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What do You Think of Catholic Preaching?

March 17, 2010 132 Comments

When I talk with Catholics who have left the Church, the number one reason I get that they left was poor preaching.This is especially true of those who left for the Evangelical Churches. Catholic priests as a group have the reputation of being poor preachers. I think there are several reasons for this.

  1. The expected length of a Catholic sermon is 7-10 minutes. This is far too brief a time to really develop well a biblical or doctrinal theme. It results in a  slogan based and brief exhortation. In this matter the people of God have to work with us. Most Catholics are upset if the liturgy goes more than 50 minutes. We all need to agree to take more time to be with the Lord. Longer sermons are necessary to really develop and break open most passages. Most Protestant sermons are about a half and hour. True, I don’t want a preacher to go longer unless he really has something to say but it is also true that most priests have to wrap up when they’ve barely gotten started. It’s not a good context for preaching. The old “say it in seven” rule needs to be re-evaluated
  2. I think many confuse exhortation for preaching. Most of the sermons I grew up with could be summarized in two sentences:  “1. Jesus is challenging us to do better today.” And 2. “Let us try to do better” (Now please stand for the creed).”  This is exhortation but true preaching takes the Word of God and does four things: Analyzes, organizes, illustrates, and applies it. It doesn’t just exhort us to do better it shows how, and sets for the why and wisdom of God’s Word. This as you might guess takes a little more than 7 minutes.
  3. Teaching is often lacking– When I ask Catholics who have gone on to the “Word churches” why they like the preaching there more they usually say it is because the minister teaches the Word of God. Perhaps he shows the stages of the faith journey of  a biblical character, or Five aspects of a healthy marriage from Ephesians 5. Maybe he expounds on the Four Disciplines of Devoted Discipleship in Matthew and so forth. But the Word of God is both taught, and applied to life in memorable ways.
  4. The Three Essential questions often go unaddressed – It  would seem that every sermon should ask and answer three  questions: What? So What? and Now What? I think we Catholic Priests do alright with the “what” but not so well with the other two questions. Homilies are not just about information (the What) they also aim at transformation. Addressing the “What” can help to inform but the “So what” and “Now What” aim more for transformation.
  5. Good preaching is edgy. It comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable. But too many priests are afraid of offending or upsetting. Despite the fact that we serve a Lord who got killed  for what he said, too many of us are not willing to suffer even the raised eyebrows of our congregation. We have to be willing  to talk forthrightly about serious issues today, about sin, about injustice, about promiscuity and so forth. We have to speak the truth in love but the “Jesus loves you sermons”  are not enough. Jesus loved us enough to speak the truth to us even when we killed him for it.  We priests have to get a spine, and a heart and be willing to preach  even the difficult stuff. It has been my experience that Catholics respond well to tough sermons. They don’t want angry priests but they do want priests who are zealous for the truth.
  6. How about a little enthusiasm? If you really care about what you are saying shouldn’t it be reflected in your mannerisms and tone of voice? Too many priests have a kind of lecture like discursive approach instead of a fiery Charismatic approach. True enough there are different personalities but a fiery enthusiasm is hard to hide. But being on fire can’t be faked. It comes only from prayer and a deep love for God and His people.

I know you can add to the list  above. Perhaps your feed back will help some of us priests improve. So have at it. Be kind and constructive but speak the truth. We priests can use it. And pray, pray, pray. You get the priests and the sermons you pray for.  Also encourage us when we do well and gently admonish when we need improvement.

Perhaps we do well to end with the Words of St. Gregory the Great who exhorts the faithful to pray for the Priests in their preaching role:

Pray for us so that we may have the strength to work on your behalf, that our tongue may not grow weary of exhortation, and that after we have accepted the office of preaching, our silence may not condemn us before the just judge.  For frequently the preacher’s tongue is bound fast on account of his own wickedness; while on the other hand it sometimes happens that because of the people’s sins, the word of preaching is withdrawn from those who preside over the assembly.  With reference to the former situation, the psalmist says: But God asks the sinner: Why do you recite my commandments? (PS 50:16) And with reference to the latter, the Lord tells Ezekiel: I will make your tongue cleave to the roof of your mouth, so that you shall be dumb and unable to reprove the, for they are a rebellious house.  (Ez 3:26) He clearly means this: the word of preaching will be taken away from you because as long as this people irritates me by their deeds, they are unworthy to hear the exhortation of truth.  It is not easy to know for whose sinfulness the preacher’s word is withheld, but it is indisputable that the shepherd’s silence while often injurious to himself will always harm his flock. (As quoted in the Liturgy of the Hours, Vol 3)

This video is an excerpt of a sermon by Fr. Bill Casey, it’s powerful.

Comments (132)

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  1. Bender says:

    The number one reason why people leave the Church is —

    7. It’s all about me. They put themselves first, their own personal preferences, their own personal desires. Me, me, me. They leave because they choose to leave — no one forces them out, no one makes them do it, they leave of their own free choice of the will.

    Along those same lines, some people look at the Mass as an exercise in entertainment — both “progressives” and “traditionalists.” They want a homily that fits their subjective likes and preferences as to both content and style, just as they both want a kind of entertainment in music, prayer, and liturgical posture.

    They leave because they put themselves first, rather than asking themselves the fundamental question — Is it true?

    Is the Catholic Faith the truth?

    If it is — and I believe it to be so — there is NOTHING that could EVER entice me or lead me or tempt me away.

    As for them — let us pray that they return, that the truth continually pull and tug at them until they come home. And then we can kill the fatted calf and celebrate.

    ******************

    That said, (2) and (3) are HUGE valid criticisms of some homilies, at least the ones I experienced well into my 20s — little more than fluffy, feel-good, substanceless words that one might also get from some cheap touchy-feely psycho-babble self-help book. Granted, I liked it the first couple dozen times I heard it, but after a while, you tire of the warm-and-fuzzy and hunger for some real meat.

    For many years now, the parishes I have attended have had priests who gave excellent, substantive, stirring homilies. My present parish has had the honor of many newly-ordained priests, trained in Rome, who have been a light to us all, who have found this wonderful treasure that they eagerly want to share with others.

    • You are right, there is a certain “peal me a grape” mentality at work here. Mass is not just entertainment etc. That said we also have to avoid ( I am sure you would agree) a mentality that gives little attention to preparing and celebrating excellent liturgies at every level. Poorly celebrated or perfunctory liturgies, poor preaching, cheesy music etc, hyper-inflated personalities of liturgical leaders et al. are all significant problems today.

      Glad to hear that your expereince with preaching has been good. I think things are improving.

      • Bender says:

        As for improving homilies by more and more priests today —

        He’s not called “the Great” for nothing.

        Santo Subito!

    • St Bosco says:

      Youve missed the point. Its about Jesus. People leave the catholic church and go where Jesus is preached. Salvation, thats what they are not getting in catholic churches. Just empty rituals and golden trinkets waved around.

  2. Thomas says:

    Amen, Father! I’m a convert, and I miss being taught God’s word each Sunday. What’s the use of having the fullness of truth in the Church if we’re not going to teach it? I would love it most parishes at least doubled the average homily length (we would still only be at half the length of many Protestants – I was used to 45 minutes plus). I really want instruction from the ambo each week. I want to have it reinforced why we should be Catholic, why we believe what we believe and do what we do. I want to reinforce it for myself and to be able to better explain it to others. I want to be told how to be closer to Jesus.

    Every Catholic needs continual catechesis and spiritual direction, and for most of them the only time they’re going to receive any at all is at Sunday Mass.

    • As with Noshi I must say I agree with you 100% and appreciate your perspective as a convert who knows something other than the 7-10 Thought for the day approach. I appreciat you articulating your hunger for teaching.

  3. Noshi says:

    I’m a new convert as yet undecided on denominational issues..But I too have been told by catholics, both who’ve remained in their church or turned to protestant churches – that the Word of God is not being preached in the catholic churches…In my limited experience too, the service does seem rather mechanical and cold. I thought it was perhaps the personality of that particular priest, but from what you say, it seems to be a common problem..It’s probably even worse in non-Christian countries, because 1st generation Christians have a huge hunger to continually hear and understand the Word of God, and if the priest himself has limited doctrinal understanding, or is unable to communicate it effectively…they’ll come back hungry even after the mass. 7-10 min is an extremely inadequate time. If your church believes you have the correct the doctrines, then you must make the effort to go beyond initial catechism and sacraments…and actually preach the Word every sunday.

    • Yes, I agree 100% with what you have said and appreciate your perspective as some one who knows a different experience.

      • Kathleen says:

        You can get educated on the Word of God through reading and study on your own, because that proves you accept that you are personally responsible for your walk with God. The priest can’t create that inside us. Don’t know waht to read? Ask. Don’t have time? Turn off the TV.

        The answer can never be to search for teaching and inspiration outside the Church. The Reformation began and continues in rebellion, and the Bible repeatedly emphasizes that God does not bless rebellion.

