A Bad Homily is a Missed Opportunity
We have all sat through bad homilies. Too many of them. Too often.
In “Connecting Sermons to Life,” Margery Eagan is spot-on in her criticism of the disconnect between what’s happening in the world and most priests’ homilies at mass. Between ISIS, Ebola, air strikes in Iraq, climate change, Israel, Gaza, Ukraine, Ferguson, and the NFL’s mess with domestic violence, there’s a lot going on in the world. The Church needs to help Christians process all of this from a faith perspective.
I could not agree more with this part of Eagan’s criticism.
However, Eagan stepped over a liturgical line by concluding that bad homilies mean that Mass is a “big bust.”
It’s great that Eagen references Pope Francis and “The Joy of the Gospel” when making the case for better homilies. However, she crosses that liturgical line when she implies that poor preaching and music diminish the mystery of the Mass.
Unfortunately for lapsed and lukewarm and even faithful Catholics, Francis is not preaching at a parish nearby. And when there’s poor preaching combined with poor music, the sacred sense of mystery at Mass is gone. So is the inspiration.
The thing is that liturgy is not a spectator sport. (Shameless self-promotion: that’s the title of Chapter 20 from Continuing the Journey, which is now available for pre-order!)
Liturgy is not there to entertain us as passive recipients. We are invited to participate in the Sacramental grace of the Eucharist through reading the Word, joining in prayer (spoken and sung), and becoming transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit in the Sacrament of the Eucharist. Our participation in this experience should be the more significant tipping point than the quality of the music or the relevance of the homily.
The presentation Eagan offered was just plain irresponsible.
That said, let’s frame Eagan’s criticism more responsibly: Bad homilies are a severely missed opportunity. Poor music is a severely missed opportunity.
Church people (that means all of us; professional ministers and priests especially, but really all of us) need to stop taking these opportunities for evangelization and catechesis for granted. We are shirking our responsibility. Knock it off.
We have three amazing, unique opportunities to reach people: when they match, hatch, and dispatch. (Read: when they marry, when they baptize their babies, and when we encounter them at the funeral mass for their loved ones.) If we botch these unique opportunities to embrace people who may be wayward Catholics… if we turn them away from Church by our attitudes… if we offer disconnected, poor homilies, we need to realize that we are partly to blame for the fact that they don’t attend.
So yes, we need to do a better job. Yes, how we treat the Easter-and-Christmas-Catholics on those over-crowded Church-pew holidays matters. Yes, the quality of the homily and its connected-ness to our lives and the events in our world matters. It matters a lot in terms of evangelization and catechesis.
But do not make it sound like these missed opportunities make the Eucharist “a big bust.” Just no.