Sunday, April 11, 2010

Homily - 3rd Sun. Easter (C)

Update: 18 April 2010 (The Lord's Day)

Well, the homily has been preached. There is relief and hope.  I'm glad the stress is gone and I hope the homily helped us worship God better. Homily preparation, at least for me, becomes my spirituality during preparation week. Everything I do until I preach is seen through a homiletic critical lens. Now I can move on spiritually, in a sense.  I can un-focus for a bit and just enjoy the rich banquet of Catholicism until next time.

It was definitely a teaching homily today. Lots of information about worship and unveiling the heavenly mysteries. Revelation, sacramentally considered, as a "door to the sacred" (Martos).  Mass is our participation in the worship of the Lamb!

At two of the Masses this weekend I could feel a fascinating and unique reverence during the Lamb of God. We seemed to have sung it with a new realization of its significance.  Of course that could just be wishful thinking on my part, but it sure seemed so from the altar. The priest celebrants all accented the Lamb and sacrifice motif in the Preface and the Ecce, Agnus Dei.  I love it when we work together like that!  It seemed that many people made liturgical connections they hadn't made previously.

Today between Masses, Fr. Joe (our Pastor), and I were discussing how important it is to preach about the liturgy - why we do what we do at Mass.  Many parishioners said similar things.  It goes without saying that the Mass is so important to who we are, yet we often take it for granted.  When marginal Catholics don't know why we worship the way we do, they can easily think that all "services" are equal to the Mass; that going to church is just about feeling good or just being inspired (don't misread me, they are important too!) rather than true worship, as God intended, in Word and Eucharist. Revelation is so clear on this integrity of true worship. As I mentioned previously, I am convinced that liturgy must be mentioned at the liturgy! Again, Scripture and liturgy as one's primary homily sources.  They certainly are mine.

There were so many great ideas that came to me about today's Gospel (long form of course!). I snuck in a few one-liners from the Gospel and the Acts reading, but I pretty much stuck with Revelation and the Lamb. I am hoping that the fact that Revelation is read throughout the Easter Season this cycle will give the homily a longer shelf-life, so to speak.  Tuned in Catholics may connect things in the second reading next week for example. Nonetheless, it is always the case that the Scripture pericopae are so rich each week that I can't wait for the next time these readings come up to see what different things will be said about them. 

Thanks for following this "peek behind the scenes" of the homily process.  How appropriate that it was about the Book of Revelation, chapter 5, our Scriptural peek into the Divine Liturgy.

Update: 16 April 2010
Tonight three things: 1) prayer, 2) final dip into scholarship/parish input and, 3) filling out note cards.

1) Prayer - I find this to be the most challenging evening in homily preparation.  By the way, all my preparation, except the final writing on Saturday afternoons - is done in the evening due to my work schedule. I have been carrying the homily around all week and now I am "taking it for granted."  I'm losing my excitement, shall we say.  Suddenly, none of the ideas seem that good and doubts creep in about the topic, etc.  It happens everytime I prepare to preach and I am spiritually tuned in enough to recognize it now.  I take it as a call to pray more and trust that the Holy Spirit has been with me all along and has led me to this particular homily.  For some reason - I don't know why - I often turn to St. Ephrem's simple prayer at this point.  It might be because Ephrem was a deacon too, or simply because it is a prayer for humility. I humbly want to be an instrument in God's hands now.

2) I take another look at the latest input I am receiving.  I heard from a parishioner today who reminded me that our church building has lambs all over it.  We are, at St. Benedict's, literally surrounded by lambs.  I think this observation will make the homily!  I like pointing out things like that in homilies because they "stick." The Church in her great wisdom has always recognized the value of images.

Also, I consulted two scholarly sources tonight:
I looked at Cardinal Ratzinger's (now Pope Benedict XVI, of course) The Spirit of the Liturgy, chapter 3.  The idea in this chapter, and perhaps even a direct quote, will definitely make the homily too. I will certainly tie Hebrew Scriptures and Christian Scriptures together as he does, centered on the lamb as sacrifice.