  4. Brian says:

    Why do priests (almost) never preach on contraception? I have heard a few priests mention it in passing but really have almost never heard a priest explain why the Church is opposed to artificial contraception…do they really think that the crisis of Faith is unrelated to the crisis of sexual mores?

    • I do preach and teach on contraception. However, to be fair, the topic is not usually one that looms large on the preaching schedule since it involves a topic that is not always good for mixed audiences where a lot of younger children are present. I usually spend the most time dealing with this topic in marriage prep where I/we are very clear. If I cover it in preaching it is usually as a piece of a larger point, for example, purpose of marriage, or a sermon on the culture of death, or the problem of declining birthrates and hence mass attendance etc. or I may mention it with a list of sins.

  5. Doug says:

    Fr. Pope,

    RIVETING! Absolutely riveting. I almost got out of my chair and shoted for joy when Fr. Bill Casey quoted JP II saying that the number one roadblock to the New Evangelization is superficial preaching.

    Indeed, joyful hope is on the way; heralds of the Gospel arise!

  6. Peony Moss says:

    Dear Monsignor,

    If this post inspires even one priest to quit with the golf jokes (or analogies) in the homilies, you will get an extra jewel in your crown in heaven!

      • Cynthia BC says:

        I may have told this story here before, but Peony’s comment about jokes inspires me to tell it again:

        As a church musician, one may be expected to attend multiple services on a given weekend. As a result, one thus will hear the sermon/homily more than once. The multiple homily-hearings can, depending on the particular homily, be an occupational benefit, or an occupational hazard.

        One Sunday morning I was sitting with the handbell choir as the homily at the 8:30 service began. Pastor L had recently returned from a conference, and opened his homily with a joke he’d heard there. When Pastor paused for the expected chuckle, he received instead a sea of blank stares. I turned to Larry, the ringer standing next to me (I confess that we were surreptitiously sipping coffee…when one is parked in a balcony at the back of the nave, one can get away with it) and looked at him.
        Larry: I don’t get it.
        Me: i don’t either.

        So, Pastor went on with the homily, the service continued, there was coffee hour, and the 11am service started. Undeterred by the reaction (or lack thereof) at the early service, he again opened his homily with the joke. The 11am parishioners (perhaps more fortified with coffee than had been the 8:30 parishioners) were able to manage a polite chuckle. I looked at Larry, and he looked at me.
        Larry: I STILL don’t get it.
        Me: Neither do I.

  7. William Brady says:

    Those who leave the Catholic Church for better sermons must not believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. I would say that the primary job of a priest is to defend the real presence and make sure the congregation gets it. Once the real presence is defended the task of speaking to the truth becomes easier because the authority of Christ is front and center. If people understood the real presence of Christ many more people would become Catholic. Alas, I have only heard a priest mention the real presence once in my 60 years. Do priests believe in the real presence? Or do they believe in their real presence?

    • Yes that is the tragedy isn’t it, leaving the eucharist (usually unawares). The good (good peraching) becomes the enemy of the best (Eucharist). As you point out they are meant to support each other. I know that I talk a Lot about the true presence. But even with that the teaching remains a “hard saying” since many, though they know it intellectually, don’t experience it at other levels and so they end up leaving for something that is more dynamic and “interesting” any way. I know they shouldn’t but they do.

      • William Brady says:

        I hope you continue to preach the real presence. We may not know how much good that has done on this plane but in the next world you will be one of the 144,000 singing the song before the throne. God bless and God speed.

    • Sheila says:

      William, you have put your finger on the topic. If one leaves THE Church due to lackluster preaching, then they are not true Catholics to begin with. The Eucharistic Presence of Our Lord Jesus Christ is THE reason for attending Mass, along with receiving Him in order to change our lives so we reflect Him to others.

  8. Mike says:

    I have been unusually lucky, I think, in ending up in parishes with some pretty good preachers. Maybe it is because so often I have lived near universities and ended up in a parish run by Dominicans. In my current parish, short homilies are not a problem- rather the opposite. Most often Mass runs at least 90 minutes. I would have to disagree with your first point. A truly skilled speaker can make his or her point in 10 minutes or less- in fact, knows that any single point should be made that quickly, or the attention of most of the audience will wander. Most of the people in a congregation are not scholars. All the elements you speak of (teaching, edginess, and enthusiasm) are important, and should be included, but in an organized and simple way. I need and want to be challenged when I go to Mass, but that will not happen if I can’t follow what is being said. Just to be clear, I am not saying that Mass needs to be shorter (I am all for singing hymns all the way through, taking silent pauses for reflection and the priest NOT hurrying through the Eucharistic prayer), or even that the homily should be quick. I am saying that I have heard good sermons and mediocre sermons and there was no correllation between length and quality. I think priests would benefit from running their sermons by several other people and asking for comments before they deliver them. It seems to me the defect is less in the message than in the delivery, but as I said, I may just have been lucky in ending up in parishes where the pastor does want to challenge his congregation.
    BTW, have you seen the movie “Mass Appeal?” I don’t remember the plot very well, but it involved an aging parish whose pastor (played by Jack Lemmon) had been in residence for many years, and was comfortable with his congregation, as they were with him. He is assigned a seminarian who immediately offends the sensibilities of everyone. I got a great laugh (the only reason I remember the movie at all) from one of the members, who storms into the rectory and shouts something like “I don’t come to church to be preached at!”

    • Thanks for a thoughtful reply. You are right it is not length per se that will improve the environment for preaching. But I still think it is one of the factors that leads to many priest just giving a “thought for the day” rather than more solid and meaty biblical preaching. It remains true that some simply cannot go on for much longer and shouln’t but I think if the atmosphere were more permitting of slightly longer sermons it might encourage priests.

      I do remember the movie Mass appeal and enjoyed it a lot. I remember however that I thought the movie got the dynamics backwards by presenting a rather conservative pastor and a rather liberal seminarian. Usually it is the reverse today.

  9. William says:

    Mike @ 7:49 hits the nail right on the head:

    ((A truly skilled speaker can make his or her point in 10 minutes or less- in fact, knows that any single point should be made that quickly, or the attention of most of the audience will wander. Most of the people in a congregation are not scholars. All the elements you speak of (teaching, edginess, and enthusiasm) are important, and should be included, but in an organized and simple way.))

    We live in the time of sound-bites, action-packed entertainment, and fast food dining. Folks are not conditioned to sit still and listen–the Sesame Street syndrome. Keep it short and to the point!

    Catholic priests could improve their sermonizing overnight just by seriously preparing and rehearsing in ADVANCE what they peach at Holy Mass.

  10. Jill says:

    To solve one the problems, the restricted homily time a Priest has, maybe we can cut out some songs sang at mass so the priest has more time for the homily. I think nowadays we sing many more songs at mass than before.I do love songs, but I know there are songs that are optional and others that are sang just exalt the act of the mass, and that is great, but i think those songs should be reserved for special-occasion masses. One of the great things about the celebration of the mass, after the Communion, is to hear what the priest has to say about the gospel, his explanation of it and his advise to the people in how to apply that to our lives.

  11. Terence Filmore says:

    My impression is that people want preaching to higher – perhaps impossible – standards because the institutional Church does a really, really poor job of faith formation in the first place. I’m pretty confident that most of us lay members are unversed in Biblical passages, the Church’s interpretation of them, and their application to our lives. We cannot expect a priest, even one a skilled orator, to transmit the “What? So What? Now What?” in a homily alone.

    So, here are my two suggestions. For lay people like myself – READ the readings beforehand and use existing resources to increase our understanding of them. Personally, I fail at reading beforehand but I do listen to Fr. Barron’s homily (so I get two bites at the cherry on Sunday). For the institutional Church – recognize the tremendous gap in faith formation – and put resources into it. There’s enough evidence from the Pew Foundation and elsewhere to know that people are leaving the faith, or have muddled interpretations of it. WIthout strong faith formation, I fear there will be even fewer people listening to those poor homilies.

    Finally, my own humble tips to priests on homilies – stick to a small number of metaphors and allegories; don’t overdo references to current events; and give something from your own life if you can.

    • Good suggestions. It is also true that lay folks can do a better job preparing to attend the mass.

      • Cynthia BC says:

        Terence, some years ago my family attended Mass in Berkeley Springs, WV while we were vacationing near there. The priest who was himself a visitor, opened his homily by asking parishioners about the previous week’s readings. I recall that the parishioners’ response was *blink.* The priest, who if memory serves was a professor of theology in his “regular” job, went on with a rather interactive homily, walking up and down the aisle instead of parked by the lecturne.

        Before we left for Berkeley Springs the following year, we took another look at the previous week’s readings. Just in case.

  12. Terence Filmore says:

    Noshi,
    —-
    If your church believes you have the correct the doctrines, then you must make the effort to go beyond initial catechism and sacraments…and actually preach the Word every sunday.
    —-

    The Liturgy of the Word has three readings each and every Sunday; the homily is based around them (usually). So the Church does “preach the Word” every Sunday. Consider that the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the psalms, and pretty much everything else have a clear biblical basis, My own impression from interaction with non-Catholic Christians is that they mis-interpret (or, in some cases, from bigotry do not want to understand) the actual content and purpose of Mass. I pray that your pastor and congregation will work with you to understand the faith.

