A bishop in the Philippines used the Mass on Holy Thursday to talk about bad preaching—and he held nothing back.
Below is the homily of Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas at the Cathedral of Lingayen-Dagupan, the St John the Evangelist Cathedral in Dagupan City, on Thursday, April 2.
Today we make a spiritual journey again to the Upper Room to remember our priesthood. We come once again to thank the Lord for calling us to be priests. The Lord took a risk. He entrusted to us His Church. The longer we stay in this vocation the more clearly we see that it takes more than will power to remain a good priest. It needs grace. We need God. We need God to stay focused. We need God to stay on track. We need God to protect us and preserve us.
We have seen many abuses among the clergy – alcohol abuse, sexual abuse, child abuse, gambling abuse, money abuse, travelling abuse, vacation abuse. Today, I invite you to turn your hearts to another very rampant and widespread abuse among priests – homily abuse. Yes abuse of the kindness of the people who are forced to listen to long, winding, repetitious, boring, unorganized, unprepared, mumbled homilies. In jest but certainly with some truth, the people say our homilies are one of the obligatory scourges that they must go through every Sunday.
If you listen more carefully to what our people say about our homilies, they are not complaining about depth of message or scholarly exegesis. They are asked to endure Sunday after Sunday our homilies that cannot be understood because we take so long with the introduction, we do not know how to go direct to the point and we do not know how to end. Be prepared. Be clear. Be seated.
We were all abused by the homilies of our elder priests when we were seminarians. When our turn came to deliver homilies, the abused became the abuser.
If a seminarian lacks chastity, we cannot recommend him for ordination. If a seminarian is stubborn and hard headed, we cannot endorse his ordination. If a seminarian cannot speak in public with clarity and effectiveness, we should not ordain him. He will be a dangerous homily abuser. Homily abuse can harm souls.
Long, winding, repetitious, irrelevant, unprepared homilies are signs of a sick spiritual life of the priest. Saint Joseph Cupertino said “A preacher is like a trumpet which produces no tone unless one blows into it. Before preaching, pray this way: Lord you are the spirit, I am your trumpet. Without your breath I can give no sound.”
It is not enough to prepare our homilies; the good priest must prepare himself. Preaching is a ministry of the soul and the heart not just of the vocal chords and brain cells. Our spiritual life is the true foundation of our homilies. The question is not what we will preach but rather who will we preach? We preach only Jesus Christ; always Jesus Christ.
How shall we rise from the prevalent culture of homily abuse? What is our remedy?
Read on to find out. (And note, too, how at the end he invokes the words spoken to each deacon when he receives the Book of the Gospels.)