Many Catholics complain about boring homilies at their parishes. In their survey report published in the April 30, 2012 edition of America magazine, William Byron and Charles Zech, demonstrated that the complains are widespread in the United States.
A number of solutions have been offered. They include getting priests more trained in the art of communication, practical theology, and storytelling. Others have suggested realizing that the Word of God should form the core of the ministry of preaching.
Pope Francis on Effective Preaching
In his Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel) paragraph 43, the Holy Father, Pope Francis called on priests to overcome boring homilies. To enable preachers to achieve this goal, the pope proposed at least eleven criteria for a good homily. They include a message that is 1) simple and clear, 2) direct, 3) well-adapted, and 4) profoundly dependent on gospel teaching. It has to 5) be faithful to the magisterium, 6) animated by a balanced apostolic and/or 7) coming from our characteristic nature. The homily is to be 8) full of hope, 9) fostering belief, 10) productive peace, and 11) fostering unity. The Joy of the Gospel is a beautiful read. You may want to read the pope’s explanations in that document.
Since today we commemorate one of the pioneers of “effective” preaching in the Church, Saint Dominic, I would love to present his model as a good example for preachers. One can go back to history to discover some treasures that may help our contemporary world.
Dominic on Effective Communication
Dominic lived during the medieval period (1170 -1221). He witnessed one of the greatest decays in the history of the Church, which, in part, inspired a heretical movement started as a reaction to the materialism in the West. The group called Catharism followed the principles of the Gnostics. The Gnostics believed that matter is radically evil, also is the body since it is of material elements. They also believed that there are two principles of life. One is evil to which the body belongs, and the other good, to which the spirit belongs.
For them, therefore, redemption was a matter of purging the body of material elements so that the spirit will be saved. This group was very effective in preaching their so-called brand of Christianity. In contrast, those from Rome failed woefully in France’s southern part, where the Cathari movement reigns. For one, they were seen by the people as very materialistic.
Dominic observed that the Cathari’s strength was their life of poverty, moral rigor, and purity. He knew that for there to be missionary growth, it was not sufficient to condemn Gnostic heresy. Rather, it was providing truthful, passionate, and Godly alternatives.
It had to be a combination of sound knowledge (knowledge is power), the moral life of integrity, and an example of detachment from material concerns. One has to balance the depth and sound message of the Gospel, sound doctrine, with a compelling moral life rooted in the Gospel one preaches. He applied this strategy, and it worked in winning many back to the true faith. Many younger men joined his movement.
Power of Credible Alternative
Here is an example very relevant for evangelizers and preachers today. Lest we limit this only to ordained ministers, you have to know you don’t need to be an ordained minister to be an evangelizer. All the baptized are called to bear witness to Christ wherever they are.
We will not be effective in doing so if we do not propose to the world a beautifully truthful alternative. Becoming buddies with the world, that is, worldly ways of life, has never worked to change the world. Being the salt of the earth implies an alternative for the saltless. If Christ is to be revealed in us for the world to see, we will do well to live the alternative life the world does not live.
As Saint Paul said, we have to live as sojourners, keeping our highest aspiration in the redemption in Christ. Here is where saints like Dominic stand out. His Order (Dominicans) was to be called the Order of Preachers. They have proven to be effective in doing so.
Three principles have always been powerful in evangelization. One is a sound knowledge of God’s Word. The other is deep faith and life centered in Christ. Finally is a sense of detachment from the crippling materialistic attachments that may choke the Gospel within us and among others.
If nothing else, one aspiring to be a communicator of the good news must bear this in mind. Namely, the credibility of the speaker is essential to the message’s effectiveness.