How is the Sunday homily prepared?

"THAT SERMON WAS FABULOSO, DEACON," Mr. Martinez told Deacon Ed at the door of San Felipe Church where they had just celebrated Sunday Mass. "All that stuff seems to come right off the top of your head." Ed smiled and thanked the man, pleased that he had made it look easy. Truth is, though, it's a lot of work putting together a homily.

Good preachers spend a lifetime studying the Bible, for "all the clergy must hold fast to the Sacred Scriptures through diligent reading and careful study" (Vatican II, Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation). The Sunday homily is like a buffet where you load your plate with all kinds of goodies: stuff from TV, the newspapers, magazines, movies, gardening, cooking, sports, memories, and observing nature in the wilderness, kids on the playground, and folks at the mall.

Still, it all starts with the Word. During the week' hopefully sometime before Saturday'the preacher dives into the Bible, finds the Sunday readings, and gives them a careful going over, checking out the context, the footnotes, and the introductory material. Then he looks up interesting stuff in esoteric tomes like The New Jerome Biblical Commentary (Prentice Hall). He might subscribe to a commercial hard-copy homily service that he checks out for ideas, or maybe he clicks his way around the Internet for some online inspiration. There are tons of resources out there from which he can gather homiletic ideas.

The real juice, though, the powerful message crying out to be heard by the People of God, lies somewhere deep within the preacher's soul. And that can only be squeezed out by prayer. Sometime before he hits the pulpit on Sunday, he's got to hit his knees during the week and spend some serious face time with God.

It's in prayer that the data gets crunched and all the insight and understanding coalesce into the rich fabric of a homily. From the opening line to the wrap-up, a thematic thread forms, stitching the points together and making the message known. Then he composes a written text, notes, or a sequence of thoughts he can deliver "off the top of his head."

What we hear on Sunday, then, comes from talent, inspiration, dedication, study, careful preparation, and a gift of gab'or a decided lack thereof, depending on the preacher. The people of San Felipe Parish are blessed to have Deacon Ed. He makes all the hard work look easy.

Paul Boudreau is a priest of the Diocese of Norwich who writes for This Sunday Scripture, a homily preparation service from Twenty-Third Publications.

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