My parents are still active parishioners in the parish where I grew up. A few years ago they were assigned a new pastor (the previous pastor had been there more than a decade and was born and raised in our home town), Fr. Michael. Fr. Michael is also from our home town (what can I say, Saint Marys, PA has raised a lot of priests – more than 100 actually!), so they expected a similar style to the previous pastor.
So I was pleasantly surprised to hear my dad say this at a family breakfast just a few months after Fr. Michael was installed, “I’m attending a weekly Bible Study with Fr. Michael. Can you believe this? 70 years old and my first Bible Study.”
I asked what they were studying, assuming I’d hear about a new Catholic Scripture Study or video series from Ascension (two great sources for Bible Study programs for groups). Instead he told me, “It’s just Fr. Michael. We read the readings for the upcoming Sunday. Then he talks about them.”
I (and many others much wiser than me) have long praised the benefits of this type of preparation for Sunday Mass for parishioners. When Sunday isn’t the first time you’ve heard the reading, you’re more engaged in the Scriptures (and less apt to be taken by distractions) and, in turn, the prayer of the Mass.
I’ve also spoken with priests about some ways they can work on their preaching – not really from the perspective of what they should be preaching about, but more the style in which they preach. If the homily isn’t relevant to the people or delivered in a manner in which they are attentive, the content doesn’t particularly matter. By this I mean, if you don’t have the impact you intend, then you are missing much of the point of preaching.
Then today, I read this line in an article about divisions in the Church and what’s needed to heal (a great article all around, to be honest).
When I was a young priest, my parish had a prayer group that would discuss and pray over the Scripture readings for the coming Sunday. The participants were not theologically sophisticated, but their thoughts and reflections helped me when I sat down to prepare my homily. I could speak to their concerns because I had first listened.Source
I immediately recalled my dad’s statement about Fr. Michael’s weekly Bible Study. It’s for his people, absolutely. It might also be for him. It was a way for him to remain connected to his people on a weekly basis, to hear their concerns, to hear their thoughts on the Scriptures, to understand where the Lord was working (or seemingly absent) in their lives. I imagine he received much food for thought to include in his Sunday homilies on those same readings.
How connected are your parishioners to the homily preparation process? What ways do the priests of your parish “put into the deep” with the parishioners to showcase how the Scriptures are relevant to their lives today?
Our parish survey asks parishioners if Homilies are relevant to their lives, related to the Scriptures, and even if they should address tragic events happening in the world. Overwhelmingly they say they want them to be.