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Catholic Spiritual Direction

How do I deal with dry homilies?

October 17, 2011 by  
Filed under Fr. Bartunek, Liturgy, Resources

Dear Father John, I have recently come back to the Church and am looking for a deepening of my faith.  Although I have fallen in love with the Mass, I have found that the priests are not as engaging as the ministers I found in evangelical churches.  I don’t know what to do about that; I can only think to draw nearer to Christ and find people of the same mind.  I would appreciate any suggestions.

I know exactly what you mean!  As a fellow convert, I too have experienced the dynamic, courageous, real, and relevant presentation of Scripture so common in the newer evangelical churches.  And I too experienced some disappointment when I discovered that many Catholic homilies don’t have the same sparkle.  I am glad you asked the question – for a bunch of reasons.  And I do have some suggestions.  Four suggestions, actually.

Don’t Stop Eating

First, search in other places (besides homilies) for spiritual nourishment.  Evangelicals are trained to expect the main spiritual meal to come from the Sunday sermon.  It is the centerpiece of Protestant worship, after all.  It is not the same for us Catholics – but that doesn’t mean we have to go without!  You can feed your soul with profound, enriching, exciting, and transforming Catholic teaching from many sources besides the Sunday homily.  In fact, once you begin to discover the richness within the Catholic heritage, you really won’t miss the rousing evangelical sermons much at all.

We all need to keep seeking a deeper knowledge of our faith.  So I would encourage you to do so, but don’t expect to find as much of a resource for that in the Sunday homilies as you used to in the Sunday sermons.  Supplement what you hear on Sundays with other sources.  If you like to read, you can discover an entire universe of Catholic books (anything at Ignatius Press is solid, so you may want to start by browsing there, or look through this great online Catholic store).  If you learn better by listening, I highly recommend that vast collection of inspiring recordings put together by Lighthouse Catholic Media, or by St. Joseph Communications.  The latter organization also produces multimedia resources, as does Ascension Press.  And there are many, many more sources that can keep your mind and heart engaged as you continue this new season in your spiritual journey (check out www.wordonfire.org, for example).  And if you can engage in this ongoing formation in the company of likeminded folks, all the better!

Homilies from God’s Perspective

Second, don’t tune out the homilies, just adjust your expectations.  Remember, the homily is actually part of the sacred liturgy.  Only an ordained minister can preach a homily.  It’s connected to the sacrament of holy orders.  If you approach it from this supernatural perspective, you can be CERTAIN that the Holy Spirit will give you SOMETHING in the homily, even if the priest or deacon didn’t have time to do their homework or don’t have a natural flare for preaching.  On her deathbed, St. Elizabeth of Hungary replayed and talked about all the spiritual insights she had received through listening to homilies (there were far fewer books available to a young noblewoman back in the fourteenth century than then there are today).  I am sure the preachers were not all at the A+ level.  Yet, she had approached the homilies knowing that God wanted to communicate something to her soul through them, and so she focused more on listening to the Holy Spirit than on identifying the rhetorical weaknesses.  We all need to do the same.  It’s a powerful way to exercise our faith in the Church and the sacraments.

Watch Out!

Third, curb your frustration through exercising patience.  The enemy of your soul would love for you to become so disgusted with this issue that it turns into a constant, looming distraction.  You don’t have to let that happen.  Remember: “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy” (Matthew 5:7).  Exercise mercy towards the homilist.  Trust that God can make him a saint regardless of his homiletic performance.  Trust that God loves him, and that he loves God (why else would he continue on as a priest in today’s world?).  Trust that God can work miracles through broken instruments.  You don’t have to pretend that a bad homily is a good homily.  But why focus your attention more on how you can serve and support the parish than on aspects of parish life that you can hardly influence at all?  After all, there is no such thing as the perfect parish.  And God knows that.  And that’s okay.  But he also knows that he has given each one of us unique talents and gifts, and he is hoping for us to generously put these at the service of building his Kingdom.  In short, we all need to learn to “let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts” (Colossians 3:5), even in the face of negligence, imperfections, and problems.  Striving for that ideal gives great glory to God, because it requires the exercise of supernatural trust.  (Of course, if the homilies you hear are blatantly heretical and truly destructive, you need to take action.  Talk directly to your priest/deacon about your concerns.  If that doesn’t help, you may need to inform your bishop, through his diocesan assistant for priestly life.)

Seek Balanced Growth as a Catholic

Fourth, remember that our intellectual formation is only a part of integral spiritual growth.  Prayer, active love, faithfulness to God’s will, and character development are also essential aspects along the path to spiritual maturity.  Perhaps in this season of your journey, our Lord is inviting you to focus more on those (or one of those), than on the intellectual part.  I am not advocating ignorant Catholicism, but I am advocating integral formation, becoming a fully mature Catholic.  As Thomas á Kempis put it so wonderfully five hundred years ago, “I would rather feel contrition than know how to define it…”

I am sure you are not alone in facing this difficulty.  And so, I would like to ask our readers to feel free to make their suggestions too, and maybe even share their own experiences.  We have to stick together along this journey of faith!

