You Cannot Save Souls After Ten Minutes

I say this without fear or reservation: I am not a fan of long homilies.

There are, of course cases when long homilies are acceptable. In far-flung barrios when catechism or masses are not daily or even weekly fare, and people trek a good number of hours to come to mass to get inspiration, a long homily can be beneficial. Like walking with a purpose, the sumptuous feast is the object of the long journey.

But in much more ordinary circumstances with the decreasing ability to listen forever, those in the business of preaching should remember that they have their whole lifetime to explain the profound meanings of a Scriptural passage.

In fact, these scriptural texts are repeated several times during a single year, in cycles for weekly masses or Sunday worship. One should not feel obliged to explain everything tackled for semesters in Theology, and cram them up in less than an hour.

The effect is death: like a murdered corpse insidiously chopped to fit a box. You kill both your point and its recipients. The spirits of the ordinary churchgoer, I assure you, are already somewhere else, like lost souls roaming the earth.

I am one of those whose spirit drifts into oblivion when listening to a bishop speaking for hours without focus, or a priest in a monotonous voice who can’t make a decent landing after taking off on a topic. I recall Macbeth, in Scene V (in this context, it isn’t life, but the preacher.)

“Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.”

How many of us, wish we could just say that, if only it is acceptable to do so. How many times, I bit my tongue. If not for the virtue of patience, I could have bled to death.

For fear that this is a complaint, there are solutions. Fr. Joseph Galdon SJ, my teacher in Juniorate taught us two tenets.

First, the law of love. Preparing for a homily is charity. Pity the congregation who endures you. You should not be the cause of their suffering.

Second, the signs of the times. You cannot save souls after ten minutes. Reality, not the ideal, shouts the fact: the Word of God is interesting, don’t make it sound that it’s not.

So, he gave us a basic outline.

TS. Topic Sentence. Write in one short and simple sentence what you want to say. Tell it to them.

DEV. Development. Explain the topic sentence briefly. Do the rule of three for balance. Three short points or three examples. These will add relevance and depth.

TST. Topic Sentence with a twist. Repeat the topic sentence but end with a bang. A question is great. A call to action engages. A short remark is unforgetable.

And carry an outline, or type it. It should not exceed one page. It is good to practice humility: only some are gifted speakers.

Jesus offered us life forever more.

What should be eternal is life. Not homilies.

2 Comments

  1. Good review of effective communication. This does not only apply to homilies but a lot other forms of communication. Funny, you mentioned “rule of three”…reminds me of an essential compositional tenet in visual arts…”rule of third”.

    Like

    Reply

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