Here is an answer that should appear on Catholic Jeopardy: “Eight minutes”. The question is: “According to Pope Francis, what should be the ideal length of a homily?
This pope, who hasn’t been afraid to speak out on controversial issues, recently broached a topic that every practicing Catholic has probably pondered, usually while listening to a sermon.
Addressing a group of Sicilian clergy on June 9, Pope Francis said a homily should last less than eight minutes and leave people with “a thought, a feeling and an image” that will stay with them “forever.” the week”. “He asked the priests to consider whether they were ‘preaching in such a way that people go out for a cigarette and come back’ because the homily is about ‘everything and nothing,'” Catholic News Service reported.
This is not the first time that the pope has offered advice on preaching. Last January, he complained that too many homilies “are abstract, and instead of awakening the soul, they lull it to sleep”.
“Preaching carries this risk,” Pope Francis said during an Angelus address. “Without the anointing of the Spirit, it impoverishes the word of God and descends to moralism and abstract concepts; he presents the Gospel with detachment, as if it were out of time, far from reality.
From the mouth of the pope to the ear of every preacher. Wherever two or three Catholics are gathered together, at some point there is sure to be grumbling about preaching. This is the most common complaint I hear, even from the most generous and tolerant Catholics.
Of course, good sermons can be found on YouTube, and I know many people who regularly listen to Bishop Robert E. Barron’s Sunday homilies to fill the void left in the Mass they attended that morning, but I think we can do better.
I don’t know the cause of so many weak sermons. Aren’t basic rhetorical skills taught effectively in seminars? Do some priests think the homily is the time when dense theology or generic bromides should be downloaded onto their flock? Or are they simply too busy with the drudgery of parish administration to spend time writing a good sermon?
My wife was picking up our child from Methodist Preschool once when she saw the pastor practicing his Sunday sermon, speaking from the pulpit to an empty church a few days before he was to deliver it. His desire to get it right, to hear how it sounded, to practice his delivery, was striking.
Not all priests are born preachers (hence so many canned homilies). But practice can do better. A young priest I knew who was aware of his shortcomings studied books like Father Alfred McBride’s preaching guide, “How to Make Homilies Better, Shorter, Bolder.” He worked diligently on his sermons and greatly improved his ability to hold people’s attention while giving them substance.
It’s difficult to speak to a diverse audience ranging from screaming toddlers and distracted parents to senior citizens who’ve heard it all before. But those 8, 10 or 15 minutes are probably the only times of the week that most Catholics will receive a Catholic exhortation. This is a precious opportunity not to be lost.
Not every catechetical gap can be addressed in a homily, but during these eight minutes Catholics can see the connection between Scripture and their lives. It is an invitation to come closer to the Lord and to his Church.
And I think I speak for all of us when I say thank you to those priests and deacons who take the time to preach well and leave us with food for thought in the week that follows.
Erlandson, director and editor of Catholic News Service, can be reached at [email protected]