Mar 042012

Humorlectics is a portmanteau I have coined roughly combining humor and homiletics. Humorlectics is a field I think gets short shrift in seminary. Though I also get the feeling that homiletics is an area that gets short shrift in the seminary.

I bring this up concerning the use of humor during a homily. Being a Jester and all I of course believe that humor can be used to make serious points and can certainly be prudently used in a homily. From my limited experience as a convert I have seen humor used both well and not so well.

So here are some of my general reflections on the subject:

  • Starting with a joke: All homilies do not need to start off with a joke.  Some priests seem to do exactly this as kind of a crowd-breaker.  This view sees the laity as an audience that must be softened up first before you get to the meat.  This approach really goes downhill when the joke makes notpoint that is part of the theme of the homily.  Starting off a homily with a joke can be very effective when the punchline feeds the theme and emphasizes the points made later on. Trying to do this every time might work for some, but I haven’t seen it all that effective.
  • The stand-up-priest or priest as entertainer: There are some that think the whole homily is a vehicle for a stand-up act.  I remember one priest in particular that had a great stand-up act that was hilarious and delivered with perfect comedic timing.  Walking out I had no idea what the spiritual points were, but I remembered how funny he was.  There is certainly a skill-set in speaking that helps to deliver a homily and emphasize the themes.  Protestants are sometimes very effective at this skill-set while Catholic priests seldom are. Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen was an perfect example of this ability.   Priests though should play to their own abilities and not try to shoe-horn on some style that is alien to them.  If you have some good humor skills and timing this might be usefully used.
  • When it comes to humor, know your abilities and limitations: It is very awkward when you hear a priest deliver a joke rather badly or delivered in such a deadpan way with little or no comedic timing.  Homilies don’t require any level of humor.  My late-pastor and his assistant never used humor in their homilies.  This was simply not their style and they were comfortable in the homilies they delivered and I thought those homilies to be quite effective.  I never walked away thinking “Now if only that homily started out with a joke.”  I’ve also heard some homilies from priests who certainly had a sense of humor and used it well as a natural extension of themselves.  Priests like Fr. Groeschel can use a nice dry-wit tinged with irony to make their points.  Again, each person has their abilities and they should take advantage of them in communication their homily. Cardinal Dolan also knows how to use humor well without trampling over the actual message.

Now if only we had a “Humorlectics and Pastoral Review” magazine to help in this area.

  5 Responses to “Humorlectics”

  1. My problem isn’t that they feel that they have to soften us up for some meat. My problem is that they soften us up and there isn’t any meat, only cotton candy.

  2. Points taken. A little humor goes a long way. Not against it (THAT would be ironic) but it absolutely shouldn’t be the point.

    “Humorlectics and Pastoral Review” sounds like a great parody one-off we erstwhile humorists should create. 😉

  3. I’m not opposed to the joke start from priests who are old school enough to make it natural. And it’s often an effective icebreaker for the speaker himself, more than for the crowd.

    Remember, too, that a lot of the great sermon-writers of the past were totally tied to the speech conventions of their own day. You notice this more with the Fathers and the medievals (because their speech conventions were often different than ours).

    But yeah, the most important rule is that, if it’s not helping, don’t use it. Also, priests should think about trying their homilies out on an audience. Our current pope used to practice them on his sister Maria, who would point out problems (although in this case, it was mostly stuff like “There’s no way the schoolkids will understand your point if you put it into language meant for a graduate theology class.”) You should be practicing anyway, so practice on a live audience would be good.

  4. Or Humorletics and Parodic Review?

  5. […] the homily as a piece of entertainment. I’ve discussed the use of humor in homilies before in Humorlectics. What I have seen from the limited dataset of my own experience  is often really bad presentation. […]

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