March 4, 2010

Becoming a Preacher

As of this past fall, I am in my fourth year as a preacher at Sunday Mass. (I was ordained deacon on the feast of Our Lady of Rosary in 2006.) This means that I have begun my second journey through the Sunday lectionary cycles, and results in an interesting experiment: when I have prepared to preach for a weekend, I can look back and compare what I have with what I did with the same readings three years before. How am I different as I pray through the Scriptures and try to preach their good news? How have I changed in three years of Sundays? As the experiment of comparison continues week by week, I have to say that I am encouraged by what I see, and I give thanks to God who is helping me to learn how to preach.

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-ExupĂ©ry: "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.


cuaguy said...

And the best point of all is that you can cheat if you need to one weekend at all, and just pull one out of your files!

4narnia said...

hi Fr. C!
your homilies have always been great. i have noticed the change you speak about in your post. it is obvious that you do spend time preparing and reflecting and that's probably why they change over time. you always leave us with something to reflect on and act on, which is a good thing in a homily, because we should be challenged to grow and change in our Christian life. thank you for all the inspiration you give in your homilies and also the inspiration you give just by being you! PEACE! ~tara t~

GrandmaK said...

Simply said, I enjoy reading your homilies. Cathy

Brother Charles said...

Thank you, friends, for your encouragement.

Qualis Rex said...

Fr Charles, I've gone through your homilies for quite sometime now. All I can say is your congregation is SOOOO lucky to have you. If there were a show called "priest-swap" I'd sign you up in a heartbeat. In my archdiocese, there are usually two kinds of homilies; 1. those that always contain the word "love" in every other sentence to the point where you end up scratching your head at just how applicable it was to the gospel reading in question. 2. those that drone on and on about the priest's personal hobbies or study of interest culminating in a 20-minute reading from St Gregory Palamas on which vegetables should not be overboiled. I'm sure you can guess which homilies coincide with which liturgies.

I'm sorry for sounding rude. But I just really appreciate how well you connect with people, even virtually/over the internet and I guess it's just sour grapes that there aren't more like you to go around.

Brother Charles said...

a 20-minute reading from St Gregory Palamas on which vegetables should not be overboiled.