Excerpts from “Preaching the Mystery of Faith: the Sunday Homily”

The following are excerpts from "Preaching the Mystery of Faith: the Sunday Homily," a 2012 statement from the Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life, and Vocations, of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.  The statement was written in response to Pope Benedict XVI's call for a renewal of the preaching ministry in the wake of the October 2008 Twelfth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on "The Word of God in the Life and Ministry of the Church."

"By highlighting [Jesus's] humanity, his poverty, his compassion, his forthrightness, and his suffering and Death, an effective homily would show the faithful just how much the Son of God loved them in taking our flesh upon himself. And by expanding the congregation's love for the humanity of Jesus, the homilist could also move his fellow Christians to a deeper sense of justice, with a sense of com­passion for the most vulnerable and the poor and of the broken humanity of their neighbors."

"Jesus' role as God's definitive prophet is a particular emphasis of Luke's portrayal. This is clear in the opening scene of Jesus' public ministry in the synagogue of Nazareth (Lk 4:16-30), which serves as a kind of overture or keynote of the entire mission of Jesus. Preaching on a Sabbath (which Luke notes was 'according to his custom'), Jesus chooses the passage from Isaiah 61, which proclaims God's liberating justice: 'The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, and to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.' As the entire congregation hangs on his words, Jesus rolls up the scroll, hands it back to the attendant, and dramatically proclaims: 'Today this scripture pas­sage is fulfilled in your hearing.' So here at the outset of Luke's Gospel, we can find in the inaugural pro­phetic preaching of Jesus a connection to the Church's ongoing mission, including the particular circumstances of our own day and the need for evan­gelization."

"Proclaiming the message of the Kingdom preached by and embod­ied in Jesus' person and mission is intrinsically linked to the Church's mission of justice, a constant and powerful message, amplified in a strong way in the teaching of recent popes. A straight line can be drawn from the call for justice on behalf of those who are vulnerable in the Old Testament ('the widow, the orphan, and the stranger') to the fulfillment of that mission of compassion and justice in the ministry of Jesus (and taught in the ongoing Magisterium of the Church). The Church's urgent call for respect for human life, partic­ularly for those who are most vulnerable, the call for justice for the poor and the migrant, the condemnation of oppression and violations of human and religious freedom, and the rejection of violence as an ordinary means of solv­ing conflicts are some of the controversial issues that need to be part of the Church's catechesis and to find their way in an appropriate manner into the Church's liturgical preaching."

"Without being pedantic, overly abstract, or theoretical, the homilist can effectively spell out, for example, the connection between Jesus' care for the poor and the Church's social teaching and concern for the common good; or Jesus' pro­nouncements on the prohibition of divorce and the Church's teaching on the sacredness of the marriage bond; or Jesus' confrontations with his opponents and the Church's obligation to challenge contemporary culture about the values that should define our public life."

"[T]he Emmaus story reminds us that the homily plays a key role in establishing the connection between the Eucharist and mission. Once they recognize the Risen Christ in 'the breaking of the bread,' the two disciples resolve to return to Jerusalem, despite the lateness of the hour, and rejoin the community they had left. In a word, they reverse direction and head back to where they should be going. There, along with the rest of the disciples, they encounter the Risen Christ anew and are given the mission of being his wit­nesses and preaching the Gospel of repentance and forgiveness to the world (Lk 24:36-49), a mission that would explode with power with the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost. This dimension of the Emmaus account corresponds to the 'sending on mission' that concludes the Mass of the Roman Rite: 'Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord.' Our encounter with Jesus inevitably leads to mission; our love for Jesus translates into our love for others. This is why the homily, which participates in the power of Christ's word, ought to inspire a sense of mission for those who hear it, making them doers and proclaimers of that same word in the world. A homily that does not lead to mission is, therefore, incomplete."

"Effective preaching also entails a thoughtful and informed understanding of contemporary culture. The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council made this point when they insisted that leaders within the Catholic Church must be deeply attuned, not only to Scripture and Tradition, but also to the 'signs of the times,' signals coming from today's world. As noted in the preface to Gaudium et Spes, 'The joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the men of our time, especially of those who are poor or afflicted in any way, are the joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well. Nothing that is genuinely human fails to find an echo in their hearts.'This is the spirit of 'communion' that Pope John Paul II noted belongs to the exercise of priest­hood: 'Within the Church's life the priest is a man of communion, in his rela­tions with all people he must be a man of mission and dialogue. Deeply rooted in the truth and charity of Christ, and impelled by the desire and imperative to proclaim Christ's salvation to all, the priest is called to witness in all his relationships to fraternity, service and a common quest for the truth, as well as a concern for the promotion of justice and peace.'"

"It would be inappropriate for the homilist to impose on the congregation his own partisan views about current issues. Yet for preaching to be so abstract that it reveals no awareness of or concern for the great economic and social issues that are affecting people's lives in a serious way would give the impres­sion that the words of Scripture and the action of the Eucharist are without relevance for our everyday experience and our human hopes and dreams."[i]

"Although the Catholic population in the United States is blessed with many different cultures, the Hispanic/Latino segment of the Catholic com­munity is growing at a particularly rapid rate and poses substantial opportuni­ties and challenges for effective preaching in this context.Many Hispanic Catholics are especially attuned to the symbolic and sacramental world of Catholicism. Successful preachers who may come from a different cultural context would do well to immerse themselves in Hispanic popular piety, a world in which Mary and the saints are venerated with intense fervor and affection and in which there is profound devotion to the Virgin Mary and the suffering Christ. Popular religiosity should not be looked down upon, and the homilist should learn from it and relate to it with respect and sensi­tivity.This requires exposure to the people's neighborhoods or barrios, their homes and associations, and even their countries of origin, if at all possi­ble. As with any cultural group, people appreciate pastors and preachers who cultivate personal relationships with them and demonstrate a willingness to move beyond their comfort zones and enter the world of the 'other.' In this regard Spanish-language ability is an urgent need. Opportunities for pastoral immersion experiences in Latin America can also have an important forma­tive impact. Seminaries and permanent diaconate formation programs are urged to include Spanish-language preparation and proper exposure to His­panic cultures into their programs of priestly formation."

"Of particular relevance for preachers who wish to connect with these congregations are the serious social, economic, and political struggles of the Hispanic/Latino poor. The Church in the United States, like U.S. society as a whole, is characterized by a growing gap between those who are well off and can live comfortably, and a significant working class—many of them His­panic/Latino—who increasingly find it difficult to make ends meet. Hispanics face daunting issues such as a lack of access to education and medical care, crime, poor housing, youth at risk, and immigration concerns. The effective preacher will be aware of and acknowledge people's struggle for a better life in the United States and in their countries of origin."

"At the same time, however, the homily should not replicate civic or political discourse. Especially in the context of the Eucharist, people want to hear God's word robustly and reverently proclaimed. The preacher is suc­cessful if he plumbs the depths of the Scripture and, when appropriate, recalls stories about Mary and the saints. The people want the preacher to witness to God's presence and power as displayed in miracles and other manifestations of divine transcendence."



[i] "The Church's social doctrine is an indispensable aid in helping the preacher apply the Scrip­tures and clarify the moral and ethical implications of the social and political order (see Com­pendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church)."