“Disculpa, lo que dijiste ayer en la homilía que ‘el que camina en la mano de Dios, cuando se cae, se cae en la mano de Dios’, fue muy bonito” (Excuse me, what you said in the homily yesterday that “He who walks in the hands of God, if he stumbles, he stumbles in the hands of God” was very touching).
The one speaking was an old woman who sat beside me at the Blessed Sacrament chapel, while I was doing my 30-minute afternoon meditation, just before saying the Mass. Oblivious of the possible disturbance she might have caused in other persons present, the woman proceeded with a comment that encouraged me more to do what is not customarily done in weekday Masses here: give a short homily.
She said: “Ya soy vieja, pero así aprendo poco a poco cada día más” (I am already old, but, in this way, I learn a little more each day). I said to myself, if we, priests, would cease to give even a very short but substantial exposition of the Gospel reading, then, old women like her, would be deprived of learning ‘a little more each day’.
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However, a short but substantial homily is easier said than done. Especially if the presider is not well-prepared, though he has fervent desire to shed light upon the readings of the day, he could just be ‘roaming around the bush’. As a result, instead of learning ‘a little more each day’, old women would grew more confused.
I remember the recommendation my professor in Pastoral Theology gave us regarding homily preparation. He said, if we are to deliver a 30-minute homily, we should prepare it for three days; a 15-minute homily, one week; a 5-minute homily, two weeks.
Exaggerating a little, his point was clear: the shorter (and, of course, substantial) is the homily, the more time is necessary for its preparation. The reason is quite easy to comprehend: to impart substantial truths needs painstaking preparation. Metaphorically, it’s like the case of a young suitor (who is truly in love), who takes a great deal of time searching for the exact words to express his affection, and even rehearsing it many times in front of the mirror.
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But the real time for preparation is not the days or weeks allotted when the priest’s turn to preach comes. The preparation starts in the seminary when the candidate to the priesthood begins to immerse himself in the meditation of and living the Word of God. We cannot give what we don’t have. What we preach in the homily is (should be) truths that – at least – we, priests, are struggling to live by.
That is why more often I preach to myself. Or at least, I am reminding myself of some truths that, if silenced, would be neglected. As I listen to myself preaching, (I hope priests reading this understand what I mean), the Gospel presents itself to me in a new light. Better said, I begin to see anew my life and my priesthood – a new vision or perspective – in the light of the Gospel.
In this sense, the practice of giving short but substantial homily during weekday Masses is beneficial not only to daily Mass-goers (here, a dozen of sexagenarian and some octagenarian women), but also to us, young preachers. I, for my part, am also learning ‘a little more each day’.
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Taking advantage of the fact that during funeral masses, the church is almost full, I begin to prepare a 3-minute homily, planning carefully what to say, considering the occasion, but always trying to slot in – like the prophets of old – the call to conversion, expressed in modern language. Most of the time, I have the sensation that my words simply fell on deaf ears and I am like a ‘voice in the wilderness’. But the Lord knows how to cheer me up discreetly. Sometimes, He would use an unsolicited comment of an old woman as an instrument.
Nevertheless, with or without results (usually we don’t see the results of our efforts so as to keep us from getting proud), I resolved to keep on sowing few seeds as I walk along this field or that vineyard. One day, I got inspired by a line of a Spanish hymn that we usually pray in the Liturgy of the Hours, which goes: “Sembraré, mientras es tiempo, aunque me cueste fatigas” (I shall sow, while it is still time, although it would cost me weariness).