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.