As I write, I am attending our annual Presbyteral Convocation in Avalon. This meeting of our priests serves a number of purposes: it renews our priestly fraternity in union with our bishop, it allows us to relax, to reflect and to pray, and it gives us various opportunities to be informed and updated. This year the main topic of our conferences is preaching. There is an emphasis on the effective communication of the Word of God, especially during the Sunday homily.
When thinking about this vital task of every priest, I believe that it may be insightful if I tell my own story. I used to think (as a child and a teenager) that it would be okay to be a priest—except for the part about speaking in public. I am quiet, shy and introverted by nature and did not have a lot of self-confidence whenever I had to talk in front of others. This doesn’t exactly bode well if you may have to preach to others on a regular basis.
God certainly has a sense of humor! What exactly is it that I have spent most of my life doing? Try teaching in a classroom in front of teenagers and preaching in front of a congregation on a daily basis!
I remember the first homily that I gave as a deacon at Mass. I had been up all night tossing and turning, so nervous about the task ahead of me. When Mass began, I had to make a decision. I could read what I had written from a text verbatim or I could preach (without reading from the text) from my heart. With the second choice, I would take the chance of freezing up, of forgetting what I was supposed to say and of possibly looking like a fool. Maybe I should be a fool for Christ (see 1 Cor. 4:10)? I chose to go without reading the prepared text and stepped up in front of the altar. I said a simple, spontaneous prayer which I continue to say each and every time I preach: “Lord, touch my lips that I may touch people’s hearts.” The rest is history.
Lest people ever think that there is not some vital preparation for my Sunday homily each week, I begin with prayer and a reading of the Sacred Scriptures. Then I look to some biblical commentary to shed some light on the text itself. I think of stories, events or examples to make the biblical text come alive and then try to apply it to contemporary situations or events. In the entire process, I am open to the Holy Spirit to guide me to speak the words that God wants the congregation to hear.
It’s always a challenge to stay fresh, to be interesting and not to seem repetitive. It is sometimes intimidating to preach the Gospel in season and out of season (see 2 Tm. 4:2), when the message is popular and when it goes against the tide in society.
Most importantly, the Gospel of Christ, when preached in all of its richness and purity, is truly life-giving! To a world that is hungering for truth, direction, meaning and purpose, the Gospel has the answers! Together with the Holy Eucharist, it fills the hungers of the human heart.
I will try to do my best to preach it to you accurately, with love and conviction, as God’s Word to us!
Fr. Ed Namiotka