How often have you heard or read the statement “I have never heard a homily on …”. I know I have come across this on Catholic blogs on multiple occasions and I am sure that I have mouthed that phrase myself at least once. We notice the lack of some subject being covered in homilies we hear on some subject important to us.
We especially notice this lack for subjects that we consider important for other people to hear. Rarely if ever do we say “I have never heard a homily on” some area where we ourselves need improvement. But that follows since we almost always are more apt to notice faults in others while being dismissive of our own faults.
Though I want to address another aspect of the “I have never heard a homily on …” phenomenon. Why do we think the homily should be the primary vehicle for teaching? Do we really believe that if “subject X” was more often talked about in a homily that people would be more submissive to the Church’s teaching on “subject X”? That if for example subjects such as contraception and abortion were more talked about in a homily that the average parishioner supported these things would change their mind? “I heard the priest talk about the sin of contraception today and so immediately went home and through out the birth control pills.” This is not to say that subjects such as these should not have a wider coverage within homilies, but that the “I have never heard a homily on …” (IHNHAHO) is not the underlying problem. As the GIRM states:
65. The homily is part of the Liturgy and is strongly recommended, for it is necessary for the nurturing of the Christian life. It should be an exposition of some aspect of the readings from Sacred Scripture or of another text from the Ordinary or from the Proper of the Mass of the day and should take into account both the mystery being celebrated and the particular needs of the listeners.
So it seems to me the homily is to open up the scriptures to us as Jesus opened up the scriptures on the road to Emmaus and to be also crafted for the “particular needs of the listeners”. The second area is certainly where Catholic teaching can be shored up in those realms where the priest believes there to be a deficit among the parishioners.
The real question we should be asking is why some doctrine or area of the spiritual life is missing from the catechesis and formation of Catholics. The homily is not meant to be the primary teaching vehicle for remedial formation. A ten minute homily on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation can not be our primary source of formation. A gifted homilist can do great good, but frankly the state of homiletics in my experience range the gamut. Though we are not like Protestant churches that stress preaching and put the name of the pastor on signs outside like a kind of “look who we have preaching” billboard. To paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld “We go to church with the homilists we have.”
The problems are much deeper and cover faith formation at the levels of family, schools, R.C.I.A, continuing adult formation, etc. Plus we all have a duty to inform our consciences and to seek any formation to help us grow in the spiritual life and to become saints. The breakdown in catechesis and anti-catechesis from dissidents has exasperated problems leading us to say the IHNHAHO statement. I have certainly read and heard a number of RCIA horror stories in regards to the faith taught – thankfully my own RCIA experience was very positive. We certainly have heard about how the faith was watered down and how Jesus hand puppets and felt banners became the substance of Catholic education. There are many things we can complain and commiserate on in regards to Catholic formation.
The question is what can be done about these problems? Introducing these subjects in a homily will not of itself help people to understand the Church’s teaching since often a lot of groundwork needs to be laid first theologically and philosophically. We can’t do anything about bad catechesis in the past, but must finds ways to correct those deficiencies. I’m not an expert on adult faith formation and so they don’t pay me the big bucks or any bucks at all to pontificate on solutions. But I am also a blogger so will pontificate anyway.
Parishes were once the center-point of a Catholic’s life and I think we need to find ways to bring about a greater level of connectiveness at the parish level so that some level of adult faith formation can occur. The growing number of parishes with Eucharistic Adoration certainly achieves part of this. Adult faith formation does not mean just classes, but a living of the Catholic life. Eucharistic Adoration starts at what we need most – to worship God in adoration and to pray. No doubt this also moves us into wanting to know more about the faith. Surely other things could open us up to more sacramental catechesis such as an emphasis on confession at the parish level. Parishes need to be something more than a place we go once a week for an hour to mark off a requirement on the minimum Catholic requirement checklist.
So how do we make that happen? I would certainly like the hear examples of places where parish life became more important and adult faith formation improved.
Nice post! Just wish I had heard this in a homily before now.
Your post reminds me of something I’ve noticed. There’s a blog pattern I’ve been seeing: “Why are so many young people leaving the Church?” “Obviously, they haven’t been properly catechized.” “Better education is the answer.”
Better catechesis would certainly be a good thing; but I suspect it isn’t sufficient. If we simply teach someone what the Christian life is like and what it’s about, they might make an informed decision that it’s too hard and that the broad, easy path that leads to damnation looks really good to them. We can’t simply teach them about the joy that comes from devoting yourself to Christ; we need to show them.
In short, we need to be disciples; and we need to make disciples. We can’t do the second if we don’t do the first. I suspect that any adult faith formation program has to be led by folks who really want to be disciples if it’s going to catch fire.
