“Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
This blog post is the first in a series. The series being "In which I dispense unwanted advice to groups who never asked my opinion in the first place." It will prove to be highly entertaining, no doubt.
Without any formal education in homiletics, I have nonetheless taken it upon myself to break down the myriad species of homilies (from the Greek, homilia, meaning companionship and communion) into five different species or types. Someone should really send me back to school, otherwise I will keep writing things like this for public consumption, and that will just end poorly for everyone.
The Narrative Homily: This is the classic MidWester daily mass homily. Usually good for a short Mass and short homily, this sermon tells a story that unites the theme of the story to the Gospel. This story illuminates a lesson hidden in the Gospel, or gets the gist of the Gospel through another story, leaving a brief time at the end for connecting the two stories, explaining the link between them and highlighting an aspect of the narrative.
The Moral Homily: This method uses the Gospel of the week to speak on a virtue, on cultivating virtue, on how to take moral action, seeing how the Gospel can be enacted in our day-to-day lives. A moral homily on the Gospel of the Parable of the Prodigal Son can explore the questions: How do we forgive? A homily on Christ's cleansing of the Temple can explore: What does it mean to be angry? Can we be angry in a "righteous way?"
The Pseudo Historical-Critical Method Homily: This homily, at its best, is an illuminating look into Jesus' world/world of the Gospels. It can explain obscure passages of the Gospel, it can bring historical realities veiled from our modern perspective to light. This homily can bring home the point that these are stories from a specific time and dateable place. At its best, it's a reminder of the historical significance of the Gospels, at its worst, it's a dry, boring history lesson that leaves the stories covered in 1st century Mediterranean dust.
The Salvation History Homily: This homily capitalizes on the first two readings, particularly the Old Testament reading, to highlight the story of Salvation. It seeks to connect the Old testament to the New, explaining how the history of salvation has transpired, it details God's work; opening up the wonder of the Salvation narrative for the congregation.
The Theological Homily:
This homily breaks down the story in terms of the theology inside of it: what does this story say about who God is? For example, a moral homily on Jesus' washing of the feet would talk about the service that Christ displays in that moment, how he humbles himself to care for his brothers, and so should we. But, a theological homily on Christ's radical action will describe the service God is doing for his apostles: I will make you clean. His washing of our feet must be enough for us. We cannot make ourselves clean on our own, we must humble ourselves to accept His cleansing. This tender love of God will clean our weary feet and hearts.
The theological homily sees the scriptures as describing how God is acting in the present. Christ did at one point in time wash His Apostle's feet, and He continues to wash ours.
I have divided them into five different parts, because are the five different kinds of homilies that I have heard in my short life. With the exception of the Theological Homily, no one kind of homily is particularly better than the other. All five are necessary for exploring all the different aspects of Scripture, and illuminating different aspects of the Christian life. The problem, I think, is in emphasis on one particular type of homily, at the expense or exclusion of the others. If a pastor only gives Salvation History homilies, then the stories fail to break into the congregation's daily lives. On the other hand, if a pastor only gives Moral homilies, then the narrative of the Gospels is lost, and they devolve into moral lessons strung together. All five generate enough variety that can hopefully appeal to different intellects and appetites in the diverse audience of a parish.
Thus, it is necessary for all five homilies to be practiced and preached in a parish, with special attention given, I would argue, to the Theological homily. Perhaps it is because we hear them too infrequently, but they are those words of living water that Christ promises to Phoenicia. There is something in each of us that thirsts, like the Samaritan woman, for a water that will not only quench our thirst, but create inside of a spring of water. We pant for this water, the Psalmist says. It is an antiquated image, and therefore, slightly castrated. But the image of a deer panting for the water from the creek is not elegant, it is urgent. It is instinctual and desperate. We have this longing for the living water, and the homily is often a vital conduit that can channel the grace of the words we have just heard directly into our hearts.
What the theological homily provides to each listener is a new set of eyes and ears. It presents a new way to listen to scripture, a new way to see Christ. Once given a different perspective on the readings, we are able to return to this new vision over and over again. Accordingly, these words become an eternal spring of water within us that can quench our thirst for the truth.
Annotated Bibliography (MLA til I die):
Sacramentum Caritatis. "The day of creation has now become the day of the "new creation," the day of our liberation, when we commemorate Christ who died and rose again." (37)
Preaching the Mystery Of Faith:
Our encounter with Jesus inevitably
leads to mission; our love for Jesus translates into our love for others. This
is why the homily, which participates in the power of Christ’s word, ought
to inspire a sense of mission for those who hear it, making them doers and
proclaimers of that same word in the world. A homily that does not lead to
mission is, therefore, incomplete. (19)
Dei Verbum: And let them remember that prayer should accompany the reading of Sacred Scripture, so that God and man may talk together. (25)