I had posted this before on my other blog, but here it is again.
GUIDE TO BAD HOMILIES
I'd like some input from our readers to help identify the features of what makes a bad homiliy. This way, next time you hear a bad homily, you can say, "Oh, that was a #3 on the Official Guide".
So, here are some features I've identified so far ...
1. JESUS WAS NICE - YOU BE NICE TOO
This is the homiliy we usually hear in our suburban parishes. Love = quiescene / Fighting for what you love = evil. If this theme describes what you're hearing ... it might be a bad homily.
Beware of homilies that start with anecdotes about cute crap. "A boy at camp whose mother sent him cookies ..." "There was a woman who found she had a terminal illness ..." Anything with a Reader's Digest flavor to it is probably from www.homilies-r-us.com, which is what I call the clearing house for shallow thinking sermons that fit easily into a template. If your priest sounds like he's beginning his talk with a canned anecdote ... it might be a bad homily.
3. DON'T GET IT WRONG, BUT DON'T GET IT RIGHT ENOUGH. This is very common. The priest doesn't say anything wrong or heretical per se, but he makes a huge implication about the nature of the Faith in what he leaves out of his homily, in what he does not say.
So, for example, if speaking on Our Lord's commission to the apostles at the end of the Gospel of John ("Feed my sheep" "Someone will lead you, Peter, where you do not want to go"), a bad homilist will focus on how important it is that we must care for the poor, and leave it at that. True enough, but what about Our Lord's promise to Peter that in feeding his sheep and tending his flock he will be persecuted? There's an edge to this reading that a bad homilist will always cut away, giving us the gelded interpretation.
This is akin to discussing "King Lear" and saying, "a daugther should be nice to her father". Well, true, but that sure leaves a lot out.
If your homilist Doesn't Get it Wrong, but Doesn't Get it Right Enough ... it might be a bad homily.
4. SHECKY GREEN PRESENTS
If your homilist tells more jokes than Heny Youngman with a fiddle ... it might be a bad homily.
5. IT'S ALL ABOUT ME
A quote from a homily I once heard: "My mother suffered. My grandmother suffered. My grandmother made my mother suffer. My father suffered. My father made my grandmother suffer. My grandmother made my father and my mother suffer. Our house was filled with suffering." Note to homilist: we are not your therapists, and that's way too much personal information.
The corrolary to "It's All about Me" is "It's All about the Musicians". And we all know what that message sounds like.
So, if your priest or deacon sees the Gospel as a Rorschach of his dysfunctional background ... it might be a bad homily.
6. SLOWNESS = PIETY
This infects all of the liturgy and not just the homily. It's the mistaken attitude that going ... really ... slowly ... means you're being ... really ... pious.
If the homily and the Lord's Prayer both take the same amount of time, 40 to 45 minutes each ... it might be a bad homily.
7. AND NOW A WORD FROM OUR SPONSOR
If anyone other than a priest or deacon is invited to talk in place of the homily and solicits contributions ... it might be a bad homily.
8. WE'RE JUST FINE, THANK YOU
This homily is used for school assemblies, eulogies of the retiring but still living, and for that dreaded monster, Catholic Schools Week. It consists of praising everything about the person or institution being honored, when in reality the subject of the praise is typically a despicable, hateful, machiavellian creep.
If Principal Power-Grabber is praised to no end, even after teaching your kids pop-Buddhism and no-math ... it might be a bad homily.
9. I HAVE SO MUCH LEARNING I'M PRACTICALLY AN ATHEIST. JOIN ME, WON'T YOU?
Any time the priest says, "The alleged author of the Gospel of John" or "The Q Source for this reading" or "scholars know this didn't really happen, but this was included to make a point" ... it might be a bad homily. You'd do better watching a Discovery Channel special.
10. THE INDEFINABLE MALAISE
One of the most insidious of homilies - speak clearly, make your points, don't commit any of the errors above - but leave the pews listless with a sense of pointlessness and despair. It takes a really effective subversive to pull off this one, but I've seen it done.
Well, that's my list so far, but it needs to be expanded and codified, so I ask humbly for your input.