Pope Benedict XVI
The homily is a means of bringing the scriptural message to life in a way that helps the faithful to realize that God’s word is present and at work in their everyday lives. It should lead to an understanding of the mystery being celebrated, serve as a summons to mission, and prepare the assembly for the profession of faith, the universal prayer and the Eucharistic liturgy…..
Recovering the centrality of the divine word in the Christian life leads us to appreciate anew the deepest meaning of the forceful appeal of Pope John Paul II: to pursue the missio ad gentes and vigorously to embark upon the new evangelization, especially in those nations where the Gospel has been forgotten or meets with indifference as a result of widespread secularism.
What the world is in particular need of today is the credible witness of people enlightened in mind and heart by the word of the Lord, and capable of opening the hearts and minds of many to the desire for God and for true life, life without end….
Given the importance of the word of God, the quality of homilies needs to be improved. The homily ‘is part of the liturgical action’ and is meant to foster a deeper understanding of the word of God, so that it can bear fruit in the lives of the faithful. The homily is a means of bringing the scriptural message to life in a way that helps the faithful to realize that God’s word is present and at work in their everyday lives. It should lead to an understanding of the mystery being celebrated, serve as a summons to mission, and prepare the assembly for the profession of faith, the universal prayer and the Eucharistic liturgy. Consequently, those who have been charged with preaching by virtue of a specific ministry ought to take this task to heart.
Generic and abstract homilies which obscure the directness of God’s word should be avoided, as well as useless digressions which risk drawing greater attention to the preacher than to the heart of the Gospel message. The faithful should be able to perceive clearly that the preacher has a compelling desire to present Christ, who must stand at the centre of every homily. For this reason preachers need to be in close and constant contact with the sacred text; they should prepare for the homily by meditation and prayer, so as to preach with conviction and passion. The … following questions be kept in mind: “What are the Scriptures being proclaimed saying? What do they say to me personally? What should I say to the community in the light of its concrete situation? The preacher “should be the first to hear the word of God which he proclaims”, since, as Saint Augustine says: “He is undoubtedly barren who preaches outwardly the word of God without hearing it inwardly”.
Nine years ago I was ordained a Catholic priest. The year before I served at a large New York parish as a deacon, for me the next-to-last stage before the priesthood. And one of the deacon’s main tasks was to preach at the Sunday Mass. And, frankly, I was terrified.
It’s not that I had never spoken publicly before. Or spoken about my faith. Nor was it the fact that as a preacher you have to juggle a lot: you have to explain Scripture to the congregation, you have to invite them to see how it might be meaningful to their lives, you have to present church teaching; and you also have to pay attention to the news of the day. As the Protestant theologian Karl Barth said, Christians should live with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. And rather than telling people what to think or what to do, it’s better to help them form their consciences to make their own decisions….
No, what made me nervous was that I was dealing with something sacred. You may know that Catholics believe that God is present in the Eucharist, that is, the consecrated host. But you may not know that Catholics believe that God is also present in the Mass in three other ways: in the congregation, in the priest, and in the Scripture reading. In other words, when you read the Gospel and preach, you are plunging yourself into something sacred, something that is much bigger than just your own commentary.
Now, that doesn’t mean that the church should not participate in the real world. Some of the greatest of the saints, like St Francis of Assisi, St Ignatius Loyola, and St Teresa of Ávila, all encouraged an active spirituality, one that grasped that the church’s sacred mission is lived out in the secular world. The long tradition of Catholic social teaching also encourages speaking out about the problems of the world, especially those of the poor. More to the point, Jesus of Nazareth was profoundly concerned with real-life matters, and spoke passionately about compassion, justice and mercy.