  13. Bender says:

    Just a confession here —

    There have been times, even during a really good homily, where I have found my mind wandering. Hearing the priest make some point and then my mind takes it ands runs with it on some tangent.

    And then there was the homily we had once (by a transitional deacon or newly-ordained priest?) about paying attention, about whether we could remember what the homily was from the week before, and whether we would remember what he said in this homily come the end of Mass.

    So, our ability to listen is a bit of a problem as well.

    • Jan says:

      Since we’re confessing – try listening to a double Gospel and homily week after week, in English and then Spanish (by a non-native Spanish speaker) or vice-versa, and try to stay focused.

      It’s almost impossible. But the good thing is that our current pastor is a fairly good homiletic, so that helps.

      Speaking of your point #5 – we had a couple leave the church a few years ago because the priest dared to say that all of us were sinners – and they just didn’t want to sit there and be told week after week that they were sinners!

    • Bender,
      Yes, as a preacher i am aware that what you describe will frequently happen. However, getting you to think isn’t too far off the mark. It could well be that when you mind goes off on a tagent that’s just where the Lord wanted you to go and that he had already told you what he wanted you to ponder.

  14. Robin says:

    Thank you for this excellent article, Monsignor! I can especially relate to #5. I entered the Catholic Church in 2007. Prior to that I had been a member of various non-denominational and Charismatic Churches. An hour long sermon was not unheard of and the congregation loved it precisely because it “comforted the afflicted and afflicted the comfortable!” People want the truth even if it ruffles their feathers. We can take it! However, I am most moved at Mass when the Priest celebrates the Liturgy of the Eucharist with profound reverence. Our Pastor is so reverent and so moved during the Consecration that it almost seems that he “sees” Calvary. It moves me to tears. If I had to choose between an inspiring homily and deep reverence on the part of the Celebrant, I would choose the latter every time. The Eucharist is the Source and Summit of our faith, not the homily. I love being Catholic!

  15. Katherine G ERT says:

    I have been lucky to have heard some excellent preachers. One of the best homilies I heard was in daily Mass on Tuesday and it was about 3 or 4 sentences long but was plenty to make me think. Most priests that I hear preach (and I can be a church floater or “church nomad” so I have heard quite a few priests’ homilies) are pretty good, whether the homily is long or short. A good homily on a Sunday will have me thinking the rest of the week, and a good daily Mass homily will have me going the rest of the day.

    I have heard you preach once, Monsignor, and I thought it was excellent. Yours was by far the longest homily I have heard, and you got not just one, but many points across!

    I have a priest friend who has had epic homilies where he was able to tie in movies with the Word of God. My favorite of his memorable homilies was called the “Lord of the Rings” homily, because he did a great comparison using some of the characters. Another priest friend of mine tells stories from his own life – personally with preaching I enjoy hearing about priests’ lives or how something affected them.

    Homilies where I struggle to pay attention are usually theologically too deep for me to comprehend, or the priest goes off on a major tangent unrelated to the subject at hand. Hope this helps – great post as always!

  16. Carl says:

    We are very forturnate to have a dynamic pastor whose strongest suit is his preaching. He does stick to the 7 to 10 rule pretty much for weekday Mass, but regularly goes well over on weekends or special events such as our monthly healing Mass. More people have been drawn to our parish than have left. We are equally fortunate to worship in a community that has a large enough Catholic population to support two parishes, even in this day and age. The other parish also sports a wonderful preacher, so folks can take their pick. We don’t go for that line of thought and will stay with the parish we are at unless it becomes completely intollerable, which isn’t likely.

  17. Nick Senger says:

    CNS just published an article about this very topic. It seems there’s a new book coming out which summarizes some of the ideas from the 2008 Synod of Bishops on the Bible. Here are some excerpts from the article:

    “Homilies should be no longer than eight minutes — a listener’s average attention span, said the head of the synod office.

    “Priests and deacons should also avoid reading straight from a text and instead work from notes so that they can have eye contact with the people in the pews, said Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, secretary-general of the Synod of Bishops.”

    Source: http://www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/1001007.htm

  18. Tom Fisher says:

    Fr. Bill Casey – Awesome preacher!

    It is in my understanding that in “Bible Churches” they are not constrained to a liturgical calendar and can preach on whatever topic they feel is “relevant” to their audience using whatever Bible passages necessary to prove their point. Whereas Catholic priest’s homilies are normally on what the scripture readings are for that day according to the liturgical year – which could sometime prove difficult to preach on a “relevant” topic.

    I agree homilies should be edgy. Personally I like homilies where the priest references the writings of the early Church Fathers and the saints and what their commentary was on the day’s scripture readings. I also like homilies that have a apologetic / catechetical tone where the priest is defending specifically Catholic doctrines.
    I would say poor preaching is a straw man reason for leaving the Catholic Church – there must be some other real reason, such as various Church positions (contraception, divorse, abortion, et. al.) they can’t reconcile with their own private judgement etc.

    • Good reamrks here. The lectionary is both burden and blessing. Generally I find it a helpful discipline so that the whole counsel of God is provided not just my favorite passages.

      • Noshi says:

        Tom Fisher :” I agree homilies should be edgy. Personally I like homilies where the priest references the writings of the early Church Fathers and the saints and what their commentary was on the day’s scripture readings. I also like homilies that have a apologetic / catechetical tone where the priest is defending specifically Catholic doctrines.”

        That’s an excellent point, I agree completely..

  19. Geisteswissenschaften says:

    7-10 minutes is really too short to drive the point home. I don’t know why people think that our attention can’t be held for longer, but look at the Protestants – they preach for up to an hour and sometimes longer. Studies have shown,though, that an audience can keep their attention focused for about 40 minutes.

    So why are they so successful and we are not?

    If the number one reason that Catholic join other evangelical churches is because of the preaching, then the solution is NOT to cut it down and make it shorter. No, the solution is quite contrary to that. Make it stronger, make it better, make it meaningful, powerful, and gripping. But the only way to do that is to quit worrying about which parishioner you might offend – even if they are the biggest purse in front of the altar.

    I suggest something radically different – Old School.

    Get rid of the microphones and speakers, because it is far too tempting to hide behind the ambo and use tiny little voices that communicate virtually nil.

    Instead, get a stool if you have too, elevate yourself over the pulpit and preach with genuinely felt authority and conviction. Hands! Voices!

    The priestly garb is more than just, well, garb. No, it can be useful too – it can magnify your appeal to the masses because it is full of color and patterns that flow and move and sway and influence.

    Go for Affect, Go for Effect.

    And Finally, It may be that some conciliar or Vatican document tells us not to use sermons, but instead to use homilies, but we SO badly need sermons. We’re just people. We’re not the educated or informed. We’re just everyday Joe’s trying to make good with what God gave us. Lead us!

    There should be some moral good or virtue or some vice or evil present in every homily. Just the same as we coach our kids, we need to be coached too.

    But I fear there are too many priests who are doing evil and are therefore bound in silence from preaching against it. So, they just go with the light and fluffy buddy-Christ appeal while trying to mimic something clever about what the Gospel of the day said.

    Oh, one more thing – Repetition. Repetition drives the point home, so circle around your main points two or three times and that will make it more memorable.

    A good homily will last between 17-23 minutes. It starts with broad sweeping conclusions, holds some long pauses, has elevation in pitch and tone and volume as well as low draws too, it restates the main ideas with stories, and then it nails down those point in very succinct platforms that relate back to day-to-day life.

    • Good insights here. I too have discovered that microphones have ruined preaching. They have made us too soft spoken.. Without the mic I have to project my voice and preach more emphatically and authoritatively. For our large mass I have to use some mic but I stand way back from it. Speaking loudly also stirs my soul to greater enthusiasm.

      • St Bosco says:

        Geisteswissenschaften says: The priestly garb is more than just, well, garb. No, it can be useful too – it can magnify your appeal to the masses because it is full of color and patterns that flow and move and sway and influence……….Preach Christ and him crucified and you wont have to need colorfull robe to sway the people.

  20. Adam says:

    Monsignor,

    Why don’t deacons give more of the homilies? That is one of their primary responsibilities since they cannot consecrate the eucharist or hear confessions, isn’t it? I read somewhere recently that there has been a veritable explosion in the number of permanent deacons in this country at the same time that the number of priests has dropped precipitiously. It seems to me that some of these deacons may be better preachers than the priests, and I would think a married deacon is better suited to address sexual themes anyway since he can speak from first-hand experience. Also, with the uptick in foreign priests who speak English rather abysmally at times, don’t you think this is even more reason for native deacons to preach. I have met many people over the years who complain about not even being able to understand their priest. That is a true tragedy! Any thoughts on deacons?

    • Jan says:

      We spent the better part of a year in my parish hearing homilies preached by permanent deacons in communion services. While it’s true that some of them are very good, it’s not the same as having a priest deliver a well thought-out and relevant homily or sermon.

