Driving People Away with Boring Preaching… or with Great Preaching

The atmosphere in traditional churches needs to liven up as more and more faithful, disenchanted with boring homilies being delivered by priests, are defecting to charismatic movements, a retired bishop in the Philippines said at a Catholic charismatic congress. Several million people in the traditionally Catholic Philippines have joined movements such as El Shaddai and the Iglesia Ni Cristo.

Meanwhile, in “The Hunt for a Good Sermon” in the Wall Street Journal, John Wilson points out that good preaching isn’t necessarily the way to draw people in. If you preach the FULL GOSPEL, you might just experience what Jesus did… people might well reject the message and walk away.


    1. 1) When the homilist prepares in advance by praying over the scriptures to be proclaimed
      2) When the homilist peruses over various commentaries on those pericopes [readings]
      3) When the homilist is well-informed on the current events of the day and makes practical application of those events with those readings

      1. I would add, has some feel for real life.

        I’ve heard multiple sermons ( as opposed to homilies!) addressed to a mostly elderly congregation telling them they needed to go to confession to get right with God. It left me wondering what mortal sins these widows had supposedly committed!

        Elsewhere I’ve read reference to the sin of an employee stealing paper and pens from the office. Such preaching is trivial, nonsensical and smacks of an option for the well to do!

  1. A good homily should make the Word alive for that particular congregation. “Naming Grace” (title of book on preaching by Sister Mary Catherine Hilkert, O.P. at Notre Dame) is one approach, one that uses the readings (preferably the Gospel) to help people find the contours of God’s presence and movements in current life — personal and/ or social. Abp Rembert Weakland was a great preacher, with homilies that sounded like an abbot’s exhortation to the community (which they were). My current pastor is a Jesuit, and his homilies are frequently modelled on Ignation Spiritual Exercises. My own approach would be the use of scripture as metanarrative in ways that “name grace,” lifting the Word out of the text to shape our ability to see the presence of the Risen Lord in our midst.
    A great homilist is mindful that the Great Commandments apply to homily-making as it does any other human activity. A good homily will find ways to preach the Gospel that “comforts the afflicted, and afflicts the comfortable” — preferably in ways that will move its hearers to generosity in time, talent, and treasure.

  2. A good homily is the product of several things. First, the preacher must prepare. Preaching without preparation is an insult to the congregation.
    Second, the homily should be based on the readings of the liturgy, not Tea Party talking points or Democratic Party platform planks.
    Third, the preacher must know equally well what IS Catholic doctrine and what is not, and not present the latter as the former.
    Fourth, the preacher has to appreciate deeply that the homily is an integral part of the liturgy – it is part of the most wonderful prayer the Church has.
    Fifth, the homily must challenge the hearts and minds of the hearers, calling them to greater holiness. Chastisements rarely move hearts or minds, but they may move bodies to other churches.
    Last, the preacher must be understandable. If the preacher is not blessed with good diction, projection, etc., invest in elocution lessons.

  3. I am not a physicist. I have but an elementary understanding of this discipline, though, like many of us, I find it fascinating. Yet, one of the best homilies I heard last summer was by a priest at UST, Houston, who ingeniously wove physics (of which he is a professor) into his homily. I complimented him enthusiastically on it after mass. He was very pleased, but said that he was terribly afraid that he might have been ‘over their heads’.
    It was fortuitous that he had not let this concern deter him in what he had to say. I suspect, though, that a goodly bit of poor preaching happens precisely because great numbers of our clergy seem to think that their people are somewhat daft and need to be spoken to as though they were in the third (well, maybe the eighth) grade. The beginning (not to mention in-spiration) of a good sermon is a gift for genuinely literate language, by which is expressed the theological and spiritual dimensions of holy writ, Catholic philosophy, literature
    and culture. Entertainment value and personality are at the very bottom of the list. People want to be inspired, edified, encouraged, gain knowledge with a presentation that makes their minds and their lives richer. I might suggest that a priest (or a deacon) who is not so gifted could read the published sermons of those who are: perhaps a reading from The Fathers, or Doctors, or Philosopher-Theologians could be aptly read and serve as an homily.

  4. Many true and important points were made in the previous posts. In addition I look for a priest who is present to his community; shops where they shop, eats in the same diners, rides the bus with them, visits their homes, hears their stories-joys-fears with an open mind and heart:
    that is the man who will be ready to speak to the hearts of God’s people.

  5. Great preaching comes from the heart of the homilist and speaks to the heart of the listener.

  6. When preparing a homily, I try to think of specific people in the parish to whom the readings might be relevant. So, for example, last Sunday, preaching on the image of adoption in the second reading, I kept in mind specific parishioners who were adoptive parents or adopted children or birthmothers. I only occasionally mention specific people in homilies, but find that preparing in this way keeps the homily rooted in the local community and keeps it from feeling too “generic.” I almost always discover afterwards that this approach seems to connect with people other than the specific people I had in mind.

  7. Preaching also takes into consideration one’s ability to differentiate “the Lord of the work” and “the wok of the Lord”.

  8. If when I have finished preaching the people are not more aware of the presence of God in our midst, then I have failed. Hopefully, many will even be more ready to recognize the presence of the Risen One in the breaking of the bread.

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