Pope Francis advises preachers to keep it short, sweet and insightful
Roman Catholic faithful all over the world are grateful to Pope Francis for pointedly “suggesting” a 10-minute length limit for Sunday Mass homilies or sermons.
All too often, preachers feel they have to talk longer than that, to make their sermons a key part of their weekly religious service, and to make Mass-goers think more deeply about the significance and different applications of the day’s Gospel to their daily lives and relationships.
Unfortunately, many of them take the easy way out, and end up pretty much just paraphrasing the gospel reading’s more “meaningful” parts.
Some listeners are turned off by this, because they think that it implies that they won’t be able to properly understand it without the preacher’s elucidation or paraphrasing.
More understanding parishioners realize that parish priests and preachers are overworked, so some of them can’t give their sermons the time and reflection needed to come up with a truly meaningful and inspiring homily—so, they go for length rather than substance.
Some preachers even skip the personal reflection part of the process and just read a homily prepared by somebody else.
Instructively, some Mass-goers prefer this alternative “prepackaged” approach, because it assures them of a more insightful and inspirational approach, rather than just a tepid and tendentious paraphrase.
But, Pope Francis’ recent suggestion to keep it short and insightfully significant is a timely and welcome reminder that Catholic preachers should take earnest heed of, because relative brevity assures greater focus and pertinence to the life lessons that are taught at Mass, which the faithful can apply to improve and edify their and other people’s lives after learning them.
Indeed, some of the most memorable and moving homilies we’ve heard have also been the briefest.
Sterling examples of these are the sermons of Archbishop Socrates Villegas, whose masses were capped by homilies that were famously only three or so minutes long.
Despite or even because of their well-honed brevity, the life lessons they taught and shared shone through with exceptional clarity and insight, which “stayed” with listeners even after they got home.
Some of Archbishop Villegas’ concise but felt homilies have been compiled in book form, so readers can peruse and appreciate them for themselves. They include “Only Jesus, Always Jesus: Homilies at the Edsa Shrine” and “Jesus Loves You.”
Pope Francis’ suggested 10-minute length limit for sermons actually gives preachers more time to elaborate and expatiate as they see fit, given their particular parish’s relevant contexts and issues.
So, we trust that his advice will be taken in the spirit with which he gave it, and that it will encourage preachers to talk less—and think and feel more.
That seminal change in length and focus would make parishioners look forward to listening to homilies, instead of stepping out for a smoke—or, nodding off!