Earlier this week I read someone laud their parish priest for his edifying homilies. She had discovered his secret was to write them in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. This really made me think of my own early shocking attempts at homiletics.
My old routine was to look for a story of everyday life with which to open. I would often throw in references to popular TV shows, which was interesting for me, as I would notice people suddenly look up, and I’d be happy I might have their attention.
I began to realise this was not a good way to proceed when one homily story was repeated back to me. I spoke of a time I was delivering to a customer in my previous job of wholesale flower flogger. I delivered to a Lady (yes, capital) called Barbara. She had a gated house, the gates were open, I drove onto the drive, got the flowers out of the car, walked round the back of the house where I had delivered before and saw her in her conservatory in sports clothes following an aerobic exercise video. She was shocked and embarrassed that I had seen her like this. I was very apologetic and mortified I had embarrassed this delightful lady in this way. She forgave me but said “you won’t tell anyone will you?” I assured her I would not. But next time I saw her, she told everyone the story, laughing and showing them some of the moves she was executing at the time.
This story was repeated back to me in positive terms. However, I had to admit to myself that while I remembered using the story, I did not remember the message of the homily.
Not long after this I was having trouble putting together my next homily. The Gospel reading was the start of John 10 “I am the gate to the sheepfold”. I am blessed that I get to preach once a month. This means I get a whole month to prepare my homily and I am sure you all believe me when I tell you I spend that whole month doing just that. (my foot) With only a couple of days to go I was having trouble getting a ‘hook’ (technical term) on the readings that I could translate without making myself sound like Elmer J Fudd.
I discussed this at dinner one evening, saying I was getting slightly desperate as to what I would say on Sunday morning. Various humorous suggestions were made, but then my older daughter said something back to me that has become a catchphrase in the house when anything was troubling either of my girls. “Have you prayed about it daddy?” she said. This was echoing the “have you prayed about it darling?” they have grown up with, and the first time in ten years I had been called ‘daddy’. But here’s the rub, praying about it was one thing I had not done.
And when I did, Jesus spoke to me in my heart at one thousand decibels “I am the gate to the sheepfold Tony, not the places you’ve been looking to try and entertain a crowd”. My homily was me simply relaying this story, I needed no more than The Lord had provided.
When I was in diaconal formation it was stressed to us that we should not try to impart The Lord’s message without asking him what he wanted us to say. I’d failed this time and I wondered how many other times I had failed. I could not be certain I had always prayed before preparing.
I can say, hand on heart, I have never been caught like that again, nor have I struggled to find the proverbial hook. However, I think I might take a leaf from the book of the parish priest mentioned above, perhaps preparing in front of the Blessed Sacrament might help me take my homilies up a notch.