      I don’t agree that married deacons can deliver more forceful teaching on marital problems – in fact, sometimes I think the married state would be an impediment. Not to mention, being in ‘the world’ full time puts a perspective on things that I’m not sure the Church needs represented.

    • Some deacons preach well. Others do not. It is true we can make more use of them especially if the priests are poor. But it does not always follow that they preach well. As for sexuality issues etc. I suppose they can provide another perspective. It’s not an either/or but both/and as I’m sure you’d agree.

    • Bender says:

      Our transitional deacons (we’ve had at least three in the last few years) have preached the homily now and then. Our married permanent will read the Gospel, but I’ve never heard him give a homily.

      You don’t get the flair so much in the printed word, and I know it’s not really a sermon as much as a speech, but St. Stephen (a deacon) gave a pretty good informative and impassioned one in Acts. Enough to get the Sandhedrin and crowd riled up. There is a very good dramatization, word-for-word, in the movie Acts, made by the same people who made The Gospel of John.

  21. david s says:

    With regard to: “Most Catholics are upset if the liturgy goes more than 50 minutes. We all need to agree to take more time to be with the Lord”

    I agree. A memorable line I heard in a homily once: If we want to spend eternity with the Lord, we need to learn to spend time with Him here on earth.

  22. Pol Llaunas says:

    OK, I’m a Spanish Catholic and I have only found really good preachers in the Catholic Charismatic Renewal (from England, Italy, Spain and Hispanoamerica). I was some months ago in Jerusalem, in a Messianic Jew community religious service. They were basically Pentecostals of a Jew origin. They preached with passion and hability, but theologically veeeeeeery weak: the average Catholic Charismatic preacher is both deeper and stronger. There are also some preachers in the Opus Dei which can preach clearly, in a teaching way, but most of them lack passion and are too centered in works.

  23. jj says:

    2 Thumbs up for the converts!

    I think a lot of what is missing among Catholic priest is continuity, longevity, and courage. Another factor is cultural and ethnic differences in parishes.

    Many priest are moved every 6 to 7 years. The majority of parishioners only know the priest via the pew. Only about 10 to 20 percent of parishioners are active in ministry. They show up on Sundays only.

    It takes years for relationships to take place, then the priest is gone and another priest comes with a new set of goals. Not a lot of time for teaching to sink in.

    What does this have to do with preaching? Many homilies are based on the spiritual needs of the parish. Both priest and parishioners must foster relationships so that homilites can be more effective in the parish community in which the priest serves. This takes time. I personally think this moving around so frequently effects the efforts of the priest. Parish communities often get numb to so much moving around. Stability is important for life changing homilies to take effect. (I know, don’t say it. It’s all about the Eucharist). Still we must acknowledge that a lot of folks don’t connect the two — Homily and Eucharist go hand in hand.

    Cultural differences are key to good homilites as well, for example. African-American priest with a parish that is majority caucasion. These cultural differences can be challenging in preparing a homily, but not impossible to overcome. A more reserved priest is assigned to a more charismatic community and so forth. I can come up with many examples. My point is homilies don’t stand alone. They are not isolated messages that a priest develops just based on the readings of the day, or they shouldn’t be. Homilies are about the people in the pews, establishing relationships, applying all of the teachings of Christ to our lives. Again, a priest can not vibrantly do this without knowing the people he shepards and believes in what he is saying.

    Time, perserverance and courage win the day, but I don’t think priest are given a lot of time and many in all honesty don’t have the perseverance. As far as courage goes, many homilies are avoided because of fear. Will attendance go down if I say this, will I be in the “red” financially if I say this, will the parishioners report me to the Bishop if I say this. Knowing that in 6 or 7 years – I am out of here! Is it worth it? Some priest say no. They give the people what they want and they rest well at night.

    That’s my 2 cents.

    • Yes, I am with you, moving priests especially pastors is a very disruptive thing for both priest and parish. Stability is to be preferred for pastors and this does help the preaching and so many other things,.

      • Cynthia BC says:

        I won’t speak for Protestant churches in general, but in the Lutheran church the congregation chooses the pastor from among candidates suggested by the synod, based on their potential fit with the parish’s needs. Candidates are interviewed by the parish’s Board of Directors or a Selection Committee, a recommendation is presented the the congregration and the congregation votes on the selection. The pastor then will serve the parish for as long as it’s mutually agreeable.

        Perhaps I’m living under a rock, but from my perspective the process for determining which priest is assigned to what parish isn’t at all transparent. One week Fr A announces he’s leaving, and next thing we know *poof* there’s Fr B. Does a parish really have as little say as I perceive?

  24. Blake Helgoth says:

    The great Dominican orator Lacordaire (who re-founded the order in France) used to say that the preacher was the ones who was on FIRE with the love of God and when he stood in the pulpit the people watched him burn! How I wish I could have heard him preach!
    I do think preaching is a charism that, maybe, all priests do not have. Maybe the bishops should not be so quick to give every priest every faculty.
    Also, I do think that much more training needs to be done in regards to preaching during seminary formation. Homeletics should be taught each semester for 4 years.

  25. Bender says:

    Personally I like homilies where the priest references the writings of the early Church Fathers and the saints and what their commentary was on the day’s scripture readings.

    Earlier I attributed much of the improvement I have seen to the advent of JP2 priests (and now B16 priests). But there is also the fact that we are now in the Information Age, where the writings of Church Fathers and saints and others are more readily available, where you can often read a homily or Angelus address or General Audience address by Pope Benedict the very day he gives it, or at least within a couple of days. When an encyclical comes out or the upcoming Apostolic Exhortation on the Word of God, we are able to hop on the Internet and read it that same day. Even aside from the Internet, there has been an explosion of book publishing since the 1980s and before.

    So, it seems that priests today are much more well read, not only current thought, but the saints and Church fathers, and are more in tune with an understanding of scripture themselves, so that they can take three readings and find a common theme and weave them into a homily that is theologically solid, and relevant to contemporary everyday life, given with enthusiasm, rather than some generic “I’m OK, you’re OK” talk.

    • Yes, I think the younger priests are on average better preachers once they get a little experience behind them. I think the reason is zeal. So many of the younger priests are very zealous for the Church and her teachings. Priests from the earlier generation were more the affable, lets all get along types and they emerged at a time of great confusion in the Church.

  26. Bender says:

    If I might add another point to the discussion —

    What about after?

    In our parish, we know the value of sacred silence. There is no fear of having “dead air” in our parish. There are a few moments of silence before and after the readings, and usually some moments of silence after the homily before the Creed.

    What say you all? A period of silence, you might you lose the people if you don’t keep things moving along?

    • Bender says:

      Correction —

      What say you all? A period of silence, or might you lose the people if you don’t keep things moving along?

    • Cynthia BC says:

      There is the respectful pause, and then there’s dead air.

      A Respectful Pause is planned. It gives us a moment to process what we’ve just heard from the readings and homily. The Respectful Pause definitely has its place at Mass.

      Dead air is NOT planned. It happens when choir members are fumbling for their music, when lectors are leafing through pages to find their assigned readings, or when an altar server has to be poked out of his daydream for his next task. Dead air results from sloppy preparation and/or execution. As a longtime church musician I find dead air to be irksome. [In fact, my husband and I were SO irked by the EONS of dead air at our parish’s Easter Vigil Mass in 2006 that we’ve not gone to Easter Vigil there since!]

      Granted, Mass is not a stage production, and parishioners aren’t (supposed to be) seeking a theatrical experience. However, if not enough regard is given to who should be where at what time to do what, the Respectful Pause will be lost within the dead air and its value will evaporate. And that really is a shame.

    • The GIRM does call for some silence after the homily as a general rule.

  27. jj says:

    Amen Bender!

    I love sacred silence after a homily, but you’re right, a lot of folks become anxious when it is quiet. More teaching on the purpose of silence after the homily is needed.

    Some folks have to have sound in their lives all the time, even while sleeping (radio, tv, birds cherping, fountains, etc.) This may be the world in which we live in, but we should not bring that culture of noise into the church. Prayer and reflection is what is needed on Sundays after the Homily and the Eucharist.

    • Cynthia BC says:

      My parish has Adoration every Friday evening. Sometimes there’s music, sometimes there’s not. I don’t mind when the music is something subdued such as Gregorian chant, but I like it best when it’s quiet. Sometimes it’s the only quiet time I have.

  28. Dave says:

    The Pastors of the Church are trapped in the finances of the day to day and loose touch with the lost souls
    in the world. Its a trap I don’t think they can get out of. I don’t fault them I fault myself.
    I think the Deacons are a great resoure, they can and would share the underling problems of birthcontrol, abortions, divorce with us. They see it everyday in the workforce. I would use all the resources available and not put it all on our Pastors and Priests.
    I would stess the importance of going to confession monthly. Open confessions to days other than Saturday wihich happens to be the busiest day for Mom’s. If you have a Holy Deacon use him.
    Please pray for our clergy we need them.

