ROME – While Catholic insiders may hash it out over complicated political and theological matters such as the precise meaning of Amoris Laetitia, the pope’s document on the family, or the proper approach to relations with China, at the grassroots such questions are often seen as abstract and of little immediate importance.
Instead, few complaints are more chronic than the uneven quality of Catholic preaching, especially in the priest’s homily at Sunday Mass.
For all those Mass-goers tempted to voice such frustrations, Pope Francis had a simple message on Wednesday: Okay, some homilies may miss the mark, but what are you doing about it?
“Those listening have to do their part too,” the pontiff said during his regular Wednesday General Audience.
Mass-goers, the pope said, should approach the homily “giving the appropriate attention, thus assuming the proper interior dispositions, without subjective demands, knowing that every preacher has both his merits and his limits.”
“If sometimes there’s reason to get annoyed about an overly long homily, or one that lacks focus or that’s incomprehensible, other times it’s actually the prejudice [of the listener] that creates obstacles,” the pope said.
The homily has long been a matter of pastoral concern for Francis, who’s made a point of delivering an impromptu homily each morning during his daily Mass at the Domus Santa Marta, the residence on Vatican grounds where he lives.
Francis devoted a large section of his 2013 apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, often described as the “Magna Carta” of his papacy, to the homily.
“The homily is not a casual discourse, nor a conference or a lesson, but a way of ‘taking up anew that dialogue which has already been opened between the Lord and his people,’” the pope said, quoting his own document.
In an extemporaneous flourish, Francis then dished up some practical advice for homilists.
“The one who gives the homily has to remember he isn’t doing something of his own,” the pope said. “He’s preaching, he’s giving a voice to Jesus, he’s preaching the Word of Jesus. It has to be well-prepared and brief, brief.”
On the subject of brevity, Francis told a story.
“A priest said to me once that he had gone to another city, where his parents lived. His dad told him, ‘You know, I’m happy, because me and my friends found a church where they do the Mass without a homily.’ How many times have we seen people sleeping during a homily, or chatting among themselves, or outside smoking a cigarette?”
When people laughed at the image, Francis said, “It’s true, you all know it … it’s true!”
Concluding that line of reflection, Francis said, “Please be brief … no more than 10 minutes, please!”
The pontiff was continuing his series of reflections in his General Audiences on the Eucharist, focusing most recently on the Liturgy of the Word during the Sunday Mass.
This was the fifth General Audience of 2018 for Francis, and, according to the Vatican Gendarmes, it was attended by roughly 8,000 people.
At the end of the audience, Francis offered words of encouragement for the World Day of Prayer against Human Trafficking, set for tomorrow, the feast of St. Josephine Bakhita, and also the Winter Olympics, which opens on Friday in PyeongChang in South Korea.
In what has become something of a standard feature at Francis’s audiences of late, the pope once again was treated to a brief show by circus performers, including jugglers and contortionists sporting colorful costumes.
In this case, the performers were from two circuses named “Medrano” and the “Rony Rollert Circus”.