do and not about what we can do?
Here's some stuff we preachers should never do:
* We shouldn't tell people what they should
* We shouldn't talk about all three readings and the feast --
too much to cover.
* We shouldn't go unprepared and assume no one will notice.
They all will.
* When we do prepare we shouldn't talk about the preparation.
"As I was thinking about what to say." Nobody really cares
about that. They care about the theme of our talk. Not the
process we took in writing it.
* We shouldn't subscribe to homily services as if we think
know what our people need to hear.
* Assuming we write out the talk, we shouldn't read it off the
* We shouldn't repeat the same talks we gave three years
ago or at the last parish.
* We shouldn't use old stories, as if God hasn't done
significant in our lives the last few months.
* We shouldn't talk down to the assembly, nor should we
any other person or institution.
* We shouldn't omit ourselves from the people we direct
our talk to.
* We shouldn't condemn, threaten, or end on a note of
despair. This is good news, remember?
* We shouldn't waste the first sentence. It should be
unique to this particular talk, and prepare people for what they will hear, and
what the conclusion should be.
* At funerals we should never say, "I never knew
the deceased." Even if it's true, it only makes the family feel worse.
* We shouldn't move around too much and distract the
* We shouldn't say, "If only one person gets
something out of this talk, I'll feel like I've done my job." We haven't.
We should aim a little higher. A lot higher. Don't let anyone out alive.
* We shouldn't use humor that's not integrated to the
talk. Comedy routine is not the literary unit we emulate. Humor should come
naturally to the homily.
* We shouldn't make more than one conclusion. The talk
should have one unifying theme that governs its introduction, content, and
* We shouldn't end (or begin!) with some trite
line--like good morning, thank you, or the sign of the cross.
* We shouldn't assume we know how to give a good homily,
even if we write articles about how to give a bad one. Thank you.
[This article was shared as part of the program for newly
ordained priests in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph in the fall of 1994.]
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