Fr. Stefano Penna says it is the Holy Spirit who moves the minds and hearts of hearers.

WCR PHOTO | THANDIWE KONGUAVI

Fr. Stefano Penna says it is the Holy Spirit who moves the minds and hearts of hearers.

January 25, 2016
THANDIWE KONGUAVI
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

As a homilist, Father Michael McCaffery is probably best known for his brevity. "I always say people don't remember what I said, but they know it didn't take me very long to say it."

He credits this to the best advice he ever received, shortly after he was ordained about 55 years ago.

Msgr. Foran, considered one of the premier preachers in the Edmonton Archdiocese at the time, told him: "McCaffery, I want you to preach six minutes and no notes."

McCaffery, now 80, has tried to follow that advice throughout his priesthood.

Despite the brevity of his sermons, and that of many priests around the archdiocese, much preparation is undertaken before the Sunday homily is delivered.

An integral part of the Church's worship, the homily is only to be delivered by bishops, priests or deacons.

According to the Vatican's Homiletic Directory, it is not only an instruction, but also an act of worship.

Another seasoned homilist, Father Stefano Penna, a teacher of preaching and vice-president for college development and advancement at Newman Theological College in Edmonton, said, just as Jesus stood up to read in the synagogue, the homilist is called to proclaim how God's word is being fulfilled here and now.

"There are two times of consecration that I act in the person of Christ," said Penna: "At the altar during the Eucharist when I take up his words 'This is my body, this is my blood;' and when I proclaim his Gospel. The homily is the amplification of that word."

Scripture was written to be proclaimed primarily in church, said Penna, and there is an anointing that comes upon the preacher and the hearer.

"We are actually hearing the voice of Jesus retelling the truth of our history, consecrating our life stories by his Holy Spirit and that is what the preacher has to allow those who hear the word to experience."

Fr. Mike McCaffery says people don't always remember what he said, only that it didn't take him long to say it.

WCR PHOTO | THANDIWE KONGUAVI

Fr. Mike McCaffery says people don't always remember what he said, only that it didn't take him long to say it.

Penna does three things to prepare his Sunday homily, usually starting the Monday before, when he reads the Lectionary readings for the following Sunday. The priest rests with the word and listens prayerfully throughout the week.

Father Nilo Macapinlac, pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Wetaskiwin and Our Lady of Seven Sorrows in Maskwacis, said Monday, his day off, is the time he empties himself and allows the Word of God to penetrate his mind. He ponders it in his heart in the style of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

"That is a very, very important thing that when the mind is being enlightened by the Holy Spirit it sinks into the heart and the heart becomes the vessel and the treasury of the Word of God. That is the pattern of the homilies, and it has to be delivered to the people so that the Holy Spirit operates by enlightening the mind and hearts of the people."

GO FOR A WALK

Friar Pierre Ducharme, associate pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in Sherwood Park, said the Gospel is a source of meditation for him.

After he reads, if it is not too cold outside, he goes for a walk.

"Once I get moving, particularly if it's outside, the inspiration comes to me," he said. "It's amazing how it happens. I start to see things that I didn't see before."

Father Peter Ebidero, associate pastor of Holy Family Parish in St Albert, is beloved by parishioners for his knowledge of Scripture. In preparing his homilies, he reads from the Lectionary then reads the whole chapter and background of the passages.

Father Peter Ebidero, pastor of St. Albert's Holy Family Parish, learns from Christian psychologists before preparing his Sunday homilies.

WCR PHOTO | THANDIWE KONGUAVI

Father Peter Ebidero, pastor of St. Albert's Holy Family Parish, learns from Christian psychologists before preparing his Sunday homilies.

Penna said the preacher must have his ear to the community, knowing and listening to what is happening. Citing the Protestant theologian Karl Barth, he added: The preacher is to have the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.

In addition to monitoring the news, McCaffery turns to writings by renowned theologians such as Jesuit Walter Burghardt and previous homilies he has delivered himself.

He makes an effort to keep apace of what is happening with the people in the community, he said, with an emphasis on listening to the poor, hurting and weak.

"Pope Francis said one of the reasons people leave the Church is our homilies don't reach the hearts. We're speaking to the goats and not reaching the sheep."

Ebidero also researches scientific studies from Christian psychologists on the Internet and often incorporates questions and answers from parishioners during the homily.

The next step in preparing a homily is the composition.

MEMORIZATION

When he was young, Penna wrote out and memorized his homilies. Today, he has the points in line beforehand, then delivers the homilies relying on his 30 years of priesthood experience, all of his studies and prayer, and then lets the Holy Spirit go.

He knows, based on his worst experiences delivering a homily which also turned out to be his best experiences delivering a homily, that it is the Holy Spirit who moves the hearts and minds of the hearers.

There have been days when he walked away from the pulpit saying, "I am sorry Lord for having failed you, for having preached such a terrible homily," but then someone will come up later and say that his homily touched and changed their life, said Penna.

"So I know who it is that's preaching and it's awesome. There are days when I say, 'Lord, help me to be converted by that homily you just preached through me.'

"You become a conduit of Christ, of the Holy Spirit. It's an amazing moment."

Saturday is the day when the priest has an opportunity to practise his delivery, said Penna.

"I always said, the people at Saturday evening Mass are going to heaven first because they got the priest's trial run."

'THANKS FOR YOUR SPEECH'

Following the Mass, some people will say "Father, thank you for your message," and those who are not really churchgoers might say, "Thank you for your speech."

Ducharme said he has not got a lot of negative feedback from parishioners in his five years of preaching, which he presumes has a lot to do with the fact that "people are kind."

"I do think Catholics are generally kind and merciful so they tend to want to tell you when they think it was good."