Why do homilies ..... well, stink?

I’m 37 and a lifelong Catholic. One thing I notice about Mass is the homiles are dry, and boring. In my diocese it seems to be the norm. Rarely do you hear a homily on sin, hell, the devil, abortion, birthcontrol, purgatory, confession, the real presence in the Eucharist, doctrine or dogma. These are all things we believe in as Catholics but never or rarely ever discussed. Our priest almost talked about confession over the weekend at Mass, but danced around it without saying what it was or much about it, he hinted at it but that’s it. Its usually “we are all going to heaven” or a feel good “love your neighbor.” All these are good (love of neighbor, etc.), but they seem to be lacking (homilies) in any substance. Any idea’s on why this is the case? Is this normal?

Not all priests are gifted preachers. Even the best one has an off-day.

Consider that pastors have to hit the lowest common denominator. They have the difficult task of preaching a sermon both instructive to the just-barely catechized (of any age) and nourishing to theological whizzes such as yourself.

I’ve had similar issues with homilies. I don’t seek to offend, but the homilies I’ve heard tend to fall into one of two camps. A) The dry boring tale of the priest’s childhood that goes nowhere and is forgotten five minutes later. B) The nice little homily that is told to teach some lesson best aimed at 10 year olds. I’ve also never heard a homily that attempted to explain the gospel reading of the day. My lutheran pastor’s sermons almost always follow the gospel reading of the day. I don’t always agree with his take, but I’ve always been given something to think about. I am sure there are some priests out there that would wow anyone, I’ve just not found them yet.

If it’s any comfort, the priest at my current parish talks about all these things on a regular basis. I think at least one gets mentioned every Sunday, usually more than one. He has a gift for communicating theological ideas in a way that is understandable and powerful for people of all levels of education. Another priest with a totally different style once gave the most beautiful homily on why birth control is wrong, that I have ever heard. Yet another priest (no longer in the area), a phenomenal preacher, gave a homily on the Eucharist and Purgatory that was so beautiful I cried.

And then, yes, I’ve heard some homilies that made me wonder, “Huh? Am in a Catholic church?”

Some of it has to do with not everyone being skilled at public speaking. If it’s not taught more at seminary, it ought to be. A boring homily can really turn people away, especially those who are seeking to learn more about the Church.

A lot of it has to do, I think, with the modern spirit. Everyone wants to hold hands and get along and dance around “offensive” issues like sexual morality, abortion, sacraments, traditional values, and so forth. These, and Christ, are the meat and potatoes of the Catholic Faith, so it’s no wonder when key things are avoided only a boring malaise can result.

Thankfully, the rector of our church does a good job of explaining the day’s Gospel in his homilies. Where I grew up it wasn’t always the case; I just learned to ignore boring sermons and dwell on some relevant faith topic until it was over.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think much of most non-Catholic preachers I’ve heard either.

As a generalisation, their sermons tend to be longer and more superficially and stylistically flashy, but equally lack substance, and structure as well, which is less of an issue in shorter Catholic sermons thankfully.

They can also be lacking somewhat in relevance, by which I mean that plenty of examples come to mind of preachers quoting a particular text and then making points or relating anecdotes that relate little or not at all to the text. Always find this funny, since they usually CHOOSE their own texts!

Of course this just may be representative of the particular denominations and churches whose preachers I’ve heard.

I think the bottom line is that public speaking in general is not nearly as much a well-taught or well-honed skill these days as it used to be, and the standard has gone down in professions such as law and politics, as well as in religious preaching.

The art of homiletics might have been overlooked in the past… and rhetoric (a skill of preachers like Augustine and Chrysostom) is rare nowadays too. Take this phenomenal sermon of St. Augustine on St. John the Baptist (read in the Office of Readings for Gaudete Sunday):
John is the voice, but the Lord is the Word who was in the beginning. John is the voice that lasts for a time; from the beginning Christ is the Word who lives for ever.

Take away the word, the meaning, and what is the voice? Where there is no understanding, there is only a meaningless sound. The voice without the word strikes the ear but does not build up the heart.

However, let us observe what happens when we first seek to build up our hearts. When I think about what I am going to say, the word or message is already in my heart. When I want to speak to you, I look for a way to share with your heart what is already in mine.

In my search for a way to let this message reach you, so that the word already in my heart may find place also in yours, I use my voice to speak to you. The sound of my voice brings the meaning of the word to you and then passes away. The word which the sound has brought to you is now in your heart, and yet it is still also in mine.

When the word has been conveyed to you, does not the sound seem to say: The word ought to grow, and I should diminish? The sound of the voice has made itself heard in the service of the word, and has gone away, as though it were saying: My joy is complete. Let us hold on to the word; we must not lose the word conceived inwardly in our hearts.

Do you need proof that the voice passes away but the divine Word remains? Where is John’s baptism today? It served its purpose, and it went away. Now it is Christ’s baptism that we celebrate. It is in Christ that we all believe; we hope for salvation in him. This is the message the voice cried out.

Because it is hard to distinguish word from voice, even John himself was thought to be the Christ. The voice was thought to be the word. But the voice acknowledged what it was, anxious not to give offence to the word. I am not the Christ, he said, nor Elijah, nor the prophet. And the question came: Who are you, then? He replied: I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way for the Lord. The voice of one crying in the wilderness is the voice of one breaking the silence. Prepare the way for the Lord, he says, as though he were saying: “I speak out in order to lead him into your hearts, but he does not choose to come where I lead him unless you prepare the way for him”.

What does prepare the way mean, if not “pray well”? What does prepare the way mean, if not “be humble in your thoughts”? We should take our lesson from John the Baptist. He is thought to be the Christ; he declares he is not what they think. He does not take advantage of their mistake to further his own glory.

If he had said, “I am the Christ”, you can imagine how readily he would have been believed, since they believed he was the Christ even before he spoke. But he did not say it; he acknowledged what he was. He pointed out clearly who he was; he humbled himself.

He saw where his salvation lay. He understood that he was a lamp, and his fear was that it might be blown out by the wind of pride.

I am a life long Catholic, too. The older I get the more I appreciate sermons. My problem is not being able to remember them. If you don’t like the sermons you are hearing in church, why don’t you pray during them? After mass, or any time, you can read sermons you prefer in religious magazines or books.

suggestion: pray that God will speak through them, inspire them, and make people receptive and encouraging.

This was the case at my home parish. I was really frustrated by the watered-down stuff. I prayed. God sent us this hardcore awesome priest who emigrated from Vietnam. His English isn’t perfect, but boy, he has a passion for his vocation!!

Pray. God is a gentleman. He likes it when we ask Him instead of just giving things to us.:thumbsup:

I have been told that Catholic seminarians are taught to make Scripture readings “relevant” to modern listeners. This includes being told to start with a story to which people can relate, such as washing one’s socks, which I heard used as the opening to a sermon several years ago.

In addition to this, I suspect that there is a fear, beginning with the local bishop, that if people hear something with which they disagree, they will quit giving money to the Church.

I also suspect that there is a bit of intellectual arrogance involved as well. People who present themselves as “enlightened” Christians (Catholic or Protestant) like to dismiss Christian beliefs in the existence of the devil and hell, and in the reality of sin, miracles, etc. as “medieval superstition.”

I do not believe the problem is that “not all priests are gifted preachers.” Priests are required to give sermons on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation, but they do not have a minimum length or a time limit. Any priest could give a sermon that consists of just two words, “Stop sinning!” No one needs to be well-catechized or theologically astute to understand and benefit from a sermon like that, and he could say it every Sunday and Holy Day without worrying that it would not be relevant.


Yeah, I know what you mean. It’s the same 'ol, same 'ol every Sunday. It sounds as if the Priest is reading a numbered list. I’m there for the Eucharist anyway. If I wanted preaching, I would still be at the Baptist down the street. But, as long as Christ is present in body, blood, soul and divinity; I will be there.:signofcross: GO COLTS!

I think many priests are afraid of ‘overwhelming’ their flocks. As Fr. Basil noted earlier in the thread, priests have to attempt to find a common lowest denominator, and the reality is, many (most?) of the faithful are poorly catechized. Many are also, perhaps, afraid that they will drive those ‘weak in faith’ away from mass attendance and/or the Church. That being said, I think more priests should strive to tackle the ‘tricky’ the issues. Instructing the faithful in the faith is one of their primary mandates of pastors and the Church has laid out guidelines for homilies that are often not necessarily followed.
That being said, I know of several priests in my diocese who always have excellent, instructive, and orthodox homilies based upon the Gospel/readings of the day. There are a couple priests who I would deem to be truly outstanding speakers - our archbishop among them.