I agree with Will. Between the two of you, you’ve summed up a lot of my thinking on how to renew the Church.
IHNHAHO on TOB. In fact, I’ve never heard it mentioned outside dedicated events about it. JPII referred extensively to scripture and very much opened them up to develop a complete and consistent description of human sexuality and pastors have ample opportunity to use the scripture readings of the day to introduce the faithful to this unknown teaching.
RE: Will’s post
The joy that comes from leading the Christian life is the intended end of life in the Church. I think young people leave the Church because they disagree with what they incorrectly think is a teaching of the Church, or one they don’t understand. Catechesis is essential to stopping this cycle, but also essential to knowing what the Christian life is so one can experience that joy.
I Have Never Heard A Homily On… how the homily wasn’t meant for catechesis. But I did attend a theology of the body conference in which Janet Smith mentions a model of adult catechesis that was popular in North America before Humanae Vitae came out.
From what I remember of her talk, the bishops would respond to a pressing issue of the day (especially one where the Church might be out of step with the majority cultural forces) by mobilizing the catholic politicians and the Knights of Columbus. Between the politicians and the Knights, everyone knew where the Church stood though of course people might still require convincing.
In addition, one of the religious orders (often the Jesuits) would do week-long missions at individual parishes. There would be a catechetical talk every evening, time for questions, and highly trained speakers who could deliver the truth in an invitational fashion. And following biblical tradition, everyone knew that these priests were more authoritative than their local ones because they came from out of town/country (I know I’ve been to conferences that everyone raved about and then realize that my parish priest said the same thing but no one raved). During these week-long missions, Wednesday was “sex night” where they taught about all the controversial sex-related issues.
Apparently this came to an abrupt halt when Humanae Vitae came out. Some speculate that the hierarchy didnt press the issue because or the (perhaps very real) danger of schism.
I’ve been to the modern form of these missions. Priest mentioned that David committed murder and adultery and yet we believe he enjoys the Beatific Vision. Since none of us have murdered or committed adultery, we dont have much to worry about. Didnt hear a word about David’s repentance being important though.
Concerning Eucharistic Adoration, thats a wonderful practice and we need more and I’m sure it could lead to better catechesis but I dont think it can substitute for it.
I understand the instruction that the homily not be used as a catechesis session, but from a practical point of view, when else does the priest have access to the vast majority of his parishioners? I suspect relatively few people research the Faith at home, and the folks who attend adult formation opportunities tend to be those that already agree with what is being taught.
One possibility is to place good, intriguing apologetics materials in the pews, so that people cannot miss it.
Bravo. Great post, completely true.
I agree with Bryan. If not in the homily, when will the priest ever mention contraception? And if he doesn’t care enough to mention it, where will anyone hear about it? Of course, we know that Obama sat through 20 years of tub-thumping sermons containing memorable phrases such as “God damn America” and never noticed, so it’s possible that Fr’s homily on contraception, given once a year in the summer when attendance is down so as not to impact the collection basket will similarly go unnoticed, but can’t he at least try? At least once? Not everyone goes through RCIA.
Indeed, I’d say that by focusing on the homily, the Church has simply given a shield for nervous pastors to hide behind. Since Jesus never talked a whole lot about abortion or contraception, no need to bring up those divisive issues. Bring back the sermons! At least once in a while.
Some parishes have good CD’s for $5 in the area between the front door and the room with the pews. None of the priests have gotten a whip and overturned those stands.
Listen Jeff, if you really know a priest who can talk about the sin of contraception and convince a listener to immediately go home and throw out their birth control pills, well all I can say is bring “IT” on and let him also preach about the sin of Abortion and Adultery just to name a few!
I hear ya folks! Yes Victor and while at “IT”, why not use that Old Time Religious Catholic Overtone cause that might also make a huge difference? 🙂
The secret to catechetical renewal is to have my mom sit next to every living Catholic during homilies. She will train you to see how every single homily has a point meant especially for you. (And that would be the point of her elbow or finger into your ribs, at appropriate moments. Poke poke poke.)
