Sunday, April 28, 2013

"Jesus was a nice guy so let's all be nice guys too"

St. Augustine on good homilies:

For Augustine, the good homilist is simply he who speaks with wisdom, and Augustine says "a man speaks more or less wisely to the extent that he has become more or less proficient in the Holy Scriptures." [4] So homiletics is basically a manner of teaching the Scriptures, and to this day the textbook definition of a homily is an exegesis of the daily readings. But Augustine further subdivides homiletics into three purposes or ends, and the perfect homilist, the priest who truly speaks with wisdom, is able to attain all three ends in his preaching. 

"He who is eloquent should speak in such a way that he teaches, delights and moves." 
Many priests do not teach, delight, or move. The local priests often have me rolling my eyes and glancing at my iPhone to check the time. Not once in the eight years I've been Catholic have I ever heard a non-Traditionalist priest preach about the Four Last Things. Not once have I ever heard a non-Traditionalist priest exhort his people to go to confession. If they're not outright heterodox then they're dull. If you've already been to Mass, can you summarize what Father spoke about for his homily? I bet most Catholics can't. Words with no substance behind them go in one ear and out the other. There are a few homilies I still clearly remember though not for a good reason. The first time I ever heard a priest say from the pulpit that the "real miracle" of the loaves and fishes was that Jesus inspired everyone to share their picnic lunches was the day I finally opened my eyes and said, "Okay something has seriously gone wrong in the Catholic Church. This is not the Church I thought I was joining."

It's a terrible waste of opportunities if nothing else. Catholics who are active on the internet often grossly overestimate how much their brothers and sisters in Christ know about the faith. The truth is, only a tiny minority of Catholics have ever cracked a book or opened a website about the faith since Confirmation. The only time the majority of Catholics worldwide ever learn anything at all about the faith is the Sunday homily. Too often it's like the proverbial child who asks his father for bread and gets a stone instead. How is it possible that men who spend so much of their lives speaking in public are, by and large, such God awful speakers?

Once every few months a priest might surprise his congregation by hitting it out of the ballpark. Before I even go to Mass I have a good idea of how the homily will go. Father will tell a cute story about a vacation he once took, or a trip to the supermarket, or his golf game. He'll follow up with a few minutes of assuring us that Jesus loves us. He'll move on to what good, wonderful Christian people we are for forming such a lovely and loving community. Then he will wrap up with urging us to volunteer or donate more of our money or our talents to the local "ministries." St. Augustine has simple advice for what every priest should be preaching about every Sunday:

"Among our orators, however, everything we say, especially when we speak to the people from the pulpit, must be referred, not to the temporal welfare of man, but to his eternal welfare and the avoidance of eternal punishment."

Eternal punishment? Isn't that one of those bad old teachings from the pre-Vatican II Church? I don't expect every priest to be the second coming of Fulton Sheen, but a good start would be speaking to us like we're intelligent adults. One doesn't need a doctorate in dogmatic theology to understand "Do good and avoid evil" or "If you would have eternal life keep the Commandments." If the message of the Gospel is "Jesus was a nice guy so let's all be nice guys too" then it won't take the people long to figure out that you don't need to go to Mass or even believe in God to be a nice guy. You don't need to be Catholic to volunteer at the Food Locker. You do need to be a Catholic who prays, receives the sacraments, and keeps the Commandments if you want to go to heaven.


  1. I know exactly the sort of mediocre priests you are talking about and have had to suffer through their homilies in most places I have lived. However, all the priests in my current home town of Tallahassee are orthodox and most are good or even great preachers. Though some say the Tridentine mass on occasion, the Novus Ordo predominates. Nevertheless, they are really good priests. Maybe it's something in the water, or perhaps it's the blood of the Apalachee martyrs.

    1. I think it's the Church in California that has something in the water.