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Excerpted from Verbum Domimi: - The Homily
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 center 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 synodal assembly asked that 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”. The homily for Sundays and solemnities should be prepared carefully, without neglecting, whenever possible, to offer at weekday Masses brief and timely reflections which can help the faithful to welcome the word which was proclaimed and to let it bear fruit in their lives.
There is often a disconnect between pulpit and pew when the preacher, bound to his written text, delivers a message with minimum focused eye contact. Therby, not paying attention to the fidgeting, inattentiveness, clock watching, and half or full closed eyes in front of him. If we consistently deliver a message that few people care about or cannot relate to, they will protest with their feet. "In survey after survey over the past years, the people of God have called for more powerful and inspiring preaching. A steady diet of tepid or poorly prepared and delivered homilies is often cited as a cause for discouragement on the part of the laity and even leading some to turn away from the Church" - Preaching the Mystery of Faith - The Sunday Homily - Jan. 2013 USCCB - page 2.
Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium (EG) reminds preachers to develop closeness with their audience, have a warm tone of voice, be unpretentious, animated, and employ gesture genuinely - #141. Jesus, Peter and Paul were accused of many things by their hearers but never lukewarm or half hearted preaching.
Read (EG) in its entirety. But for preachers, reading chapter three, "The Proclamation of the Gospel" is a must. Focus especially on #135 - #159. Also, read the USCCB document, "Preaching the Mystery of Faith - The Sunday Homily." EG #157, ...learn how to use images in preaching. Sometimes examples are used to clarify a certain point, but these only appeal to the mind... an attractive image makes the message seem familiar, close to home, practical, and related to everyday life.
Psychologist George Crane, in a speech to a group of clergy, said, "Many clergy couldn't even rate a "D" in any high school public speaking class. You are an ally of Satan if you drive parishioners away from church by your stodgy public speaking methods. How can the homilist overcome this? The answer lies in the quality of our experience and the condition of our imagination. This means being open to and seeking criticism no matter how much it stings and learning from past mistakes. Our attitudes must develop from a personal devotional life and a thorough committment to study Scripture. This may lead to a change in preaching techniques by helping find a style in which we feel comfortable, while remembering that those facing us in the congregation are, like ourselves, in desperate need of the strengthening and healing power of the Gospel . - Dr. Charles Dixson.