The next several reflections will deal with Pope Francis’ thoughts about the homily! He dedicates a lot of space to this and rightfully so. “135… I will dwell in particular, and even somewhat meticulously, on the homily and its preparation, since so many concerns have been expressed about this important ministry, and we cannot simply ignore them. The homily is the touchstone for judging a pastor’s closeness and ability to communicate to his people. We know that the faithful attach great importance to it, and that both they and their ordained ministers suffer because of homilies: the laity from having to listen to them and the clergy from having to preach them! It is sad that this is the case. The homily can actually be an intense and happy experience of the Spirit, a consoling encounter with God’s word, a constant source of renewal and growth.” He certainly speaks in a down to earth way and doesn’t pull any punches.
“136. Let us renew our confidence in preaching, based on the conviction that it is God who seeks to reach out to others through the preacher, and that he displays his power through human words. Saint Paul speaks forcefully about the need to preach, since the Lord desires to reach other people by means of our word (cf. Rom 10:14-17).”
The homily in a liturgical setting has a particular focus. It is not a lecture or a speech. It is a dialogue between God and His people. “137. It is worthy remembering that ‘the liturgical proclamation of the word of God, especially in the Eucharistic assembly, is not so much a time for meditation and catechesis as a dialogue between God and his people, a dialogue in which the great deeds of salvation are proclaimed and the demands of the covenant are continually restated’.… The homily takes up once more the dialogue which the Lord has already established with his people. The preacher must know the heart of his community, in order to realize where its desire for God is alive and ardent, as well as where that dialogue, once loving, has been thwarted and is now barren.”
Pope Francis gets quite practical about the homily: “138. The homily cannot be a form of entertainment like those presented by the media, yet it does need to give life and meaning to the celebration. It is a distinctive genre, since it is preaching situated within the framework of a liturgical celebration; hence it should be brief and avoid taking on the semblance of a speech or a lecture. A preacher may be able to hold the attention of his listeners for a whole hour, but in this case his words become more important than the celebration of faith. If the homily goes on too long, it will affect two characteristic elements of the liturgical celebration: its balance and its rhythm.”
The preacher should imitate Jesus: “141… I believe that the secret lies in the way Jesus looked at people, seeing beyond their weaknesses and failings: ‘Fear not little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom’ (Lk 12:32); Jesus preaches with that spirit. Full of joy in the Spirit, he blesses the Father who draws the little ones to him: ‘I thank you Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes’ (Lk 10:21). The Lord truly enjoys talking with his people; the preacher should strive to communicate that same enjoyment to his listeners.”
You can access the document at www.vatican.va and then click on Apostolic Exhortations.