I looked at Jungmann's classic The Mass of the Roman Rite: Missarum Sollemnia under Agnus Dei.  This is my vade mecum for historical Mass connections.  Ideas I noted tonight: Lamb of God chant of Eastern origin (Syria); phrase appear first at every Mass (sans Lent, etc.) in the Gloria, people's chant (contra celebrant!) of Eucharistic recognition, and Jungmann's explicit connection of the words of the Agnus Dei chant with the Book of Revelation. Not sure which Jungmann points, if any, will make the final draft, but he certainly confirmed the validity of my liturgical approach to the Lamb. Again, I am extremely conscious of drawing my homily primarily from Scriptural and liturgical sources.

3) Note cards - details are being added; ordering being done, some transitions falling into place; applications forming.

Tomorrow I write the homily long hand (usually at Amherst Plaza Starbucks near UB South - I like the college-like vibe there).  

I will post once more Sunday night, after I have delivered the homily for the last time, with my "closing" observations. 

To this point, I would say that I have taken you through my typical homily process - the details would change of course depending on the readings and main topic, by generally the pattern holds:
              prayer, (at every stage too!)
              reading of the Scripture pericopae everyday
                         (often many times in the course of the day),
              check commentaries
                         (for scholarly parameters, not homily ideas per se),
              jot down lots of ideas,
              do a little scholarly digging
                          - check trusted sources, saints, poetry, art...
              ask for input / check in with folks about my big idea,
              let ideas percolate,
              think of the Church who will hear me
                          - what difference will this homily make to them?
              index cards notes (ordering of ideas)
              and final drafting (transitions added). 

              At Mass, I say a one line prayer to Mary between
              enthroning the Gospel book and re-ascending the ambo.
                why Mary?
                Since she gave flesh to the Word,
                        she can help me do the same at this Eucharist!

I suspect most preachers go through a similar process too.  Keep praying for us. Thank you!

Update: 15 April 2010
Today I am thinking primarily of how to "apply" the lesson.  In other words, it's one thing to know what I am to say about the Scripture reading, and another still to show why anyone ought to care.

While, in Newman's words from The Idea of A University, "knowledge is capable of being its own reward," the fact is that a homily is not simply the scholarly exposition of a text.  It is the application to a particular congregation gathered for the Eucharist.  Even such a great expository preacher like St. John Chrysostom makes that point; Augustine does it even more clearly.  By the way, the more I preach, the more I admire St. Augustine's homilies.  I have, without apology, simply adopted his Catholic approach to using Scripture in homilies.  Like Augustine, I use Scripture to preach Scripture! The footnotes on the printed homilies really made it clear to me that Scripture is embued throughout my preaching. This is of course what Catholic preachers ought to do anyway, i.e. draw primarily from Scriptural and liturgical sources.

Today I am wondering what the people of St. Benedict's need to hear about Revelation.  How will their Faith be strengthened, challenged, comforted, or clarified by the homily this weekend?  I think I will be moving in the direction of helping us recognize that our lives as Christians mirror the Lamb of God.  What appears as weakness (the Lamb slain) leads to triumph. I have some "life experiences" in mind to make this point.

I am beginning the note process tonight. I use plenty of 3 X 5 (index) cards with one idea on each.  That way I can move them around and develop sub-points under each card.  It gives me the overall picture of the homily more conveniently than on screen. 

The actual homily writing, which I usually do longhand, I save for Saturday mornings. The big challenge on Saturdays is coming up with effective transitions from one idea to the next. I like to save this for the end, since the transitions, more than any other part of the process, benefit from lots of percolating time. They are brewing, as it were, throughout the process deep in my Hopkinesque "inscape."  They are not so much the fruit of study, but the awareness of my experiences throughout the process. A sort of metaconsciousness, if you will, of how I went from one idea to the next.  Connections are being made constantly; Saturdays are when I need them to come to the fore.

Your ideas are still welcome, email me at  Please continue to pray for me and all those who will preach this weekend.

p.s. 12:20 am  I just thought of Jan Van Eyck's "Ghent Altarpiece."   Perfect!  Love art connections!  I will definitely include it as a supplement to the written homily when posted to our website.

Update: 14 April 2010
Heard from a friend today, who is considering the priesthood, who shared his thoughts on Revelation with me.  I love hearing what the Church has to say!  It's my way of knowing where we are on the Way!

