The following column was written by Kathleen T. Choi who writes “In Little Ways” for The Hawaii Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Diocese of Honolulu. It is reprinted with permission.
Dear Father X,
Every Sunday, as we walk out the door, we shake your hand and say, “Good sermon, Father.” We’re not lying. We’re usually fairly satisfied with what you have to say, but no one is perfect. Even Kobe Bryant misses the occasional easy layup.
You studied preaching in seminary, and presumably your professors gave you tips. We wonder, though, if you know what the average person in the pew is looking for in a homily. Maybe you’d appreciate some feedback. If so, here are some thoughts for your consideration.
First off, your sermon is very important to us. We know that we should read the Bible on our own and maybe participate in a prayer or study group. That’s not possible right now, though, so your homily is basically all the religious instruction we get. Please make it your priority. We understand that you have many demands on your time, but we’re not asking for a 30-minute Billy Graham production. The Vatican says a homily should be about eight minutes long, and that sounds good to us.
One reason we don’t read the Bible on our own is that some passages are confusing. Why did Jesus curse the fig tree for not producing fruit when it wasn’t the season for fruit? Why did Paul send the runaway slave back to his owner? Isn’t slavery wrong?
So, if the Sunday lessons include a difficult passage, please help us understand it. We don’t need a long history lesson, but we appreciate a little background. John 10 makes so much more sense now that you’ve explained how shepherds made a circle of stones, led the sheep inside and lay across the opening to protect them through the
night. That is just like Jesus laying down his life for us. Thanks.
Many books on how to give a speech suggest opening with a joke. That’s not necessary, especially if you don’t normally crack jokes. On the other hand, people always like stories. That’s probably why Jesus told so many. If you’ve got a good story that illustrates your point, we’d love to hear it.
Some priests claim that Protestant ministers have the edge in storytelling because they’re usually married with children. True, but you grew up in a home with parents and siblings. You went to school. You have friends and favorite sports teams. Surely you’ve seen how God acts in everyday circumstances. Tell us about that.
The story doesn’t have to be about you. It can be something you saw on TV or overheard while shopping. For example, Pope Francis recently preached on Luke 24 (the road to Emmaus). He said some people spend so much time complaining about life’s disappointments that they don’t notice Jesus is walking beside them. That’s a clear, simple illustration of how a Scripture passage applies to our everyday life.
We like knowing something about your personal faith, but spare us your pet peeves. Don’t make every homily about the evils of abortion or how we should all tithe. Don’t scold us. Don’t grumble about the people who don’t come to church. We’re here, aren’t we?
Theology is important, but, honestly, we spend very little time pondering the Trinity or the mystery of transubstantiation. Mostly, we worry about our kids, our parents and our jobs. We struggle to forgive those who have hurt us. We wonder why the world is such a mess. We feel guilty that we don’t do more for others. Show us how Christ can help us with these issues right now, and we’ll bless your name. Who knows? We might even tithe.