How do you write your homilies?
I get asked this fairly regularly. First, I typically read the Mass readings for the coming weekend a week in advance. I often read them in the little chapel in my rectory and begin thinking about them.
I pay attention to which of the three readings touches my heart. After choosing a reading, I begin reflecting how it applies to real life. What is the overall message I want to convey? In homiletics, we call this the “pearl.” The pearl is what you want people to think about or to do. Parishioners listening to a good homily should be able to say driving home, “That homily was about [x]. Father wants us to do [x].”
Next, I try to think of an introduction or a story that helps make the homily more interesting or easier to understand. This is not always easy. One of my pet peeves is a story in a homily that doesn’t have anything to do with the homily. Additionally, as a previous teacher, I learned that you must have an interesting opening to catch people’s attention. There are fewer things more boring than hearing, “Today’s gospel teaches us…(yawn!).”
Of course, I typically bring things to prayer. Sometimes I may ask, “Lord, what do you want me to say?” This is not just sentimental piety. Instead, it is more of a plea – “Lord, help me say something!” After all, the good Lord knows what people need to hear far more than I do! It is funny how I receive a little image, a story, or some real world example to help.
Next, I sometimes do a little research. I tend to listen to Bishop Robert Barron’s homily for the week to receive ideas from him. Or I read a good Bible commentary to get insights or the context of a biblical passage to make the homily more interesting.
Then there is the stage of actually sitting down and writing. Sometimes this goes smoothly, while other times it is nothing short of a nightmare trying to put things together. I can often tell how a homily will be as I write it.
After writing it out, I read over it a few times to get a feel for how it flows. Many times I have to do a lot of editing as I think, “Oh, I don’t like that at all or that doesn’t fit.” Another pet peeve of mine is homilies that are all over the place without a point – like a puppy’s tail wagging everywhere. The editing phase helps tighten things up.
In short, putting together a homily is a great labor of love. In the end, sometimes I hit a home run, while other times I strike out. Only the good Lord knows how parishioners receive what I put together.
How many hours do you spend in prayer every week?
This is another good question! I typically have a routine to begin my day. We have daily Mass many days at 7:00 am. When I have my act together (which isn’t too often), I pray for about 20 minutes before Mass. After Mass, I typically spend about an hour before the Blessed Sacrament.
In saying this, do not freak out or think I am a saint.I am required to pray what’s called the Liturgy of the Hours or the Church’s prayer that consists of Psalms and other scriptural readings.I also pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy.Then I pray two decades of the Rosary while reading a little Sacred Scripture. Finally, I offer my intentions for the parish, those who asked me to pray for them, and thank God for His many gifts. It took many years to work up to this structure and yet, I often still feel like a goof trying to pray.
How long should we pray every day?
It depends. For middle and high school students, I suggest 15 minutes. Begin with the daily Mass readings (www.usccb.org), reading over them nice and slow. What word or phrase strikes you? What questions do you have? What do you want to say to Jesus? What does He want to say to you? Scripture gives you something to chew or meditate on.
After the readings, think of a number of people who need your prayers. Speak to God about them. If you like the rosary, you could pray a decade or two, asking Mary to pray for you. Finally, take a little time to thank God for His gifts and present Him your needs (i.e., help with a test or paper).
Do you have a favorite Saint other than St. Therese? Why do you like them?
I do! I very much like St. John Bosco (1815-1888) because he took care of young boys who lost their parents or were on the streets. He also taught them the faith in fun ways. I also like St. Philip Neri (1515-1595) because of his tremendous sense of humor. He is the patron saint of mirth.