In The Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium), Pope Francis humorously asserts that both the laity and the clergy have been known to suffer from homilies, one from the listening and one from the preaching! In contrast, he maintains that good preaching “can actually be an intense and happy experience of the Spirit, a consoling encounter with God’s word, a constant source of renewal and growth” (EG, 135).
How does that good preaching come to be? The preacher begins a good homily by taking into account the lived reality of the people assembled every Sunday. Pope Francis encourages the preacher to “know the heart of his community, in order to realize where its desire for God is alive” (EG, 136). This happens between the Sundays as preachers get to know their people by spending time with them in the beauty and messiness of their lives: socializing, working together, visiting, and sharing faith during moments of joy and sadness.
Pope Francis elaborates on the importance of the homily by devoting 25 paragraphs in The Joy of the Gospel to preaching—more than any other topic. Any parish leader responsible for preaching can benefit from reading these paragraphs, especially those devoted to homily preparation.
Among the pope’s most pertinent recommendations are these five points:
- Base the homily on the central message of the biblical texts, not on specific details.
- Frame the homily as an expression of a dialogue between the people and God, rather than as a lecture. Offer a warm, unpretentious, and joyful tone.
- Develop and deliver a homily that is succinct in order to retain its appropriate balance and rhythm within the liturgy.
- Identify the themes that flow from one’s own personal encounter with the Word, Jesus Christ. The most inspiring homilies come from the heart, because people are looking for authentic witness.
- Incorporate vivid images that bring the themes to life. Pope Francis provides powerful and memorable metaphors when he describes the Church as a “field hospital” tending to the injured, or the pastor as a shepherd who takes on “the smell of the sheep.”
You can read a selection of the Holy Father’s homilies by visiting the Vatican website.
Pope Francis calls the Church to a renewal of preaching, because the homily is God speaking to us through human words. “Let us renew our confidence in preaching, based on the conviction that it is God who seeks to reach out others through the preacher, and he displays his power through human words” (EG, 136).