In this reflection on the homily we will look at Pope Francis’ advice on preparation and its vital importance. He is quite pointed: “145. Preparation for preaching is so important a task that a prolonged time of study, prayer, reflection and pastoral creativity should be devoted to it. With great affection I wish to stop for a moment and offer a method of preparing homilies. Some may find these suggestions self-evident, but I consider it helpful to offer them as a way of emphasizing the need to devote quality time to this precious ministry. Some pastors argue that such preparation is not possible given the vast number of tasks which they must perform; nonetheless, I presume to ask that each week a sufficient portion of personal and community time be dedicated to this task, even if less time has to be given to other important activities. Trust in the Holy Spirit who is at work during the homily is not merely passive but active and creative. It demands that we offer ourselves and all our abilities as instruments (cf. Rom 12:1) which God can use. A preacher who does not prepare is not ‘spiritual’; he is dishonest and irresponsible with the gifts he has received.”
The preparation begins with the Biblical text. “146… Whenever we stop and attempt to understand the message of a particular text, we are practicing ‘reverence for the truth’. This is the humility of heart which recognizes that the word is always beyond us, that ‘we are neither its masters or owners, but its guardians, heralds and servants’. This attitude of humble and awe-filled veneration of the word is expressed by taking the time to study it with the greatest care and a holy fear lest we distort it. To interpret a biblical text, we need to be patient, to put aside all other concerns, and to give it our time, interest and undivided attention. We must leave aside any other pressing concerns and create an environment of serene concentration. It is useless to attempt to read a biblical text if all we are looking for are quick, easy and immediate results. Preparation for preaching requires love. We only devote periods of quiet time to the things or the people whom we love; and here we are speaking of the God whom we love, a God who wishes to speak to us. Because of this love, we can take as much time as we need, like every true disciple: ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening’ (1 Sam 3:9).”
His advice is on a spiritual level: “149. The preacher ‘ought first of all to develop a great personal familiarity with the word of God. Knowledge of its linguistic or exegetical aspects, though certainly necessary, is not enough. He needs to approach the word with a docile and prayerful heart so that it may deeply penetrate his thoughts and feelings and bring about a new outlook in him’.… The Sunday readings will resonate in all their brilliance in the hearts of the faithful if they have first done so in the heart of their pastor.”
“159. Another feature of a good homily is that it is positive. It is not so much concerned with pointing out what shouldn’t be done, but with suggesting what we can do better. In any case, if it does draw attention to something negative, it will also attempt to point to a positive and attractive value, lest it remain mired in complaints, laments, criticisms and reproaches. Positive preaching always offers hope, points to the future, does not leave us trapped in negativity.”
He refers to advice from the author of Sirach: “Speak concisely, say much in few words” (Sir 32:8). You can access the document at www.vatican.va and then click on Apostolic Exhortations.