  29. Bruce Newman says:

    I am just entering the Catholic church after 31 years as a Protestant, mostly in Pentecostal and charismatic churches. Yes, I have heard good preaching. I have also heard a lot of cr**, if I might put it bluntly. I don’t have room here to tell you how much I longed to get the bad taste of the so called “word” churches out of my mouth. With some exceptions, after you’ve been in the environment for a while the preaching may be energetic but it has no depth and covers the same subjects ad infinitum. To me it became like looking at the menu at McDonald’s. I often called them franchise churches and, like franchises, whoever feels “called” will throw one up anywhere. If you hear the words “christian center” you know it’s them and God help you if you ever introduce a way of thinking into the mix that doesn’t run unthinkingly consonant with the Pavlovian responses instilled by Kenneth Copeland, Creflo Dollar and the rest of the clones. You will find yourself getting the cold shoulder quick as you can say “I’m led by the Spirit”. I never thought I would become a Catholic, but it testifies to the zero nutrition of the empty husks I was so tired of dining on that my hunger propelled me across the Protestant/Catholic Berlin Wall to find a different way to eat.

    • Ah thanks for this insight and experience. It is a true fact that there are serious problems with content and even delivery in some of the denominations and a lot is left out. The full counsel of God is the essential diet for us all!

      • Kathleen says:

        When I have participated in other than Catholic services, what is missing is the continuity of the Liturgical Year. Far from being a constraint, the Church Year ties us to the natural world, the change of seasons, the specialness of each day within the cycle. There is an opportunity to deepen understanding of the message of Jesus by repetition year by year.

        By contrast, you never know what the evangelical or other preacher my be into, often a series of studies he has developed that don’t necessarily reflect anyone’s needs, and don’t often tie into the time of year. Longer sermons are not necessarily better sermons. Many times they resemble college courses, or even high school lectures, complete with a 7″ x 10″ page to fill in the blanks. Information isn’t everything. Not to mention the cult of personality – people go or don’t go to a certain church because they like or don’t like the preacher.

        The Mass is about Jesus. He is there to walk among us, a Shepherd tending His sheep. That’s the essence of what happens. The words of the priest can help that experience with some enlightenment of what the day’s liturgy provides for this meeting, and suggest the appropriate response.

      • Cynthia BC says:

        Kathleen,

        The Lutheran Church has the same Liturgical Year (except instead of “Ordinary Time” the period between Epiphany and Ash Wednesday is the Epiphany Season, and the period between Pentacost and Advent is the Season of Pentecost) and with a few exceptions the scheduled readings are the same as those used in the Catholic Church. And, as at Mass, the homily is based on the day’s readings. I believe most mainline Protestant churches have similar practices.

  30. Mike from CA says:

    Wonderful, thought provoking post Msgr!

    Myself, I fell away from the faith for many years and returned a couple of years ago in a strong way after the Lord answered some of my prayers. Never dreamed of my fast return to the faith, but I’m now helping teach Confirmation 2 years later. I think it certainly goes deeper past preaching (which is very important), but will side with others that most would not leave if they truly knew about the faith, namely to the Eucharist. Any time I think about poor preaching, monotone homilies, lack of ministries, etc, I look towards the altar and remember what the tabernacle holds. I’m fortunate enough to have a parish that has perpetual adoration, so at any hour of the day, I can stop in for adoration of our Lord. Part of it may also go back to the fact that many parishes are falling away from what the faith is. It does appear that many parishes who are orthodox and faithful to what the Vatican teaches are thriving. As said above, Confession is a blessing to have at various times (Our parish offers it before every mass). It also goes back to the Laity to get involved and work with each other to foster close communities within our parishes, help catechize, etc. Many are looking to connect with others and it can be very difficult to within the Catholic faith, leading some to seek elsewhere.

    • Thanks. I am glad you have deepened your faith and one can hope that this will happen to ohers as well so that one thing such as preaching, music, a favorite priest etc will not be the sole basis of their faith but rather a deeper and broader basis as you describe.

  31. Louise Helder says:

    Monsignor Pope, your points are so good, and so are the comments of the many readers.
    The video was excellent. However, #2 is the one I liked the most. That’s where my pastor shines, that’s why his homilies are so good. He truly analyzes, organizes, illustrates, and applies, and I heap accolades on his sermons because they bring me closer to my God.
    Thanks so much for addressing this.

  32. Louise Helder says:

    A well thought out homily will stay with you for a long time if not forever. Just look at our apostles, 2000 years later and we still hear them all the time. Things will get better.

  33. randall says:

    Why don’t Priests and Deacons hold a Thursday evening service for a good preaching. I honestly supplement my Catholicism with a Non-Denom Church. I figure it this way; I go to Mass to worship God and be in commune with the Church and all the angels and saints to worship our Lord and of course partake in the Eucharist. Then I will go, with my family because the Church doesn’t offer child care, to the Non-Denom to hear some very uplifing music and great preaching. I wish I could get that experience through the Church, but it isn’t available. Sometimes it’s good to have a preacher calling you to a higher standard and getting into and making sense of the Bible. Then, in addition, they have us beat in a real sense of community. I’ve gone to Church and not felt welcome for years, our evangelical brethren have a way of making you feel like you are among brothers and sisters.

    • Kathleen says:

      I agree that there is a sense of community, and I have made some friends among them. Yet… have you ever encountered true holiness there? Good people, yes, and good citizens. But something deeper is missing.

    • This is a powerful testimony Randall. I think it should cause all of us in Church leadership to redouble our efforts.

  34. anon says:

    I have been a member of my parish for sometime, but I feel challenged to stay. I agree with the other comment about priests being switched around too much; it is disruptive. When one of our priests was transferred to another post, it was like a light was extinguished in our parish. He was energetic and enthusiastic to preach the Word from the pulpit and beyond (always beyond). Now, the priest who replaced him seems to think that the homily is the time for a bad stand up routine. It is truly uncomfortable to experience, and I am no longer compelled to participate in the sparse, polite laugher. In additional, the second priest who remained is pretty liberal. I have a larger family, and once I was jokingly complaining about my weekend schedule (which I really do love, even though it’s hectic) and he commented that I should have been practicing family planning. They women standing with me all looked like something hit them in the head. He has also preached about not having a problem with priests being married. I don’t think any priest should talk against tradition from the pulpit. I could go on and on, but won’t. Suffice to say, when I go to Mass there, I walk out reminding myself that I am not there for the priest, but it does seem problematic to me that anyone consistently look at their priests as obstacles.

    Msgr., I find your consistent enthusiasm for the unwavering Truth refreshing. Your passion and willingness to say it as it is seems to be more prevalent these days from those who have recently come from the seminary. Sometimes, I will go to Mass at a neighboring parish, and the “younger” priest there does preach about abortion and contraception. Occasionally someone will walk out, but he goes on undeterred. Maybe there aren’t the numbers of new priest as there once were, but it does seem that the new ones are passionate about and true to the Church’s traditional values.

    • Kathleen says:

      You should tell your bishop.

    • Thanks for this testimony anon. I agree with Kathleen that you might consider a letter to the Bishop after having discussed these matters with the priests involved. You are most correct that the pulpit is never the place to undermine the faith or tradition of the Church. St. Paul Wrote to Timothy: “Loquare quae decet sanam doctrinam” (Speak (only) what befits sound doctrine). I pray that your situtation will be well resolved and am glad hat at least a neighboring parish provides something of an alternative.

  35. Patrick says:

    Preaching has to be separated from the priesthood… I feel sorry for having to say it but it is true. The priviledge of preaching is not intrinsic to the priesthood nor is it reserved to the priesthood eg. Permanent Deacons. The priviledge of preaching should be granted to those who have been given the gift, the charism, by the Holy Spirit. Priests preached exclusively in the past due to the cultural circumstances of the past. They were, in reality, the only ones capable of doing so. That is not the case now. We have a plethora of young, theologically prepared, faithful and zealous Catholics who are ready and willing to preach Christ and love of Him. Lets do priests and the Church a favour and utilize all of the gifts that God has given us.

    • Well, at one level I understand what you are saying. However, preaching and teaching is of the essence of the priesthood. The Second Vatican Council refers to the “primum officium” of the priest as the Word of God. The celebration of the liturgy and sacraments is always linked to the Word of God. It may be a true fact that some priests are not gifted orators but we cannot simply remove them entirely from the preaching and teaching task. Perhaps we can minimize the damage by getting priests some help from deacons and other clergy or by allowing the priest to convey his message in a briefer format or even through writing. However, if in seminary the seminarian is woefully inadequate even after some degree of training it seems to me that this should be a significant factor in the discernment of whether he is actually called to be a priest. There was the practice in the old days of designating certain preists a “Sacerdos Simplex” wherein he was able to say Mass but not preach or hear confessions since some aspect of his training or mental capacities limited his ability in these regards. But I am unaware of any such approach today given the current theology which is that the Word of God is “first office” of the priest.

