Every Catholic has been there. The Gospel finishes, we dutifully recite, “Praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ,” and as we take our seats for the homily, we zone out.
Growing up, I looked at the homily as a halftime break. After all the standing and singing and listening to readings, I could relax and sit back for ten minutes before more standing and singing and now kneeling began. And even now as a so-called adult, I still haven’t fully outgrown that mentality.
The truth is, the homily can be a powerful way to engage in the Mass and grow in our journey with Christ. But we don’t get the benefits by taking a time out. Here are some ways you can get the most out of the Sunday homily.
Read the Scriptures. In order to do well on an English test, you have to read the novel. Just the same, looking up the first reading, the second reading, and the Gospel before going to Mass is essential. It only takes five minutes to skim through them. In general, the priest or deacon centers his homily on one of the three readings. When you already know the background story, it’s easier to make connections and follow along with the homily.
Listen for the main points. When I was a media assistant on CHWC staff, I tried to film a short segment of each homily for use in the summary video. By our last camp, after over 20 homilies, I became an expert at locating the main points to capture on video. We are trained to write the classic three-paragraph essay growing up, and some of that training persists even into writing a homily. Listen for the thesis, the moral of the story, and focus your understanding around that.
Be in prayer. In a Homiletic Directory (a how-to guide for homilies) released by the Vatican this year, priests are told, “The homily will be delivered in a context of prayer, and it should be composed in a context of prayer.” How about we as a congregation listen in prayer? Ask God for attentiveness, wisdom, patience, peace, or whatever other quality will allow you to remain engaged in the homily.
Find your call to action. At CHWC, we live out the Gospel each day through our actions. When you’re listening to your priest or deacon, figure out how you can use his words to make a difference. If Father is explaining how Jesus shared meals with the outcasts, think about how you can reach out to the new kid in school. If you hear about the loaves and fishes, think through a way you can multiply your gifts to help others. Making the homily personal and instructive allows you to take the message out into the world.
It only takes a little change in practice and mindset to look at homilies with a new appreciation. Give it a try this Sunday!