What Constitutes Good Preaching?

I read with interest today a report from The Catholic News Service that Fr. Roy Shelly and Deborah Wilhelm of the Diocese of Monterey, California said that a good homily should be only 6-8 minutes in length on Sundays and 3-5 minutes on a weekday. They imply, it seems, that one mark of poor preaching is length, i.e., beyond these time limits. The article seems to suggest that the quality and “spiritual depth” of what the homilist offers will be compromised by a lengthier homily.

I am all for getting to the point quickly, and for landing the homily in a timely fashion, but I think they are missing the point if they emphasize length of time.

I have heard absolutely riveting homilies that were only one minute in length. I have heard equally inspiring homilies that held me attentive for 15-20 minutes.

The makings of a good homily include the homilist “getting out of the way” and speaking from conviction and the heart of Jesus. You can tell if a homilist is advancing himself or the Gospel. It is almost immediately evident when what is preached comes from conviction and heart. Faith expressed with vigor and authenticity of life is what keeps one attentive.

In other words, a man with lukewarm faith and a tepid heart will make a poor homilist. A man who speaks the truth from the heart will inspire others and will break open our hearts to the message of the Gospel.

In some sense, this cannot be taught really. Public speaking can, and so too interpersonal relations. Both are important, and need to be part of formation programs, But being a good homilist is ultimately a gift from God. Not everyone has that gift, even if all deacons and priest have that obligation.

I would suggest as an alternative to the recommendations of Fr. Shelly and Ms. Wilhelm that for a Sunday homily, if you want it to be effective, spend at least two hours in prayer focused on pleading with Jesus to help you speak his words and to be his mouth as you stand at that ambo. Direct pleading with the Lord. I think the homilies will improve.

About Deacon Bob

Moderator: Deacon Bob Yerhot of the Diocese of Winona-Rochester, Minnesota.
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