I was recently listening to a podcast hosted by author/speaker Jeff Cavins and consultant, author/speaker Pat Lencioni. Their topic was “The Four Ingredients of an Amazing Homily.” Naturally I was curious.
Pat and Jeff belong to a consortium called “Amazing Parish.” This is a group of top-flight Catholic leaders who have a passion for helping pastors and parishes grow and thrive and are putting forward ideas, seminars and resources to accomplish that. In looking around the country, they have found that there are three characteristics that excellent parishes share: A Reliance on Prayer and Sacraments; A Commitment to a Healthy Organization; A Passion for Evangelization and Discipleship. One “activity” that cuts across all three traits is “The Sunday Experience” of people who come to Mass. Within the Sunday Experience context, three items stand out: hymns, hospitality and homilies with particular weight given to homilies. Over Sunday breakfast, parishioners rarely will share how the hospitality was. They might mention the music or one particular hymn or song. They always comment on the homily.
In helping a pastor better “P-O-U-R” the Word of God into the hearts of the believers, Pat and Jeff suggested that pastors look at four areas and ask whether the homily is Passionate (Delivered with conviction and emotion drawn from prayer and from the heart of the priest); Organized (Does the homily clearly connect points that people can follow logically); Understandable (Using words that people can grasp and follow both theologically and linguistically) and Relevant (Connecting the homily with people’s lives and to actions that they can take that week).
Pat and Jeff provided a scoring matrix and suggested that priests/pastors give this to a select group of parishioners for their feedback. Ask them to rate the homilies (on a scale of 1-to-4) in each of the four areas giving a 1 to the area where the priest/pastor is strongest and 4 to a potential area of improvement. I gave this scoresheet to about 15 parishioners. So how did I do?
1st: Relevance 2.09 (strongest area)
2nd: Organization 2.45 (good, but not great yet)
3rd: Passion 2.55 (good, but not great yet)
4th: Understandable/Clarity: 2.91 (area for most potential improvement)
Since the homily is a key component of “The Sunday Experience,” I was intrigued and also thought that parishioners might like to know what the feedback was that I received. Each paragraph represents comments from one parishioner. This week I shall share comments that I received concerning the area of “Relevance.” Next week, I shall share comments about the other three areas.
RELEVANCE: “You speak to your parish about the human condition. I like when you can take a reading from the Bible and draw parallels and contrasts with our present-day lives. You are also open to listening to what your parish NEEDS and is asking for. We hear you putting the messages out on Sundays. God bless you!!! You encourage us and give us food for thought!”
“This is definitely one of your strong suits, and something I think most people can appreciate about your homilies. It tells us that you care enough, or are concerned enough, to clue into the crazy lives of parents and grandparents even though you are not living that life yourself. For instance, as an example you once remembered to share the excitement of a kid being home from college.”
“Maybe your homilies feel relevant because you strive to stay current. You are genuine and don’t put yourself (as a priest) a rung above the laity.”
“Knowing you as I do, makes me feel that you and the parishioners are all in this together, and as more people get involved and get to know you, they will get that as well. You want to meet people where they are, but you encourage growth in everyone you come in contact with which is awesome.”
“Sometimes you use theological information which is hard to grasp for me upon reading it once. I sometimes need to go to your blog and reread something that you’ve said to try to make more sense of it. Nevertheless, homilies are always organized and relevant.”
“I scored “relevance” a little lower because the target message you are aiming for is constantly moving, and/or you cannot control what message you’d like to discuss when the archbishop directs your pastoral message.”
“Your homilies have depth and weight. They are interesting and give me something to ponder to grow spiritually. I personally find your homilies relevant to the particular readings on Sundays and to our parish strategy overall. They are always fresh and new and deliver answers to current problems in people’s lives.”