Archbishop Jason Gordon concludes his examination of homiletics
When we stand before God’s people in liturgy, we stand naked spiritually. We stand in persona Christi in the consummation of the marriage between Christ and His bride. We do not even have a fig leaf to hide our shame.
People know if we have the goods or not. They know if we are careerists or men of God. They know if we have depth or ambition. They know if we are pastors or bureaucrats.
“When preaching takes place within the context of the liturgy, it is part of the offering made to the Father and a mediation of the grace which Christ pours out during the celebration. This context demands that preaching should guide the assembly, and the preacher, to a life-changing communion with Christ in the Eucharist.” (138, Evangelii Gaudium)
Another way of speaking about life-changing communion with Christ in the Eucharist, is to speak about authentic, integral human development—that you commit to become the best version of yourself, that you commit to becoming a saint.
This means having a priest mentor who can call you out and speak honestly and freely with you. If you think older priests have nothing to offer you, think again. Men become great priests because they are mentored by great priests.
It means having a spiritual director with whom you are absolutely honest. It means regular confession. It means having a group of priest friends that you hang out with regularly. It means commitment to reading deeply and broadly, not only spirituality and theology, but culture, economics, history, technology, cosmology, gene theory. You need to keep current on all major movements influencing modern life and society. Read broad and widely about homiletics, not just Catholics—read evangelicals and other ministers who have a flourishing ministry of preaching.
Read about organising your ministries or your parish. Be a man committed to ongoing formation, thinking and learning. Have an open mind; be willing to learn and grow.
A student once asked me how long it takes to prepare for a homily. I asked, “A really good one?” He said “yes”. I told them that would be between 15 and 25 years. A really good homily requires a person who has surrendered his life, gifts, aspirations to Christ. This takes work, commitment and time.
Your homily will be a reflection of the depth of your surrender to Christ. Nothing short of a relentless commitment to doing the journey of development is worthy of the People of God, or Christ who called you. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor, theologian, anti-Nazi dissident, and key founding member of the Confessing Church says: “What is important when all is said and done is not what this or that churchman wants; all that need concern us is what Jesus wants.”
And again, “Too often we place obstacles before the word of God… when we preach our personal convictions and opinions, day in day out, and have little time left over to preach Jesus himself… We must search to understand the immensity and richness of what is given us in Christ and discard the essential poverty and narrowness of our personal views and convictions … It is only in a commitment without reservation to the demand of Jesus Christ for total obedience that the utter liberation is achieved that is the essential requisite for communion with him” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Prize Of Grace, the Sermon on the Mount).
Preaching is a call from God to you. No one becomes a priest because he chose it. It is a sacrifice, a call, a response. As such the first initiative of the preacher is God’s initiative. Because of this call, we are obliged to seek God’s vision for the people entrusted to us.
We need to understand how God calls them, what God wants with them and their potential and path to holiness. This vision becomes the backdrop of the preacher’s mandate, the landscape against which the Word is shaped and formed.
With this landscape as backdrop, the preacher listens to the text given to the Church for the particular Sunday and discerns the Word of God that speaks to the community, through all the words that are read.
The Sunday homily is born out of a profound engagement between text and preacher or rather, between Christ and
His priest. An engagement that is at once, intellectual and spiritual. It is discovery and calls; it is a matter of both obedience and passion.
The homily is discovered through discernment. It is focused on the one big idea that is discerned through the text. It is filled out with story and exploration, with catechesis and biblical insight, with a call to a specific action and an expectation of a response.
The whole purpose of the homily is to facilitate the community in its vocation to authentic integral human development—this is to full conscious and active participation in liturgy and life.
Through answering the call to development, the disciple moves from one stage of the journey to another; from attending Mass to participating in Mass; from coming to Church to participating in the life of the community; from disciple to missionary disciple.
Fired with this sense of mission, the disciple understands clearly their vocation—to transform the family, the parish community and ultimately the world, through Christ’s love. Thus he participates in Christ’s mission bringing his people to full life in Christ.