I read his email early in the day. He reminded me that Revelation: ...shows us a glimpse, however imperfect, of how the end of times will look. It shows us that we win! It may not feel like it today. It may seem that we are losing. But we have won! We won the game 2000 years ago with the death and resurrection of our Lord and the final curtain call of life on earth will end with the Church triumphant.

I was thinking of this, and the many other insights he shared with me, throughout the day today as I was teaching the traditional arguments for God's existence - Paley, Aquinas, Augustine, Kant, Anselm. I prayed Psalm 123 with my students at the beginning of class.  It ends with the psalmist saying that "we are sated with the contempt of the arrogant..." I thought how the psalmist's words "won out." We have his words but not the words of the arrogant person who held him and his people in contempt. What seemed like dark days are but a distant memory today.    God's word won!

I was struck with the paradox of our Christian religion. Parenthetically, my worldview is so Catholic that I cannot help but think of Chesterton whenever I hear the word "paradox!" On one hand we are so weak; on the other hand there is nothing stronger!  The last shall become first!  The lame shall enter first! The Lamb conquers and to Him be glory, praise, honor...all the attributes of the strong.

I feel the homily crystalizing. . .  Lamb - weakness/strength, sacrifice/love... ultimate victory in Christ Jesus our Lord!  Eucharist hic et nunc!   

I may preach part of the homily from behind the altar - the twenty-four Elders (presbyters) and the Four Living Creatures (via Tradition, [or is it tradition with a small "t"?] the evangelists) leading us to worship of the Lamb. Thus giving a re-presentation of this pericope from Revelation; the Mass proleptically considered.

I am excited to see where this all goes tomorrow! I want to check Newman's Parochial & Plain Sermons to see if he did anything on Revelation and the Lamb.   Keep praying for me.

Update: 13 April 2010
Not much happening in the process tonight.  No new ideas. Letting things percolate.  Prayer rather dry tonight too.

Update: 12 April 2010
I am honored to have heard from two parishioners so far. 

One tied our suffering, the Church's suffering, into the phrase from Revelation - "the Lamb that was slain..." We suffer as Jesus did when we do God's will.  Preaching the Gospel entails suffering, carrying the Cross.  My research last night was along these lines too.  I was looking into the Lamb since Revelation uses it as its most common title for Jesus - 29 times in this short book. Many of the Second Readings coming up use the title Lamb too.

The other parishioner reminded me that the Four Living Creature led the worship of the Lamb. There are connections with Exodus and the Passover lamb, the Eucharist (Jesus on our altar as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world), and the famous kenosis idea of Philippians.  Like the disciples in today's Gospel, we see the resurrected Jesus and love Him.

I often use this final part of this Gospel - Peter's three-fold "restoration" - when I teach about the theological virtue of love.  I'm reading all my commentaries today on Revelation.  I'm puzzling over the distinctions of the "things" given to the Lamb - worship, praise, power, riches, wisdom, strength, honor, glory, might. Handel's Messiah keeps playing in my mind!  Are these "worship words" simply synonomous (a la semitic parallelisms) or is there more here?  I often find that homilies grow out of questions.

That's where I'm at on the homily tonight.
Thanks and keep the ideas coming.

11 April 2010
Since the Church is using the Book of Revelation as the Second Reading throughout the Easter Season in Year C (this year), this weekend I am leaning toward preaching on "the Second Readings of the Easter Season" as a "series." In general, the Second Reading at Mass tends to be the least preached on, at least in my experience. I am also conscious that one of our parish Bible Study groups has been studying Revelation this year and that, to the best of my knowledge, Revelation has never been preached on in our parish. I know I have never preached on it before. The Holy Spirit seems to be saying that this is the time to give Revelation its due!
I am working on the homily for this coming Saturday Vigil/Sunday - praying, studying, sampling ideas and soliciting input.

Your help is needed... Any ideas? Send me an email: anytime. The readings - 3rd Sunday of Easter (year C) are available on the US Catholic Bishops' site listed here to the right under "Further Reading." Send your thoughts today! Please keep me and all homilists in your prayer.

Pax Christi,
Deacon Bill+