Homilies are more than just words

Homilies aren’t just a bunch of words—they have the power to move us, inspire us, and teach us. A priest works hard to put together a homily that will speak to his diverse congregation, but it’s up to us to carry it with us when we leave Mass.

“If you can imagine, when a priest is preaching his homily, he’s preaching to a congregation that’s at all different levels of faith and that has different levels of experience. Every priest can tell you about the mystery of the homily – he will prepare a homily and say, ‘Boy, this is really a great homily,’ and get kind of a tepid response. Where other times, he seems to be just pulling his words together and he’s in the back of the church and somebody comes and says, ‘Father, you really touched my life,’” explained the Most Rev. Jerome Listecki, Archbishop of Milwaukee. “The reason is because the Word of God is speaking to the hearts of the people who were there. And sometimes it’s not in the great crafted homily but in the fact that the Word is spoken at the right time for the person to experience the sense.”

We put all the responsibility on the priest for preaching a great homily, but we also hold some responsibility for its effectiveness. What should we, as the congregation, do with a homily? “The homily is really supposed to help open up the Word of God for you. That’s the whole aspect. And so if there is that nugget or phrase that helps and touches your life, you want to hold onto it; you want to pray about it; you want to take it back to God in meditation; you want to take a look at your own life in relationship to it,” said Archbishop Listecki.

The mystery of the homily doesn’t end when the priest leaves the ambo. “The Word which is proclaimed and preached and spoken, then goes over to the altar and the Word is made flesh,” said the Archbishop. “So … the great mystery is that you’re not only receiving the Word of God at the homily, but you’re also going to be receiving that Christ to take and empower you to go into the world.”

The Word of God challenges us to grow in faith. “There is little doubt in my mind that the Gospel should challenge us. If we were living life free from original sin … our lives would be totally in tune with God. But the fact is that we have to recognize that our lives are pulled in different directions by the world that surrounds us and our inclinations are not always to do what God wants us to do but what we want to do. So we’ve got to listen to basically that Word of God, as it challenges us—it challenges us to be who God wants us to be and to be his instruments,” explains Archbishop Listecki.

Next Sunday, or the next time you attend daily Mass, allow the Word of God to challenge you and to move you. Don’t leave Mass the same as you arrived. Open your mind and your heart to God’s Word in the scripture and in the homily and then go forth to bring that Word into your daily life.

Listen to the full segment: