Bishop Morneau's Column|
"Reflection on the Readings"
|Bishop Robert Morneau
Suggestions for better preaching
The challenge for homilists is to connect scriptures to events in life
July 30, Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
By Bishop Robert Morneau
Questions for reflection:
1. How does God speak to you in today's readings?
2. Do homilies help you to pray better?
3. Is praise and thanksgiving central to your spiritual life?
Last year Bp. Ken Untener, diocesan bishop of Saginaw, wrote a book Better Preaching: Practical Suggestions for Homilists (NY: Paulist Press, 1999). As the title indicates this work offers many practical, common sense suggestions to improve preaching. Here are several that relate to our scripture readings for today.
"In years gone by, I pictured the homilist as a cook who looks to see what's in the pantry and the refrigerator (the readings), comes up with the menu (the "main thought"), puts the meal together (the homily), and then serves it." (11) Bishop Untener revised this in realizing that it is the Lord who does the menu, the cooking, the serving – the homilist is merely the helper.
So what does Jesus serve us this Sunday? It's the usual meat and potatoes: the Eucharist. Again we are drawn into that dynamic of being chosen, being blessed, being broken, being given. Jesus does this with bread but he also does it with us. The menu is one of obedience and self-giving, nothing more, nothing less. It's the offering of one's whole life in union with the Lord.
"Remember too that the homily flows into the rest of the liturgy and should prepare us for the praise and thanksgiving of the eucharistic prayer." (119) The poet George Herbert put it well: "The end of preaching is praying." Elisha was a "cook" in that he served a hundred people with twenty barley loaves. Besides, there were leftovers. Rather like Jesus' ministry in the Gospel.
The people who experienced this "lived" homily from Elisha and the five thousand who also experienced a "lived" homily from Jesus must have been filled with praise and thanksgiving. When we see or hear of the marvelous things that God has done and is doing for us, the mature response is one of gratitude and awe. The challenge of the homilist is to connect these scriptures with the events of our own lives. God continues to feed us in so many ways – through teachers, preachers, parents and friends, etc. And there is a superabundance besides. The preface at every Mass reminds us that it is "good always and everywhere to give thanks to the Lord."
"The living character of the Word means not only that God is speaking to us live, but also that God's Word is enlivening." (13)
In our responsorial psalm we pray: "The eyes of all look hopefully to you, / and you give them their food in due season; / you open your hand / and satisfy the desire of every living thing." (Psalm 145) This is not just a prayer from the ancient tradition, this is the prayer of the Church today. God feeds us today; God speaks to us today; God calls us to be worthy of the vocation given to us today. And the Holy Spirit is given to us to bring this about.
When the homily flows from the Word and leads us into the Eucharist we will have better preaching.
(Bp. Morneau is the auxiliary bishop of the Green Bay Diocese.)