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A good homilist

Fr. Roy Cimagala
Candidly speaking

 

Fr. Roy CimagalaPriests should aspire to be good homilists. They should try their best that with their homilies they manage to stir the people’s heart in such a way that they get moved to love God and others more and more. For this, a review of what Pope Francis said about homilies in his document, “Evangelii gaudium” (The joy of the gospel) is definitely worthwhile making.

There he clarifies the nature and importance of the homily. It should be “an intense and happy experience of the Spirit,” he said, “a consoling encounter with God’s word, a constant source of renewal and growth.” (135) In any event, the homily can show how close a priest is both with God and with the people. A bad homily would be torture to both the preacher and the listener.

Since it is done within the liturgical celebration of the Mass, it should not be so much a time for meditation and catechesis as a dialogue between a God and his people, “a dialogue in which the great deeds of salvation are proclaimed and the demands of the covenant are continually restated.” (137)

As such, it cannot be a form of entertainment though it should be engaging, able to give life and meaning to the celebration of the Mass. He should be brief, avoiding the semblance of delivering a speech or a lecture, and much less, a scolding. In this way, he can manage to make Christ the center of attention, and not his own self.

He should make his homily assume the character of a mother who speaks to her child, “knowing that the child trusts that what she is teaching is for his or her benefit, for children know that they are loved.” (139)

He engages in a dialogue where more than mere communication of truths is involved. He should exude the joy of speaking that expresses God’s love for the people. He should not be moralistic or doctrinaire in his tone and style. He has to make a heart-to-heart communication.

Pope Francis made one good observation about a good homilist. He said: “The challenge of an in culturated preaching consists in proclaiming a synthesis, not ideas or detached values…Where your synthesis is, there lies your heart. The difference between enlightening people with a synthesis and doing so with detached ideas is like the difference between boredom and heartfelt fervor.” (143)

Of course, a good homilist prepares his preaching with a prolonged time of study, prayer, reflection and pastoral creativity.In fact, everything in his life and ministry should go into the preparation of his homily. He therefore has to be true and faithful to his vocation, living a unity of life and avoiding hypocrisy,pretensions, etc. To be blunt, the effectiveness of his homily would somehow depend on his level of holiness.

He should personalize God’s word by entering into its spirit. In that way, he becomes a true witness of God’s word and can relive what Christ said to his apostles: “Whoever listens to you listens to me.” (Lk 10,16)

This is possible if the homilist reads, studies and handles God’s word spiritually, the way St. Paul handled God’s word.“We speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit,” he said, “explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words.” (1 Cor 2,13)

One reassuring advice the Pope gives when the preacher feels he is not yet ready to fulfill what God seems to be asking from him at a given moment is to ask “from him what we ourselves cannot as yet achieve.” (153) A preacher should not feel depressed at his in ability to do what knows God is asking from him. He just has to be humble and patient and do whatever he can.

A good homilist also needs “to keep his ear to the people and to discover what it is that the faithful need to hear. A preacher has to contemplate his people.” (154)
This is very important and the preacher simply has to find ways to know his people in an increasingly intimate way. This is always possible since he often receives their confessions and gives spiritual direction. Besides, there are now many other resources where the temper and signs of the times and peoples can be discerned.

Finally, a good preacher gets down to brass tacks by composing his homily, knowing how to deliver it. He should avoid being verbose. He should try his best to be simple and concise. His homily should have “an idea, a sentiment, an image.” (157)

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