THE HOMILY: A MOTHER'S CONVERSATION
As a Mother Speaks to Her Child – So Also Does the Church Preach
In paragraphs 135 – 144 of Evangelii Gaudium, the Holy Father speaks about the importance of the homily within the liturgical celebration. Right off the bat, Pope Francis describes what the homily can and should be, “an intense and happy experience of the Spirit, a consoling encounter with God’s word, a constant source of renewal and growth” (¶ 135).
In my diaconate ministry, I have been three-times blessed by the Lord. First, the opportunities encountered to serve and console people in their need and suffering, to share in their joy and celebration, has been life-changing. Second, to share my talents to further and deepen adult education and faith formation has been a true joy. Third, to serve the Lord in my liturgical roles, including the joy of proclaiming the gospel and preaching, has deepened my own interior participation in Holy Mass and at other liturgies.
As one who preaches a homily on a fairy regular basis, I welcome the Holy Father’s inspiring words of instruction, encouragement and correction in regards to the homily.
Pope Francis reminds us of the words of Blessed John Paul II in Dies Domini , “the liturgical proclamation of the word of God, especially in the Eucharistic assembly, is not so much a time for meditation and catechesis as a dialogue between God and his people, a dialogue in which the great deeds of salvation are proclaimed and the demands of the covenant are continually restated.” He says of the homily, “it surpasses all forms of catechesis as the supreme moment in the dialogue between God and his people which lead up to sacramental communion” (¶ 137).
Much of what Pope Francis writes in this section might seem to be directed solely to the clergy who preach, but that would be a mistake. For the proclamation of God’s word, he reminds us, is a dialogue.
God speaks to us within the context of the liturgy and we all hear… and we take what we have received into our daily lives and return it to God through our love for one another and through our prayer. The priest and the deacon are called to “guide the assembly, and the preacher, to a life-changing communion with Christ in the Eucharist. This means that the words of the preacher must be measured, so that the Lord, more than his minister, will be the centre of attention” (¶ 138). If we are to be transformed by grace and led to a deeper communion with the Lord, both the preacher and the hearer must be engaged.
I really like the image that Pope Francis paints of the homily being a moment of conversation, much like a mother with her child, “…she preaches in the same way that a mother speaks to her child, knowing that the child trusts that what she is teaching is for his or her benefit, for children know that they are loved” (¶ 139).
He goes on to describe the homily as a heart-to-heart conversation that, “arises from the enjoyment of speaking and it enriches those who express their love for one another through the medium of words. This is an enrichment which does not consist in objects, but in persons who share themselves in dialogue” (¶ 142).
We who preach should take to heart these words and give the time and thought and prayer necessary to meet these ideals and principles. This role the Lord has placed on us is both a high honor and a grave responsibility where we serve to bring God and the human person together. “To speak from the heart means that our hearts must not just be on fire, but also enlightened by the fullness of revelation and by the path travelled by God’s word in the heart of the Church and our faithful people throughout history” (¶ 144).
Those who listen should recognize the encounter with their God that takes place, particularly in the Liturgy of the Word during Holy Mass. We should present ourselves as children who love to hear and do what their mother speaks to them.
Into the deep…
Deacon Mike Bickerstaff is the Editor-in-chief and co-founder of the The Integrated Catholic Life™ (www.integratedcathoiclife.org). A Catholic Deacon of the Roman Rite for the Archdiocese of Atlanta, Deacon Bickerstaff was ordained in February, 2006, and is assigned to St. Peter Chanel Catholic Church where he is the Director of Adult Education and Evangelization.
He is a co-founder of the successful annual Atlanta Catholic Business Conference; the Chaplain of the Atlanta Chapter of the Woodstock Theological Center’s Business Conference; and Chaplains to the St. Peter Chanel Business Association and co-founder of the Marriages Are Covenants Ministry, both of which serve as models for similar parish-based ministries.