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About Fr. John Bartunek, LC

Fr. John Bartunek, LC, S.Th.D, received his BA in History from Stanford University in 1990. He comes from an evangelical Christian background and became a member of the Catholic Church in 1991. After college he worked as a high school history teacher, drama director, and baseball coach. He then spent a year as a professional actor in Chicago before entering the religious Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ in 1993. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 2003 and earned his doctorate in moral theology in 2010. He provided spiritual support on the set of Mel Gibson’s "The Passion of the Christ" while researching the 2005 Catholic best seller "Inside the Passion"--the only authorized, behind-the-scene explanation of the film. Fr. John has contributed news commentary regarding religious issues on NBC, CNN, Fox, and the BBC. He also served as the English-language press liaison for the Vatican’s 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist. His most widely known book is called: "The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer". He has also published four other titles: "Seeking First the Kingdom", "Answers: Catholic Advice for Your Spiritual Questions", "Meditations for Mothers", and "A Guide to Christian Meditation". Fr. John currently splits his time between Rome and Rhode Island, where he teaches theology as an adjunct professor at the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum and at Mater Ecclesia College. He is also continuing his writing apostolate with online retreats at www.RCSpirituality.org and questions and answers on the spiritual life at www.RCSpiritualDirection.com. FATHER JOHN'S BOOKS include: "The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer", "Inside the Passion"--The Only Authorized Insiders View of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, "Meditations for Mothers", and "A Guide to Christian Meditation".

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  • DominusVobiscum

    There are a few places that you can get “meaty” homilies online to supplement the ones that you are getting in your parish. Audio Sancto (www.audiosancto.org) has some very meaty and orthodox homilies that you can download and listen to on your iPod, or stream on your computer or iPhone. Also, I have found a wealth of knowledge by reading the Sermons of the Cure of Ars, St. John Vianney, available free online here – http://www.jesus-passion.com/saint_john_vianney.htm. 

    Also, remember it takes very little “meat” to start a conversation in prayer with God. In a practice similar to Lectio Divina, you can take one simple phrase or word out of the homily and bring it to prayer to start a conversation with God. Think about the word or phrase, and how it applies to Christ and his life. Meditate on how this event or word of Christ’s life can help you get to know Him and grow closer to Him.  You cannot love someone unless you know them, so use the flickers of insight from the Holy Spirit to guide you towards Him.

    • Carla

      I was going to suggest audiosancto.org as well.  I’m a convert too, don’t miss a single thing because what I love about the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is that no matter what the music, no music, inspiring homily or not,  I always meet with Jesus intimately, who is greater than all, and beyond all compare. Another source of weekday homilies is presentation ministries’ daily bread radio program available as mp3/ipod download: http://www.presentationministries.com/dbread/dbread.asp

  • Camille

    We alternate between two parishes because the extended family is two hours away and presently needs us to visit regularly.  One  parish has a very dynamic, engaging priest and the other parish is not quite so charismatic.   It forced us to focus on who the third person of the trinity was – and not the messenger. 

    It became a personal prayer to see in each sermon the part just for me. I changed the standard “to my mind, to my lips, to my heart” little crosses to forehead, lips and heart with something along the lines of, “let my mind hear your message, let my lips repeat those words, let my heart echo them”.  As silly as it sounds, all I had to do was ask God!

    • http://www.spiritualdirection.com/ Dan Burke

      Great insight – great attitude – great approach.

    • Guest

      Thank you, Camille.  We need to always remember that the Holy Mass in the Center and the Apex of the Catholic Worship.  It is in the Sacrament of the Eucharist that all the other Sacraments emanate from and with Graces and Blessings from God, return to.  I would advise anyone who is tempted to compare the Catholic Worship with the Evangelicals and Pentecostals form or Worship to keep in mind that the Full Salvation Mystery subsists in the Catholic Church and endeavour to learn as much as they can about our Holy Mother Church, our different Liturgical Seasons, the deep meaning of our Worship and the Hymns that are appropriate to each Liturgical Celebration, particularly the meaning and the Grace-filled Blessings we derive from living our Catholic Faith to the full.  Be blessed

      • http://www.spiritualdirection.com/ Dan Burke

        apprve

  • Mary

    Thank you for that excellent advice! I will need to mark this, to share with others when I hear complaints. Great food for thought and growth.

  • K.C.Thomas

    I feel there should be an arrangement of “feedback”. Of course many may not like the comments/ suggestions of the lay persons.   But I feel it will be useful. We the faithful should  be careful to respect the anointed priest by  using respectful language. Many priests may wecome and really interested catholic intellectuals can be of help.

  • Lindaz

    I hate to say it, but at one time I did let homilies that seemed empty and possibly self-serving to the homilist discourage me from attending church.  My first impression on my return was that I missed everything about the mass and the sense of community you can only have when you are part of the church.  I was also pleased to find that we have a new pastor who delivers the kind of homily that makes you feel that he has been eavesdropping on your life all week and is now acting as a conduit for God’s word in your life.  Of course, everyone else thinks the same thing!

