PRIESTS have just been told recently by no less than the president of the bishopsâ€™ conference to avoid homily abuse. â€œLong, winding, repetitious, irrelevant, unprepared homilies are signs of a sick spiritual life of the priest,â€ said he, and this kind of homilies, he added, certainly harm souls.
I, of course, immediately examined myself if I could be accused of such charge. I must say that I have to plead guilty, of course. No matter how much one prepares for it, there will always be some imperfections.
But I also know that the Holy Spirit has a way of resolving all the snags, big and small, that can take place, both on the part of the preacher and on the part of the listener. I believe everyone can be rightly accused of some aspects of homily abuse, including the Pope and the bishop who said that mouthful.
I remember the first time Pope-now-Saint John Paul II came to our country. I was very disappointed to hear him, since I was expecting a good speaker. What I heard was a droning speaker, contrary to what I thought was a good stage actor that he was touted to be.
But, of course, I made up for it by reading what he said later on, and I got the message quite well. I understood that St. John Paul was not speaking in his mother tongue, and so I just had to make the necessary adjustments. What I am trying to say is that preaching is always a humbling experience, at least for me. There will always be something that would not go well.
Itâ€™s not a walk in the park to preach at the instance of the Holy Spirit, which is what a homily is supposed to be. The best that we can do is to try and try to be faithful to Godâ€™s word, delivering it in the manner Christ himself would have delivered it, given the kind of listeners and the context of time and place.
It will always an act of approximation, an expression of faith that can require nothing less than heroic efforts in humility, docility and self-abasement, because the temptation for one to shine out instead of showing Christ to the people would always be there and would be quite strong.
It would be hypocritical of any cleric to say that he has not fallen into some kind of abuse in his preaching. I always get frightened when an ecclesiastic presents himself as if he has the Holy Spirit right in his lips.
Just because one speaks well, or is adept in the art of rhetoric, or is very theological or pastoral in his training and exposure, or occupies a high position in the Church hierarchy, etc., is no guarantee that no abuse of some form can take place in his preaching.
I get bothered when after hearing a homily of a brother priest, the main impression I get is that he sings well, or he knows how to make a good show, or he is a good or bad lecturer or manager, or he has a logical mind, or he is popular and much admired by the people, or he is just terrible, etc.
When these things happen instead of getting the feel that I was listening to Christ or is touched by Christâ€™s teaching, I need to make extra effort to draw what the Holy Spirit was trying to tell me in those instances. Yes, the Holy Spirit can always convey something regardless of the inadequacies of the instruments.
Preaching is not so much a matter of techniques as it is a result of a healthy interior life, marked by fidelity and humility, and nourished by prayer, sacrifice, a solicitous pastoral charity that is keenly attentive to the needs of the people.
Of course, it would involve continuing study and formation, constant contact with the people and the developments of the world. The preacher has to be like Christ in that he has to realize that he has to be the link between God and men.
Of course, the sacrament of Holy Orders conforms one to Christ as head of the Church and therefore has the power to preach in the name of Christ, but that sacramental identity requires all-out effort to be up to par to that standard.
It may look tremendous, if not impossible, but when one has faith, when one has humility, he will always be convinced that in spite of his limitations and possible personal mistakes, Christ acts through him, the Holy Spirit speaks through him. Christ has given him everything that he needs to be a good priest and preacher.