Pope Benedict in Sacramentum Caritatis has said that homilies should be both catechetical and exhortitory. Yes, having taught adult education formation classes, not many people come. So the homily is the place where most people will hear the faith. It isn’t much but it is all we have. St. Paul says ‘how will people hear, if no one preaches.’ Even an atheist can teach catechism, we need as Pope Benedict says to have a relationship with a person, Jesus, and to get rid of the “professional” Catholics who get a paycheck but do not believe. Personally, I do preach about contraception, abortion, cohabitation, Sunday Mass obligation, same sex unions, the Real Presence, and more. Visit my blog http://www.romancatholichomilies.blogspot.com
Our family are parishioners in a parish in Texas. Our pastor has always taken his teaching duties seriously, and offered classes for the adults during the children’s Sunday School classes. He is a scripture scholar and inveterate reader, and our classes over the past 15 years have gone from reading and discussing encyclicals such as Humana Vitae and Veritatis Splendor, scripture history and geography (we loved the large maps of the Holy Land so we got a feel for the geography covered in both the old and new testaments), audio and video presentations by Scott Hahn and other teachers of the faith, and would regularly recommend books for further reading, such as the two-volume The History of Israel by Ricciotti, and more recently, The Fathers Know Best on the early church Fathers. Over the course of the years this has radically affected all the parishioners, and through them, their extended family. As an example, he was responsible indirectly for the conversion of my sister’s entire family from Anglicanism to the Catholic Church, simply by doing his usual teaching function. The Holy Spirit was definitely giving him the gift of Counsel – for a two year period, my sister would ask me pastoral questions and my brother-in-law would ask my husband deep theological questions about the faith, and we’d be able to answer promptly because, mysteriously, Monsignor had covered that very question in the previous few weeks. It was astounding and gives an idea of the breadth of his teaching. In addition, to address your comments about ourselves, his teaching had a profound affect on our entire family. Most of our children attended an orthodox Catholic university and have amazing faith lives. We ourselves stopped using birth control and learned to love life and the family that God was giving us. Most of the children ended up studying 4 years of Latin in High School, and my husband has an amazing library on Latin prayers and hymns and on theology which are lent out frequently to people who ask questions. This reminds me greatly of the opposite of a story in the old Catechism of Examples: A person confesses to the sin of gossip, and the priest assigns the penitent to go out three days in a row and throw chicken feathers into the wind. Upon return, the pastor assigns the penitent “Now go out and collect them back.” The penitent exclaims that the chore is impossible – the feathers would be spread everywhere and can’t be retrieved. The lesson is that gossip, once spread, can’t be retracted. The opposite also hold true though – effective, inspired teaching has a long reach. Our pastor will never know until Judgement Day the lives he has affected with his teaching.
God Bless you, Fr Larry!
If all those “Issue” topics were being addressed regularly in other forums-if all the kids being confirmed could clearly elucidate what the Church teaches on those topics, and why (even if they didn’t believe it), if there were regular adult ed classes on those topics in all parishes, if there were articles in the bulletin, in the diocesean newspaper–if it was clear to everyone who spent any amount of time in or near a Catholic parish that those topics were important, then they wouldn’t need to be covered at mass. As it is, however, most of those issues are things left over from the old days that they can’t quite get rid of (on the books) but everyone knows aren’t relevant anymore — I mean I went to ____ years of Catholic school and/or CCD and they never talked about them and I’m a good person and I don’t agree with the Church about_____ (not that I could tell you why it teaches that).
I don’t claim to be an especially gifted speaker or writer and I don’t want to hear an “issue” homily every week, but given any three random weeks from the lectionary, I’ll bet I could tie most issues into one of them and write a homily that covers both the issue and the readings.
Why do we think the homily should be the primary vehicle for teaching? Do we really believe that if “subject X” was more often talked about in a homily that people would be more submissive to the Church’s teaching on “subject X”?
In a way, yes. That is, our officials need to promulgate What is Official, and while it is not the primary point of the Mass to be the Voice of Officialdom, it is vital because of the necessity of unity of doctrine. One does not have to dedicate whole homilies to them, but the hard teachings should be constantly repeated so no one is in doubt about expectations. The managers at my scut-work job know this; don’t know why our Church managers can’t wrap their heads around it (fear of confrontation I suspect). So constant repetition, followed by extra-Mass formational programs and ideas will bear fruit. Granted, some will find the teachings too hard and walk away, but dem’s da breaks.
Good post. I’m with Fr Larry on this – I try to work catechetical content into my homilies, including controversial themes from time to time. It’s not the ideal forum, because of the need for laying groundwork that you mentioned, but it’s better than nothing.
And, if people feel they are being short-changed on some topic that the priest hasn’t preached about… try mentioning it. I, for one, find it helpful to know what the parishioners think, and at times have tried to work themes into my homilies because parishioners have pointed out a need for them.
Personally, I’d love to hear all priests speak about appropriate dressing and behaviour in church. How jeans and shorts don’t cut it or how low cut tops or strpless tops don’t quite do it either.
Or, how about, if you really need to talk before, during or right after Mass, LEAVE the Church to do it!
I would stand up and cheer after that homily!
elleblue – Our pastor has given homilies about both of these topics MULTIPLE times. There is even a sign posted immediately outside our sanctuary that says “SILENCE IN THE SANCTUARY.” Guess how effective it is???