April 16. A Plea from the Pews
Listening to Homilies: A Plea from the Pews
Here’s an email from Josephine O’Sullivan, who writes: Good morning Fr. Pat. It would seem you want my thoughts and feeling about how I respond to priests giving their reflection on the Bible Readings during the Liturgy. Well, I could tell you right now what engages me in a homily and what puts me to sleep.
- I get very irritated by priests who feel they have to retell the story of the Readings blow by blow before extricating a particular lesson. Priests who manage to bring their own particular hobby-horse into each homily don’t do much for me either. Priests who make one good, valid observation that leaves you pondering, but then go on to yet another and another point lose me too. Priests who interpret the Readings in a dogmatic “This [and only this] is what it means” also leave me unimpressed (although, in a perverse way, they sometimes help me because they leave me having an internal argument with what they’ve said and coming to my own conclusions!)
- The priests who engage me are those who speak to the congregation rather than talk at the congregation – fellow human beings who ask questions and make suggestions like “Could it be that Jesus meant that…?” or “Perhaps the lesson here is…..” . I tend to listen to priests who use their real life experience – maybe something they’ve observed lately or some experience they themselves have gone through which has shifted their own perspective or illustrated a point for them. Discourse of this kind holds my attention and allows me to look for similar points of reference in my own life.
- I don’t know if this is helpful at all. I daresay there’s nothing new in what I’ve said here – you’ve probably heard it a million times before. The bottom line for me that makes me feel I WANT to listen to a priest is that he comes across as a fellow traveller on the road – a traveller who probably looks at the map more than I do and can suggest the better path to take – but not a “Boy Scout Leader” who is the only one in possession of a map and a brain – and then demands that we accept his directions!
I would also suggest that on days when the priest hasn’t thought about what he’s going to say, he say nothing!