    • Bender says:

      We have a plethora of young, theologically prepared, faithful and zealous Catholics who are ready and willing to preach Christ and love of Him.

      So what is stopping them?

      We ALL have the privilege of being a witness for Christ to the world, as Confirmed Catholics, we all have the duty to join in the mission of the Church to be a light to others, to let the Light of Christ shine through us.

      This witness is not confined to the Mass. And while giving the homily is reserved to Holy Orders, “preaching” is not. There were plenty of saints who were non-priest preachers, such as St. Francis. Being a witness in this way is something that we should do anywhere and everywhere. To believers and non-believers alike.

      Let those young, theologically prepared, faithful and zealous Catholics go out and spread the Word to the world — that is where they are most needed. So, they should get out there. Go teach CCD and RCIA, go get involved in bible study, go help with youth groups, spread the Word to fellow young people, tell non-believers the Good News, share with everyone the priceless pearl that is the Catholic Faith. The Mass is not the only place to “preach.”

      • Bender says:

        I see that Msgr. Pope beat me to the “submit comment” button by a few minutes —

        I don’t know if “preaching” is officially specifically reserved to the priesthood as part of the “primum officium,” using the word “preach” in such a technical sense.

        I’m using the word “preach” in the broader sense, the everyday common understanding and usage of the word, which is to spread the word.

  36. al sowins says:

    When a religious organization departs from scripture by adding to and/or subtracting from it, that organization sins, and separates itself from God. Its adherents are then damned; not saved. Their worship, not according to the Word, is in vain; ie, sinful. They live in disobedience to our Lord, Jesus Christ, Who saves the obedient.

    And those who lead them to perdition would do better to have millstones put about their necks and be cast into the sea.Cites on request.

    • Bender says:

      Do you have a specific “organization” in mind Al? And, if so, how does that “organization” depart from scripture?

      Also, could you please tell me where in scripture it says what you just said?

    • Theo says:

      Yes, it’s too bad the Protestant Reformers did that. 😉 Of course we don’t therefore think Protestants are damned, though some of them think we are!

  37. Theo says:

    I think a good preacher is one who is totally on fire for Jesus Christ, loves Him, has a strong relationship with Him, really lives for Him, has really been changed by Him. Then it really is Jesus speaking and preaching through the priest. But too many priests act like they don’t even know Him. I heard a renowned retreat master (name withheld out of respect) preach an entire mission on the Eucharist, without once mentioning the name of Jesus Christ. It was all abstract and analytical. Even many “good” preachers who focus on teaching good doctrine don’t really talk about Jesus in a rousing, exciting way. What’s the point of all the doctrine, if not to bring us into a direct, personal, life-changing relationship with Jesus – and bring Jesus directly into us, in the Eucharist, the most personal, transformative relationship one can have with Him? But you can’t preach it if you don’t have it – and to have it requires real commitment and change on a personal level, not just intellectual knowledge of doctrine.

  38. Evelyn says:

    I’m a convert, and have been to dozens and dozens of churches, both Protestant (many denominations) and Catholic. I don’t think preaching skill has anything at all to do with what type of church.

    One of the best preachers I ever heard was a man at an Assemblies of God church, who believed so wholly in the inspiration of the Holy Spirit that he never prepared for sermons, but did it all by the seat of his pants. Another grand one (independent Baptist) did a lot of exigesis and studies of the culture and language and always followed an outline. We were disappointed when he quit after “only” 45 minutes. Our permanent deacon is much the same way, but shorter.

    At the other end of the spectrum I’ve heard pablum, terrible meandering, heresy, stupid self-centered story telling (the “Father Bob show”) from Catholics and Protestants alike. Generally I think the better ones are those who take it very seriously and prepare, though that AG guy was great, and at my last church before I converted, a very well-meaning, educated, thoughtful pastor gave the most awful 50 minute torture sessions.

    I wonder if some of the trouble is that the first thing a homilist thinks of is, “What can I say about this in seven minutes?” instead of focusing on something interesting/challenging from the readings and really *sharing* it with the congregation. I’d rather a daily Mass homily be skipped (which is allowed, right?) rather than the priest talk just because he feels like he has to, not because he has anything to say.

    • Thanks for sharing this expereince. I am mindful too that there are many people who ARE hungry for the word of God nd are thus upset when the homily runs short. I have been blessed to pastor congregations who were hungry for the Word and were enthusiastic for a good and somewhat longer homily.

  39. Rich says:

    “Most Protestant sermons are about a half and hour.” – That’s because the sermon is all they have! Lacking the Real Presence, what else is there but the Word?

    “Teaching is often lacking” – So very true. It’s sad to say, and I hope I’m not being uncharitable, but most Sundays at my parish all we get are the sappy, sentimental feel-good-about-ourselves stories with the implied message that we are all heaven-bound. The homilies are usually delivered at the level of a school Mass as if though the adult congregants are incapable of deeper theological thought and understanding. I truly feel as though I’m being talked down to. There also seems to be a penchant on the part of the priests and deacons to entertain, or be entertaining, by including jokes in their homilies. My advice (and prayer!) here is, please, save the comedy routine for coffee and donuts after Mass.

    In contrast, I can count on one finger the number of times I’ve heard a homily (but not at my current parish) dedicated in its entirety to an explanation that the practice of contraception is a grave evil. This is the kind of “edgy” substance the faithful need and, really, have a right to.

    Thank you for the excellent post, Monsignor!

    • Cynthia BC says:

      Richard:

      For the record, Catholics are not the only ones who believe in the Real Presence. The bread and wine for Lutherans and Episcopalians/Anglicans are not mere symbols of Christ’s sacrifice. Your swipe was mean-spirited and dead wrong.

      Also for the record, the longest sermon I’ve sat through in my 40+ years was 20 minutes.

      • Rich says:

        Cynthia BC, I’m sorry if I offended you and anyone else with my comment. Although I can see where it might be construed as a “swipe”, it wasn’t intended as such and I had no intention of being mean-spirited. I should have been more precise in my answer, as I will now attempt to do.

        When I wrote the comment, I specifically had in mind those faith communities that focus primarily on preaching the Word, and that reject the fact that Christ instituted a system of sacraments for our sanctification and salvation. I specifically had in mind the sacrament of Holy Communion and used the term “Real Presence” (and the Catholic understanding of it) as a surrogate to denote it. Hence, without anything like a sacrament within the service, the sermon would necessarily be longer; but Monsignor’s comment, “Most Protestant sermons are about a half and hour.”, probably wasn’t limited to the aforementioned faith communities I had in mind.

        Regarding your comment that Lutherans and Episcopalians/Anglicans have a belief in a “Real Presence”, agreed. However, we have to be clear that Lutheran and Anglican belief in the Real Presence is not the same as the Catholic belief in the Real Presence; in fact, the Council of Trent declared the Lutheran definition of Real Presence in error. Additionally, the Catholic view is that the Lutheran and Anglican faith traditions do not have a valid priesthood and thus do not have a valid sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.

        Thanks for the feedback and God Bless!

  40. George Stolin says:

    I have been to my daughter’s Born Again Church and I can see why some people may like the way they preach.
    It is all about presentation. They do a better job with this then the Catholic Priest do.
    You have to captivate your audience in order to get you point across. A good teacher is taught to use all of the tools that is available to get their students to understand the subject. Priest have to be sent back to school for presentation skills. They know the subject, they now have to improve on their teaching skills.
    Remember, Jesus was called a teacher in the gospels, and he used many tools. Maybe we lost what that really means.

    George

  41. Henry Vanden Brook says:

    I think the Catholic Church doesn’t love Jesus. The proof is from Jesus himself. He said to Peter three times that if Peter loved Him, Peter was to feed Jesus’s sheep. The laity has been complaining about this starvation for as long as I’ve been alive (51 years old). My grandmother and her siblings all went to Catholic School. My dad and his siblings all went to Catholic School. My grandmother went to church even during the week. These folks died very ignorant of the teachings in the Bible. I commonly ask priests for evidence of the Churches basis for some of its traditions. They don’t seem to know of any other than “God gave the keys to Peter”. Well the earliest fathers of the church would be Peter, Paul and the other apostles. If the traditions were passed down from them, where is the evidence? If there is no evidence, isn’t that sufficient proof that God doesn’t require us to believe in it. The Bible is packed with great stuff that I don’t think my family ever learned ‘going to church’. I think God was more interested in our fruits than in our attendance to consume His flesh and blood. He said “By their fruits you will know them”, not “By their denomination or attendance record or icons they wear you will know them”. I think believing it is His flesh and blood is today’s test of faith (He always had a test of faith since Adam), but I don’t think it was meant to take half of our time when we get together.

    When someone tries to make a point, they usually at least present enough of the facts to convince the other person why they should be persuaded. To me, the facts are the scripture. We know the scripture is the foundation of truth available to us. THAT is what I want to hear on Sunday, not the opinions of another human being (priest), unless he can substantiate his opinion with scripture. And I want to hear the whole context, not bits and pieces of context. If Paul can take the time to write a letter via Timothy while in chains in jail, why can’t we read the whole letter? Are we in such a hurry to go eat a donut after church that we can’t hear God out, even if we merely read the letter? Is that how we read other materials? I read more words in the church bulletin handed out at the end of mass than the amount of scripture read in church. I hear more words in opinions and feelings from the priest than the number of words of scripture read at mass.

