When it comes to delivering homilies, Catholic clergy should focus on honesty, humility, and delivering a message their parishioners can relate to.
That was the advice given by Most Rev. Wilton D. Gregory, S.L.D., the metropolitan archbishop of Atlanta, as he presented the School of Canon Law’s 10th Annual Frederick R. McManus Memorial Lecture earlier this week. As part of his lecture on “Liturgical Preaching in the Twenty-First Century,” Archbishop Gregory clarified the importance of delivering homilies that are “serious, moving, and compelling,” in order to offer parishioners “true inspiration, edification, and sound pastoral wisdom.”
After stating that Catholic preaching has long lagged behind preaching in other denominations, Archbishop Gregory went on to describe the history of preaching, dating back to the earliest days of the Church. Over time, attitudes about the importance of preaching have shifted greatly leading up to 2013, when Pope Francis dedicated 24 paragraphs in his encyclical Evangelii Guadium to the subject.
In that encyclical, Pope Francis wrote that a homily can actually be a “consoling encounter with God’s word” and that it should be characterized by the closeness and warmth of the pastor, the joy of his gestures, and a sense of unpretentiousness.
In order to improve the quality of preaching, Archbishop Gregory said clergy should get to know the people in their parishes and the unique challenges they are facing so homilies can address those specific challenges.
“Do people recognize their pain in our words?” he asked. “Preaching is not solely an act of human creativity, but more prominently one of divine proclamation.”
Archbishop Gregory also advised priests to be humble as they preach and to give themselves over to God as “healing instruments.”
“Believe what you read. Teach what you believe. And practice what you preach,” he said.
The School of Canon Law hosts the Frederick R. McManus Memorial Lecture annually in honor of Monsignor Frederick R. McManus, a priest in the Archdiocese of Boston and professor emeritus of The Catholic University of America, who died on Nov. 27, 2005.