  • Lrss1

    Your 4 suggestions are right on target and just what I needed to hear.  Thank you very much.

    Joan

  • judeen

    our job as people of God is to pray the HOLY SPIRIT upon our preists, releigous..   and watch Fathers homily grow in Holyness…
        also break all curses on our preists.. 3 times in the Name of OUr Lord Jesus Christ… they are in a spiritual battle.. we must pray and protect them… it is our job!  also talk to HIm of spiritual things… what you see in scripture…
         it is written you get a preist accourding to your beleifs…. something like that.. so sharpen your faith.. bible studies,, scripture study of the next sunday.. everyone comes up with something different they find in the same scripture and see what the homily is like when given…
         pray to the Holy Spirit for the message you need to get out of the homily.. it might be something not in words… a old wound, impaceince, not understanding,,, so on…. seek and you shall find knock and the door will open….

  • 4verderbers

    Fr. Larry Richards has his homilies on the website thereasonforourhope.org.  You will not be bored.

  • WellSpring04

    I think dry homilies fit in to the reason for my fairly new practise this last year or so just before Mass. As a mother of a large family, I had become used to distractions and negative feelings, and had a generally low level of expectation for every part of the Mass except Holy Communion. Even the most active toddler had a difficult time breaking my attention on Christ at that moment!

    With the children raised, I have no such excuses!! But now I also notice more of what is going on. I find I am judgemental about many aspects of Mass: the level of attention of others during Mass, other peoples’ poorly behaved children, the rushed Consecration, hymns that don’t fit, priests that don’t preach…

    The list goes on, and I now treat these all as I would occasions of sin, since they keep me from focusing on what should be the highlight of my week. First, I ask for the Holy Spirit to enable me to be fully present at this Eucharist. Then I say that same “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph pray for me!” everytime I notice  my distraction or judgementalism.
    It’s amazing how much better those same people around me now are with their wonderful children, now that I have some charity. And the priests just got a whole lot better too!
    Could it be my attitude??

    • http://www.spiritualdirection.com/ Dan Burke

      Great ideas and perspective!

  • GabrielAustin

    At one parish, the two [young] priests were a little too cool and hip for my tastes. I took to carrying the Catechism to read during their homilies. Worked wonders,

    • http://www.spiritualdirection.com/ Dan Burke

      Wow – wouldn’t recommend that. There is really only a small difference between you doing that and me bringing my own wine to Mass…

  • Barbara M. Garnaut

    Excellent comments in the original response to”How do I deal with dry homilies”
    Thank you for this blog, it is a sound resource.

  • Denise Ramos

    This is excellent advice. I am a convert and find these things all true…it is a response that also helps equip me to respond to like questions. Thank you!

  • vieve

    Just this morning when I attended the mass, I was also disappointed on how the priest delivered his homily. He delivered his homily by reading the mediation/reflection part on a certain book which I normally read also. It was not the first, he usually does the same thing everytime he preside the mass. I said to myself, why can’t he just try to reflect or associate his own experience or observation on the gospel? I think that it is really through prayer that we can strengthen and deepen our faith. And once faith has grown and has  developed, then, we not only priest can give make a good reflection. I was reminded of the closest nun to me that in times like this, I should not dwell on the imperfections of the priest but focused more on what is being said in the gospel. God uses each one of us as His messenger. The problem with us is that most of the time we only listen to those we want to hear and if it against us, we immediately close our ears.

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  • Cynthiadbrown

    I have experienced the same thoughts about dry homilies. Having also come from the evangelical background, I found this to be a minor but persistent distraction to full participation at Mass. Now, I see it as an opportunity to allow the holy spirit prove that even the poorest preaching can be imbued with God’s love…..he uses the things we cast off in a mighty way.

  • Lencho6891

    Excellent advice!!!

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  • Eddie

    Thank you Father. Your words of wisdom are inspireed by the Holy Spirit. The enemy of our souls truly does want us to be distracted constantly and I have willfully allowed myself that distraction due to pride and frustration. Sometimes, if it exceptionally bad (unfortunately it is virtually every week). I pray for the homilist but my prayers are not turning water into wine LOL! The saving grace for me is that I assist daily at 12:15 Mass while on lunchbreak from work on Wall Street in NYC. The priests at Our Lady of Victory on Pine and William Streets are EXCELLENT! Every day there is a well prepared homily, 3 hours of confessions, at least 4 masses daily (21 masses on holy days), Exposition and Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament every day, novenas every day with the Holy Rosary on Fridays and holy, concerned and engaged priests. If every parish could be as blessed as Our Lady of Victory the churches would be packed again. This is what we must pray for. God bless you. Pax

    • LizEst

      How wonderful to know that Wall Street is also praying! God bless you, Eddie!

  • Alexander Wang

    What a great article, father!! If i’m not mistaken, it is Colossians 3:15, not 3:5

    may i translate and re-publish it in Indonesian? I will give proper citation. Thank you very much

    • http://www.spiritualdirection.com/ Dan Burke

      Feel free and please prove a link back to our site!

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