The Importance of Good Preaching
A Service of the Parish Evaluation Project
November, 2012The Importance of Good Preaching Edward McCormack wrote, in an article entitled “As It Is in Heaven: Can re-imagining the Gospel revitalize the church?” (America Magazine Sept. 10-17, 2012), “Catholics are often ‘homily hostages,’ as a friend of mine puts it, forced to hear priests retell the Sunday readings or rant about the one moral issue they are concerned about. This approach snuffs out the embers of faith instead of re-energizing it.” He went on to state, “Until there is a revolution in the way priests and deacons proclaim the word, the faith of the baptized will not be energized, and few will want to share it with others.” (p. 18) Homily Reflection In our work with parishes, we suggest one approach towards improving the homilies parishioners hear on the weekends. It begins with the preachers’ willingness to meet with a group of parishioners of their own choosing once a month. The agenda would be to break open the Word together as a way of gaining insight into the Scriptures. The priests and deacons we have worked with have seen the value of this reflection group and the benefit it could offer to their preaching. Once the homilists agree with the concept, the next step is to gather a group of six to eight people, including both those who do the preaching and those who are the listeners. The homilists usually choose those with whom they feel comfortable but who are also able to provide insights into how the Scriptures relate to people’s everyday lives. We have been impressed by the sensitivity of those chosen, as well as by their deep faith and keen wisdom. From the start, the participants look forward to coming together to share. Step three is to agree upon one day of the month, usually early in the week, on which all are free to meet. In preparation for each gathering, all study the texts for the coming weekend and jot down any insights or how the readings relate to their own experience. The reflection group meets for no longer than an hour during which all share their insights. It is up to those preaching on the following weekend to use as much or as little as they wish in their homily preparation. Also during the meeting, each of the homilists chooses a partner to meet with briefly sometime after their homily. This sharing usually includes affirmation of one or other aspect of the homily, as well as tips that might improve the content or delivery of the next homily. This interaction needs to be sensitive and caring, as well as honest and constructive. The partners could remain the same or change each month depending on the desires of those doing the preaching. As an extra bonus for the monthly sharing, we have found Bishop Ken Untener’s small book called, Preaching Better (Paulist Press, 1999) to be a great help and resource to the Homily Reflection Group. It contains short, pithy chapters about ways to keep homilies brief, focused, insightful and memorable. Fifteen minutes of each monthly meeting could be used to react to one chapter at a time. Once the chapters are completed, some other book, article or video could be used as an outside resource for improving the level of preaching at the Masses. The final step is to choose a date, usually six to eight months from the group’s inception, to assess how the participants feel about the experience and whether or not it should continue. Just before that date, members of the group might ask others attending the weekend Masses if they have noticed any difference in the preaching and if so, what these differences might be. The purpose is to discover what Edward McCormack suggested in his article, “When preaching is done well, the Christian faith becomes infectious.