As a contribution to our the series on the art of preaching, here is the text of a homily I preached for the Third Sunday of Lent at Corpus Christi parish in Baltimore Maryland.
To give some context: Corpus Christi is a small (average weekend attendance of about 140-160) urban parish that draws parishioners from around the city and the suburbs. In that sense, it is very much a “destination” parish. Many of the parishioners are professionals with post-graduate degrees, including some with degrees in theology. Most would identify themselves as on the “progressive” end of the Catholic spectrum and older parishioners in particular will speak of it as a “Vatican II parish” (younger parishioners are more likely to say, “Vatican II? Wasn’t that in the 60s?”).
This homily was given at the two parish Masses: the 4:00 Saturday “low Mass” (no music) and the 10:30 Sunday Mass. It is always an interesting experience to preach the same homily at these two different Mass. The first tends to be older parishioners who are seeking a quieter (and shorter) liturgy and they rarely if ever comment after Mass on the homily, or give much indication during the homily if the message is hitting any targets. The latter is more lively, with fairly robust congregational singing and a mix of generations, including a number of young families with small children, and they will frequently let you you whether they thought it was a good homily or not. At this Mass I depart occasionally from the text to expand a point. Also, the presence of music can make for some serendipitous connections with the homily; on this Sunday, David Haas’s “Deep Within” was the communion song, which connected nicely with the focus of the homily.
Thanks for posting, Fritz. The first question we were taught to ask of a homily in preaching class was “Did you hear good news?” I did: God pierces our hearts. This is a refreshing message, especially if you’ve been taking seriously the Lenten call to come to a deeper and deeper understanding of our stoniness.
I wonder: is this your normal length? At 620 words, it’s 250ish words shorter than my average, and I’m the most concise Sunday Mass preacher of the regular rotation at my parish. I don’t think I’d have left Mass feeling short-changed by it, though, as the homily almost invited one to write your own (more personal) conclusion.
@Adam Booth, CSC – comment #1:
It’s a bit on the short side for me. But I rarely go over 800-850 words.
One reason that my homilies tend to be short on paper is that our church is a very resonant space and if you don’t speak slowly and precisely, the spoken word turns to aural mush. I am sure that a more acoustically dead space would allow me to fit more words into the same amount of time (though I’m happy to trade those extra words for a space that facilitates singing). It is interesting how even something like architectural space can shape the form and content of one’s preaching.
BTW, it’s nice to see you joining us on PrayTell, after “knowing” you for years as Hart on Ship of Fools.
@Fritz Bauerschmidt – comment #2:
Thank you for this enlightening comment on preaching and acoustics. Whenever I have listened to homilies in reverberant spaces with good deliberate declamation and diction, I have actually paid closer attention than normal.
Thank you for posting this excellent homily! It made me miss my time at university where I heard homilies of this caliber on a weekly basis. Now as a person-in-pew in a diocesan church, thoughtful reflections such as this are all too rare! We heard a homily focused on rules and scrupulosity yesterday. I got much more out of reading yours, so thank you again!
“…let God remake
the temple of our heart
into a ‘thin place’
where heaven and earth can meet.”
Just when I was beginning to tire of the overused “thin places,” someone comes along and gives the phrase a new and startling twist. Thank you, Fritz Bauerschmidt. This is my prayer for the remainder of Lent.
Excellent homily. It looks like a wonderful parish.
I like the contrast between “the word made flesh” and the “word carved in stone” — thanks for that.