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Three Tips For Getting More Out of the Homily


Jeannie Ewing - published on 07/13/15

Find yourself tuning out during a certain part of the Mass? Here's what to do next time

Let’s be honest: We’ve all attended Masses with less than stellar homilies, right?  Not all priests (or deacons) are naturally gifted orators, but when their monotone, let’s-repeat-the-Gospel message emerges, we tend to tune out.  By the time Mass ends, we realize we may have missed an important point from the homily, but is the homily really essential to our participation at Mass?  And how can we hone our listening skills so that we can at least glean some grain of wisdom from the mouths of our ordained ministers?

First, let’s be clear about one point: The homily is not the most crucial aspect of the Mass.  So don’t sweat it too much if you miss the point.  I can attest, as a mother of two small, wiggly, noisy children, that my husband and I have – on more than one occasion – missed almost entire Masses from having to remove said children from the sanctuary into the cry room and back again.  We’ve had Sundays and Holy Days in which we return home and ask each other, “Did we really even go to Mass?”  Rest assured, my fellow Catholics, that God knows our hearts.  He realizes our fidelity to Him and our longing to receive Him in the Eucharist, and this intentionality does not go unrewarded in some way.

Still, it helps to have some sort of plan in place before getting our bodies into those pews on Sundays.  Here are some helpful hints that might assist (and surprise) you in gaining some sort of spiritual insight from the homily, irrespective of the priest’s or deacon’s preaching ability.  I’ve informally adopted these habits so that I don’t leave Mass feeling discouraged that all I did the entire hour was discipline my kids or help them go to the bathroom.

Ponder the Scripture Readings Ahead of Time

Since I don’t always actually hear the Liturgy of the Word being spoken during Mass, I started a habit of perusing the biblical readings before we head out of the door for church.  The Laudate app is super-helpful in this arena if you are tech-minded, but for a traditionalist like me, a subscription to Magnificat is my preferred means for visual liturgical organization.  Either way, both are handy references to assist you in finding the appropriate readings for each day.
Catholic Exchange also publishes reflections each Friday to help you prepare for Sunday’s Mass. Mark Giszczak covers the Old Testament while Gayle Somers offers reflections largely based on the Gospel readings.
If you take the time to read ahead, you’ll have a fairly informed comprehension of what to expect during the homily.  (Bonus tip: Pray before you read.  Ask God, “What is your invitation for me today?”  He just may surprise you with an unexpected enlightenment!)

Ask the Holy Spirit for a Word or Phrase from the Homily 

Essentially you are doing two things here: One, you are offering a prayer to be granted insight into what is preached, and two, you are (at least subconsciously) accountable to listening with a bit more deliberation.  If you are seeking something specific, you are more likely to notice something that strikes you about the homily.

It honestly helps if your priest or deacon is an excellent homilist, but this is not necessary.  I have begrudgingly sat through painfully long homilies that were delivered entirely in monotone with flat affect in the visage of the priest or deacon, and yet I nearly always come away with a profound word about which I know God wants me to further reflect and pray.  If I ask Him to open my heart to His message for me, He always answers in the most stunning ways and through the least astonishing messengers!

Recognize the Subtle Ways God Speaks to your Heart

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