    I don’t think the Bible needs such a disproportionate amount of interpretation. God has been around for eternity. He knows how to express Himself by now. He doesn’t need our help. He could simply flatten the Earth and talk to us from space if He wanted. He could make Himself into 20 Trillion people and have the majority vote and do all the preaching if He wanted. I think He is just giving us a chance to show our faith and spiritual discernment in Him. How smug of us to think we need to say more to explain His subjects because He didn’t explain them adequately. If we did nothing more than read the scripture alone and go home, I think the laity would be significantly more moral.

    But feeding the sheep has NO priority in the Catholic Church today. This blog is pretty much the extent of progress that will be made. More proof that Peter doesn’t really love Jesus. If it does, where is the evidence? I don’t think the entire FLOOD of protestant denominations is heretical. A lot of them are more serious about understanding the scripture and practicing their faith than we are. Every week I attend mass, I’m tempted to leave the Catholic Church. I’m not entirely convinced it is Peter’s church since it doesn’t read very much scripture. But then I tell myself, this is the original church isn’t it; it just doesn’t love Jesus because it is loaded with starving sheep. How easy it is for Satan to lead the sheep away by providing anything that appears to be food of substance. If only my true Sheppard were here. I wonder what He thinks when He observes our frail condition. How many of us realize how much food God has made available. We look like we are in a Nazi concentration camp. It’s there but Peter isn’t sharing very much of it with us. We need to jump the fence and read the Bible ourselves. We might get some indigestion by coming to some wrong conclusions but I think we will be better off because at least we were eating scripture. True, some of us might be eaten by a wolf, but most of us will starve and die like my grandmother, father and all their siblings did if we keep waiting for Peter to figure out why it is critical to feed the sheep.

    • Irenaeus says:

      Henry Vanden Brook,

      You said
      [—
      I commonly ask priests for evidence of the Churches basis for some of its traditions. They don’t seem to know of any other than “God gave the keys to Peter”.
      —]

      This will answer your questions as to why tradition is not only sacred and true, but why its also biblical and found in its fullness within the Catholic Church.

      http://www.scripturecatholic.com/

  42. Irenaeus says:

    The priest that gets my attention is the priest who preaches about sin and hell. I know enough to want to avoid those two, and I haven’t heard those two words mentioned in my previous parish for years. Give it to me straight. Don’t mince words. Don’t be PC. Challenge me with the truth.
    .
    Show me what is at stake.
    .
    I found a great parrish with very holy priests about a two years ago, and unfortunately, the three priest I came to love are no longer there. There is a personal relationship aspect to preaching. You come know and love the priest. My son on the way home from church asked me, “Why do we call them Father when they all wind up leaving us?”. I am sorry to print that, but it was an honest question from the mouth of a child. Obviously things are more complicated than that simple question, but like my son, I also want preaching from a priest that I can grow with throughout my life, with my kids. I guess what I am saying is…. that I came to find that its not all about the quality of preaching, there is a relationship aspect that is valuable to good communication.

  43. Matt says:

    Hi,

    If the teaching is not being done (for the most part) during the mass on Sunday, where are Catholics supposed to be learning about our faith? Why is the Church content to educate children until they receive Confirmation, and then give very little instruction after that? We are living in a society where people need to learn about their faith and the Bible, and it seems like (for the most part) people are not getting that education. When I became a Catholic, many of my Protestant friends were in awe because, according to them, the Catholic Church does not teach Scripture or teach much at all. They also say that most, if not all, of the Catholics they run into at work or in the street don’t know much about their faith. Where are the Catholics supposed to be learning? What do you think?

  44. Cynthia BC says:

    While we’re on the topic of homilies, I’d like to vent a bit about the weekend the Archbishop’s Appeal is promoted in parishes.

    I don’t mind hearing about the ministries supported by the Appeal, or being asked to give generously. I think it’s good to know how the funds are being used and to be reminded to help those less fortunate than we are.

    But I absolutely loathe having to sit through instructions on how to fill out the pledge form. “In the space where it says ‘name’ write your name.” I am well aware that there are many and various ways people can screw up forms, but really, I resent the presumption of stupidity. In fact my husband and I so loathe sitting through the How to Fill Out the Form homily that we make it a point to NOT go to Mass on the weekend of the Appeal Spiel. The time spent on telling people where to write their name could surely be more wisely used…like for silence.

    • Mary says:

      I could not agree with you more!!! What an enormous waste of time! While I understand the obvious need for fundraising, I think using the liturgy for this purpose is a mistake. When the priest spends 20 minutes telling us how to pick up a pencil and write our names, I just zone out. Makes me crazy.

  45. Robertlifelongcatholic says:

    The main problem with the lectionary of the Catholic Church is that the mass has become a bad production made up of various players who walk in to read their lines and then walk off waiting for the next distraction. The priest has been minimalized and so has the message and mass with all the various interuptions and distractions of various characters such as polyphonic combos for chiors up at the front, distracting everyones focus on the main purpose – the mass, with poorly executed, uninspiring hymns, the decons sharing the alter and responsibilities of the priest performing the Mass, the various lecterns that come and go during the reading, and the communionist that drag out and waterdown the whole act of eucharist dispensation. It appears the clergy still don’t seem to get it! You have made a boring immature high school play out of the Sacrament of the Mass. You have no one to blame but the cardinals, bishops and priest. This is your doing.

  46. St Bosco says:

    Mary is more preached than Jesus. Mary has nothing to do with salvation

    • You haven’t been to many Catholic Churches my friend.

      • Mary says:

        Actually, Mary is very much out of the picture during the liturgy. She’s pretty much non-existent—unless it’s a Marian feast day. Personally, I think the Church would benefit from paying a bit more attention to Our Lady … but that’s an article for another day.

  47. Peter Wolczuk says:

    One thing I’ve felt and hear about from others is a sort of elitist theology. Many of us are willing to accept that Holy Scripture is the perfect word of God; although variations in translations make it a little difficult on fine points. I also accept sacred tradition and accept that the work of the Holy Spirit was involved in its creation. But, what about when someone who doesn’t have a masters degree in theology or some other humanly special label seeks to add to our understanding whithout contradicting the established doctrine? My personal experience is that such person is ignored or; only listened to in an inattentive and superficial manner. Then comes the forefinger shaken in the face – the guilt trip – the how dare you say what you say without sanction and formal education – as has happened to me. As if the Holy Spirit would not stoop to the likes of the laity to have a message delivered.
    Are the days of the wild eyed, raggedly dressed prophets who stumble out of the desert carrying the Word of God safely in our past so that we can lay back in a soft and lukewarm faith? Revelation 3:16.
    How about pointing to the origins of science in the Bible? In the first chapter of the Book of Daniel he teaches one of Nebuchadnezzar’s administrators how to conduct a scientific experiment. This was in Mesopatamia; sometimes called the “Cradle of Western Civilization” before the Classical Age of Greece where some believe that the foundations of modern science were laid.
    Would the Greeks of that age not have drawn from that cradle?
    And what about, almost two thousand years ago when the Teacher saw rich men donating large sums of silver to the temple (likely a tenth of their income since the last donation.) Then He saw a poor widow donate two tiny bits of copper and declared that she donated more because it was all the purchase power she had, Humans may have looked at the larger empirical value of the silver but He saw the greater relative value of the copper. Was this not a very early lesson in the Theory of Relativity by a perfect Teacher? Simple and complete.
    The Word not only has the passion of faith and of salvation and of creation and of divine justice and of………
    It also has the passion of science.

  48. Rosemary says:

    Let’s not forget why we attend Mass: The Holy Eucharist. That is what the Evangelicals don’t have so they put more emphasis on the preaching – the centerpiece of their liturgy. This is not to say that the homily is not important but that the priest is human as we are. The Holy Eucharist is perfect and never lets us down. Through God’s great Providence, he makes sure this holy offering occurs for our salvation. This is the mystical part of the liturgy. There are times when we have to overlook what is lacking in the human part of it.

  49. Carolyn says:

    Msgr. Pope, I want to tell you that my priest gets much more substance into 15 to 20 minutes than my Baptist pastor father got into 45 minutes. It was one of the things that drew me into the Catholic Church. Real meat to grow on, not just an altar call. When I was a kid, I knew all the facts, everybody in the the Bible, who did what, etc. Now I am learning meaning. My priest knows so much more about who I am and what I am struggling with in confession than my biological father ever considered existed. I have found acceptance in the real Church.

  50. Clayburgh says:

    While we’re on the topic of homilies, I’d like to vent a bit about the weekend the Archbishop’s Appeal is promoted in parishes.

    I don’t mind hearing about the ministries supported by the Appeal, or being asked to give generously. I think it’s good to know how the funds are being used and to be reminded to help those less fortunate than we are.

