Here's what I have noticed as I compare the homilies I prepare now to those of three years ago:
- I have become shorter and simpler. Nowadays I aim for around two written pages. When I started I was writing about three and a half. Instead of a couple of points and a point and a sub-point, I'm now tending toward a single point. I know that the 'three points' is a classic homiletic style where I work, but I think I do better with a single point developed well. In preaching, the hard part isn't coming up with something good to say, but letting go of good things in the name of the better thing. Here I think of one of my favorite sayings, which is the definition of engineering elegance of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: "A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away."
- I notice that I'm getting closer to the Scriptures themselves. In the effort to put the related readings together I'm less concerned with 'showing my work' and more likely to develop connections implicitly in the pursuit of simplicity. One thing I sometimes notice in my first homilies is a tendency to pick up on a single point in the readings and develop it into what is a fine spiritual reflection, but one that is tangential to the liturgy.
- I have become less theological and more catechetical. For example, there is less exposition of Christological doctrine in my homilies and more of their practical implications for Christian practice, e.g. sacraments, religious obligations, prayer practice, etc. At least in part this comes from my own change of circumstances; when I started preaching I was a full-time theology student, but now I'm employed as a parish priest. On the other hand, I see in this shift a filling out of my studies in that I am more conscious of the larger picture of how doctrine, practice, and prayer synthesize in Christian life.
When I first decided that I was going to compose my Sunday homilies and keep them, I did it for two reasons. First, writing is a good way for me to reflect, and it keeps me more disciplined than if I don't write things out. Second, I wanted to post homilies up as a blog. But now I recognize another purpose to the formal composition of homilies; it allows someone to go back and see how he has come along as a preacher, a praying person, and a Christian. In my case, this reflection has given glory to God and encouragement to me.