not in a way that was helpful) and others homilies that failed to.
The conversations reminded me of an article in the Irish Times a few years back, sparked by the publication of some guidelines for effective preaching by Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, where reporters evaluated homilies at ten parishes: Did the homilies deliver a relevant message, did they connect with congregations, and did they follow recent Vatican guidelines on sermons?
"The message : The celebrant spoke in very abstract terms on the topic of forgiveness. To believe in sin, he argued, one must believe in God. A non-believer has a conscience. But while a believer can ask and receive the Lord's forgiveness, a non-believer must live with his guilt for the rest of his life. This, he speculated, must be a great source of pain and unhappiness to the non-believer.
The timing : At three minutes and thirty seconds, it was actually well within the eight minute time limited suggested by Archbishop Etervoic.
The delivery : The celebrant spoke without notes and maintained eye contact with the congregation throughout. His delivery was faltering, however. Seated in the middle of the church, I could not decipher all of what was said.
Did it feel like a weeks work? Frankly, no. The gospel was the parable of the Prodigal Son. If the celebrant had wished to reference contemporary social issues, there was much to work with. Instead, he confined himself to generic observations on a perennial theme. His sermon referenced no contemporary social issue or even that days gospel. "
A couple of years ago, I wrote a short piece which appeared on the PrayTell blog about what I thought constituted a good homily in which I suggested that it might be useful for homilists to ask their congregations what they heard — and what they didn't — in a homily.
I have never been in a parish where that is a regular practice, and yes, yes, I can imagine all the horrible things that might happen (since my teaching has been regularly evaluated in narrative form — not little check boxes — by my students for the last 25 years). People might (will!) say all manner of things, from the innocuous (and singularly unhelpful) "good homily" to the "should never be permitted in the pulpit again." But this is more than an exercise in humility or delight, for along the way, if one has "ears to hear," there is much to be learned not only about your teaching/preaching, but about the community you serve. What are the words they need to hear?
Since I think it unlikely that many parishes offer the opportunity to give feedback, I'll make the invitation here: what did you hear preached this weekend? What did you wish you heard? Perhaps if I ask this question every week we can start a groundswell, not of complaint, but of prayerfully reflecting back the Word as it did, or did not, take flesh each week in the homily.
One ground rule: please don't identify the where or the who; you can comment anonymously on this blog to avoid inadvertently doing so!
Who is Joe Six Pew? The "man in the pew" at ePriest's homily builder (which will let you click off on a menu and print out a homily — though I would be hard pressed to call it "your homily" as the site does). Joe has helpful feedback for the homilist constructing a homily such as: "If you give me too many practical applications, I may end up trying to bite off more than I can chew. Are you sure you want to take the risk?"
Don't need a customized homily? You can buy full texts "poignantly written to help make a meaningful connection with your congregation" here. $8.95 gets you 618 words for the funeral of a child.
The Irish Times article is alas behind a pay wall. If you want a copy, send me an email!
Read some of Fr. Jim McDermott SJ's reflections on what it is like to be on the other side of the pulpit: