I often write and talk about the role of the arts in the church today, but one of the most broadly complained about is preaching in the Catholic Church. Bad experiences with homilies has been a prominent complaint I’ve heard among former Catholics and non-practicing Catholics.
Admittedly, the Church may not be converting 3,000 people through a sermon like our first Pope, St. Peter, did in the book of Acts, but we’re also blessed to continue celebrate the Mass given to us by the Apostles. Sometimes we just need a reminder of its power. Chris Williston wrote a great post a while back about this called Why is the Catholic Mass so Boring.
In full disclosure, I am blessed to be a part of a parish that has amazing homilist, but I’ve experienced my share of bad homilies while celebrating Mass in various places throughout my life. I’m in no position to tell priest or deacons how to be better preachers. Instead, I want to focus on 5 things to remember during and after hearing a bad homily.
1. Find additional spiritual nourishment outside of Mass.
Homilies are intended to help us expand upon and digest the scripture readings in the Holy Mass. In comparison to the amount of media we consume today, one homily a week will never be enough to feed your spirituality. Having a consistent consumption of spiritual resources will keep you fed, even if a good or bad homily does not.
2. Read the readings before going to Mass.
It helps to be better prepared for Mass and be familiar with the readings for that Sunday. Instead of using the homily to remind you which readings you just heard, it leaves your heart ready to learn and listen to the message. Spending even a few minutes with the readings will give you time to let the message speak to you personally.
3. Check your frustration/disappointment.
Remember that the Holy Mass is not about us. A good homily can comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Sometimes we need a homily to move us to make changes in our lives, and acknowledging our faults is usually difficult and uncomfortable. The Holy Mass is about worshiping our God, and has nothing to do with how much we are entertained. There are also times when a very simple message from God comes in ways we don’t expect. Sometimes we just need to pay extra attention to find the message inside the homily.
4. Remember that it is part of the sacred liturgy.
The homily is often the most memorable because it is intended for those in the church at that specific time, but it is only one small part of the Holy Mass. The liturgy is rich with action as we participate in a supernatural event that goes beyond space and time and Heaven kisses Earth. If you feel like the homily was lacking, enter deeper into the prayers of the Catholic Mass. No matter how often you’ve heard them, there is power in the words of the prayer if you open your heart.
5. Pray for the priest and deacons.
Maybe you’ve tried all of these options and you still can’t get over the homily. Take a moment to remember that the priest and deacons are human too. They’re often busy keeping up with difficult schedules and overwhelming amounts of work. If you feel offended or ripped off, forgive and pray for them.
The church and the sacred liturgy deserves quality homilies that convict and convert us, and we should charitably encourage our clergy to rise to the challenge. As tempting as it might be, please do not attack the priest or deacon to their face or when speaking with others. In the end, you’ll only hurt yourself and go back on any spiritual growth. Never underestimate the power of our prayers and loving support.