We are blessed to have a good friend who is the pastor at a nearby parish (not our home parish, but one we attend often) who is an absolutely brilliant homilist. He is a Notre Dame grad, with a Master’s from Oxford, completely orthodox, pro-life, unafraid to tackle the tough issues and with an understanding of Scripture that is formidable.

One of the two priests at our home parish is the mamby-pamby, water-it-down type, and the other is a thoughtful, humble, excellent homilist (though I don’t think he’s ever believed it; he has always seemed surprised when I compliment him on a homily.)

Hehe … any priest that did that would be quite a character! I bet he would have an impact of some kind …

Sometimes the homilies are so bad they dumbdown the Gospel readings. They actually can detract from a Gospel if bad enough. In those situations, I wish the priest would just skip the homily, but they are not allowed to on Sundays.

Ahem. I think you’re selling yourself short.

From the Compendium (boldface mine):
“277. How is the celebration of the Holy Eucharist carried out?
CCC 1345-1355
CCC 1408
**The Eucharist unfolds in two great parts which together form one, single act of worship. **The Liturgy of the Word involves proclaiming and listening to the Word of God. The Liturgy of the Eucharist includes the presentation of the bread and wine, the prayer or the anaphora containing the words of consecration, and communion.”

If you’re not all there for the Liturgy of the Word, you’re not all there for the Eucharist. It is a public celebration and an actual handing on of Apostolic Tradition that requires that one of the ordained proclaim the Gospel and deliver the homily in which the Scriptures are opened for the people. It is a prayer of listening, and it is an integral part of the single act of worship that is the Mass.

To each his own. :slight_smile: I would find some of the above rather dry and boring.

I disagree with most of the posts above except for this statement by turtle:

Sometimes the homilies are so bad they dumbdown the Gospel readings.

When, they are dumbed down, they are indeed dry and boring. I used to argue with one parish priest who I was on friendly terms with, that his very educated congregation could handle much more substance from his, and for their, fine minds than he was providing. But I have to say that either I have a different world view than above posters, or I consider myself lucky of late, because the homilies for the most part are quite good, no matter where I attend Mass. Clearly thought, prayer, effort have been put into them. Or maybe I’ve merely become a better listener.:shrug:

When there is even a little bit I can take away from one, I always make a point to tell the priest. Always. I think when any of us does a good job at anything, we are motivated to continue and to improve when we are recognized for that.

Be careful of assuming that homilies which draw parallels with everyday life are just attention-getters. The fact is that Jesus himself spoke about the everyday activities of his First Century listeners. It’s just that their activities were overwhelmingly agrarian, and the imagery he used and parallels he drew were related to that rural world. However, he did provoke his listeners to examine comprehensively the full scope of their everyday lives from a moral standpoint. In that sense only I do agree with the OP, in that there is probably not enough of such “provocative” and challenging talk from the pulpit/sanctuary, asking us to look more deeply at how we compartmentalize our thinking instead of being morally reflective on a daily basis.

Listen to Father John Corapi on EWTN online at 12am EST. He’s on daily. Saturday nights too at 10pm EST on EWTN. Then there’s Father Corapi’s Catechism instruction Sundays at 8pm EST. Use these talks in addition to the local parish homily.

I happen to think my parish has a very good priest who knows how to get a message across without pulling punches. He speaks softly but the homily is a big stick.

dizzy_dave, have you attended any Traditional Latin Masses? (The homilies are not in Latin :smiley: ) I think you will find that the priests who are dedicated enough to celebrate the Latin Mass have some very interesting things to say. They are not afraid of offending their listeners because they know that the sanctuary is filled with people who truly want the Catholic Mass and not some version of mainstream protestant services and they care deeply that the listeners understand why the Liturgy is so important. My own priest always seems to include a section of the homily on some particular thing and why we do it. For example, he taught on the various meanings of “et cum spiritu tuo” and the subtle difference between two possible english translations: “And also with you” or “and with your spirit”. I never fail to have some kind of “aha!” experience during one of his homilies.

Try the sermons in the links below.

They should help. :slight_smile:

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