    But I absolutely loathe having to sit through instructions on how to fill out the pledge form. “In the space where it says ‘name’ write your name.” I am well aware that there are many and various ways people can screw up forms, but really, I resent the presumption of stupidity. In fact my husband and I so loathe sitting through the How to Fill Out the Form homily that we make it a point to NOT go to Mass on the weekend of the Appeal Spiel. The time spent on telling people where to write their name could surely be more wisely used…like for silence.

  51. Peter Wolfe says:

    Personally coming from a former protestant culture of baptist, I like the conservative catholic church myself. They appear to tak their job and duties much more serious even out of gest they do their jobs with functional operations. If anything we need to go back toa time before Vatican II forever to have latn, etc. My issue with catholics is polar opposites lik arrogance withpride is a huge problem with orthadox and former converts from other fiths especially with missionaries on campus save for one. I mean to say that things are taken as a given even though people are like where did you get that information? I also see cowardess in the priest’s homile on serious issues and a lot of rope walking to preserve it. Also there islots of arbitrary power like my priest doesn’t appear to have much sympathy for a plan to have tranortation to and from church cause apparenlty I’m the only diabled person? Rather pathetic thathis doesn’t have a manditory in all parishes if you ask me. The RCIA also has funamental flaws involved like the catechumen and candidates fuse together like me being a catechumen is a huge problem dealing with the baptized arrogang Bible thumpers. I don’t like it and don’t think it shold be taught exactly he same either. This is all I have to say at this point on things except it would help if the church was more inclusive as well on other things other than race in diversity.
    note: opinion coming from a soon to be convert to the catholic christian faith on the short comings of local parishes and the label of “Social Justice” is considered communist or anti-christian is ilinformed bs if you ask me.

  52. marilyn says:

    I AM NOW NOTICING SOME CHANGES….but what pulls the catholic out of the church is the zest and enthusiasm for the scriotures that the protestants have…the catholic churches do the preaching is like they are just reading the scriptures, no emotion, no connection, no joy…..can’t wait for the young zelous ones, i hope they come to my church!!!

  53. Johann says:

    When someone really believes in something, they have no problem expressing it, sharing it or showing enthusiasm for it. I suspect that a good deal of priests have no interest in the Gospel or Christ or religion, and are simply enjoying a comfortable sinecure as the church crumbles around their ears. THeir only concern is to be as inoffensive as possible. Their true god is public opinion. No true minister of Christ could get up at a pulpit and deliver the dreck I hear week after week at Mass.

  54. Michael says:

    Some of my friends said so. They said it was because their lack of our Holy Bible reading and understanding, but on the other area, they admitted that Catholic Church has their own strengths, such as strong and good structure, and broad connection for the community support i.e schools, poverty, hospitals or medical n health care, etc.

    Yeah I believe it will go better later gradually.

    God Bless

  55. Robert says:

    Strongly disagree regards the need for longer sermons and so does every expert in public speaking. THE reasons why some RC Priests, can sometimes (and far too often) delivery a poor sermon are:

    To long – period – doesn’t matter who you are or where you are, human beings start switching off and going on mental “personal adventures” after about 5mins tops. Remember the old saying, Less is More! (always leave people wanting more, never muttering to themselves, “when’s this fella gonna stop”.

    “Own” your topic – you’re the Priest, you’re the one who’s had years upon years of theological training – so, what really inspires you about this particular aspect of the faith that you’d like to now share with others?

    Because you do “own” the topic, you will NOT, “uhmm”, you will not “ahhh”, nothing kills quality public speaking like endless uhhms and ahhhs.

    Because you “own” the topic you will not – EVER – use notes, NO NOTES (except for a specific persons name or placename/hard to remember word etc) – NO NOTES!

    Do NOT keep repeating yourself, repeat ONE key point, ONCE, and that’s it – Less is MORE!

    Remember – the people you are speaking to, are IN CHURCH, you DON’T have to convert them – you have to INSPIRE them to “stay on target”. Really, any Priest can (should) be able to speak to brothers and sisters in the Faith IN Church – the real challenge surely, would be to go out into the wider community and win back those who have voted with their feet?

    Summary
    Less is MORE
    Own your topic
    No notes, no “uhhm’s” and “ahhh’s”
    No endless repeating what you’ve already said
    Inspiration is required, not conversion – you’re IN church already!

    Bold Suggestion
    If anyone doubts anything I’ve said, check out the Gospels, Our Lord kept his stories simple and short, little if any repeating and never failed to “own” his topic – there was NO doubt, no uhhm’s, no ahh’s – and the people wanted more!

    Best Wishes to All!

    • This was a pretty long comment. It took me a long time to read it. Almost 5 minutes , Maybe more

      • Jim says:

        Maybe for you “inspiration is required…” & “not conversion”. But there are many in the pews that are dire need of conversion because they have the going mentality of “being good is good enough”. The idea that being good is enough is the most pernicious heresy in the Church today. It’s not about just being good or better but BEST. The standard is holiness–not the average amount of sinfulness. All of us are called 1st to be holy by keeping the commandments, prayer, sacrifice & devotion as we draw nearer to God becoming more like the One we worship. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. Because “Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the Kingdom of God.” Pardon won’t come to the son or daughter who doesn’t want pardon. Despite God’s infinite love for all of us, he can’t welcome home the prodigals who won’t return home.

  56. Robert says:

    Firstly, thank you for reading it.

    I too have spent many hours listening to sermons that less than 24hrs later, I could not recall to save my life. Partly my fault, YES, but I’ve also come to realise the story teller has a critical role to play. A poor movie bombs at the box office, a dud book gathers dust on a shelf – why should a poor sermon be excused?

    In any case, a tree is judged by its fruit – we’ll see if over the next say 40yrs, the Church can “pack ’em back in again” – up to now, it’s sadly been a rush for the door. Regards the “1st world” the sheperds have lost most of their sheep!

    Best Wishes.

  57. John says:

    One of the priests at my parish is being criticized because he “talks too long” but our patron is St. John Vianney, and my understanding of SJV’s life includes the fact that when he first got to Ars, the people in the seats didn’t like his tone, and they wanted to get rid of him.

    Turns out, a little later, they built a railroad spur into Ars to accommodate all the people coming to have confession heard by SJV. I pray that my priest who is being criticized sticks to doing what he is doing, moving to the back and allowing the Holy Spirit to speak through him.

    One man’s “boring homily” is bringing another man to tears.

    Too many people want to “check the box” — went to mass. Check. Some people actually want to go to mass and hear what the priest says because it is in HIS words that we hear GOD talking.

    Thanks for your blog … I sent it to some people who are criticizing my priest.

  58. ANDREW SSEMUGENYI says:

    People we are leaving in modern world where people are looking for their God so badly. i dont think its better for a person to give God little time. people need to understand the ways of God and what God wants. if you really need God to work for you more an d more then better give him enough time.
    i personally the only thing that hurts in the catholic church is one priests tend to pretend as if they dont know the bible they dont give what is supposed to be given to people of God because of time. there very many things priests should teach children of God but when they fear to tell people and they start to talk on those who have tried to come up to teach. SO PLEASE PRIESTS CHANGE. THANKS
    AM ANDREW SSEMUGENYI UGANDA KAMPALA

  59. angel says:

    i belive as a catholic any belife is real its just worded difrent we are all gods children and at the end of every worship it ends the same worship god and do wats right

  60. Mahndisa says:

    Wow this was a very good article. I’ve been going to Mass at a local parish for over a year because the church is open 24 hours a day and I can always go there and pray. I am not Catholic. I was raised Baptist but am nondenominational to the extent that God doesn’t care about denominations! There is richness to the faith like all of the sacraments and Eucharistic Adoration, culivation of the interior silence to meet God with the indwelling of the Holy Ghost and he intensity of the prayer life. BUT…coming from a Baptist background the homilies are more often than not WEAK! Not only do they not take enough time to develop the text contextually, linguistically, historically etc but usually its like listening to a one sided conversation. Where is the charisma? Up to this point I’ve heard two good homilists, one from childhood Father Goode of St John of the Shipwreck in San Francisco, and Father Illo who recently left St. Joseph’s Catholic church in Modesto, CA. Both of them are gifted homilists and while they preached everyone listened. Some complained that Father Illo was so passionate and opinionated, but I saw a very holy man who exhorted us to walk in Christian perfection and he wasn’t afraid to rile feathers if the issue was a hot button social cause.

    I’m autistic so content is always more important than delivery but some of these priests seem dead to me and it takes away from the fullness of the Mass. Indeed I go to mass and Adoration chapel during the week but worship with a Pentecostal church on the weekends. There, Pastor Steenburgh has a strong anointing to PREACH and TEACH the Word of God. It seems like many Catholics know the catechism better than the Bible (except the charismatics I’ve met) and I think it should be the reverse; the Bible should be the primary book that we get to know and appreciate and the catechism, while important, should be second fiddle to the Bible with no exceptions!

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