The Merry Catholic

"MERRY" (mer - ee) adjective: full of cheerfulness; joyous in spirit; mirthful.
"CATHOLIC" (kath - lick) noun: a believer in Christ; the Church founded by Jesus Christ in 33 A.D.

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The Merry Catholic essay: July 30, 2014:

©2014

DURING HOMILY, PARISHIONERS SAY: ‘IMPRESS ME’

One of the most fascinating aspects of the Catholic Mass is the homily. The homily is not the main focus of the Mass; the Eucharist is. But the homily is the one moment during Mass when everyone in the church sits down, looks directly at the priest or deacon standing in the pulpit, and says, “OK, pal, impress me.”

The thing is, not everyone has the same idea of what “impress me” actually means. Some people want the homilist to offer an inspiring analysis of the Scripture readings, teaching the deep theological concepts contained therein.

These people are usually disappointed. If the deacon is giving the homily, he often has a full-time, 40-hour per week job, and so does not have a lot of spare time to prepare his homily. Certainly not enough time to research that week’s Scripture readings in depth and present the multi-faceted teachings on the readings that have been developed by brilliant Church scholars over the centuries.

If the parish priest is giving the homily, the same thing applies, except his full-time job during the week requires 70 hours. So he, too, has little time to develop a profound exegesis of the Scripture readings.

There are other people in church who define the idea of “impress me” as pure entertainment. They want the homilist to do a set of his very best stand-up comedy material, just like they’re used to watching on the Comedy Central network or on the late night talk shows. They expect the homilist to be like Bill Cosby walking through the curtain on “The Tonight Show” stage and delivering seven minutes of hilarious jokes and stories. If the priest or deacon does not have the congregation laughing hysterically within the first 30 seconds, then these folks in the pews roll their eyes and mutter, “Borrrr-ring!”

In a mass media world, where people can watch YouTube videos of their favorite comedians on their smart phones anytime they want, the priest and deacon at Mass just can’t compete.

There is yet another group of people in church who define the idea “impress me” like this: “I don’t care what you say, Pastor—cuz I’m not really listening anyway—just as long as you finish in three minutes.”

To these folks, time is all that matters, and the shorter the better. It’s true that we now live in a fast-paced, short attention span culture. We are inundated with brief sound bites and 140-character tweets. Anything that requires us to concentrate for more than a couple minutes makes our heads hurt.

Recently my parish had Jesus Himself come and spend time as a visiting priest. And just as I suspected, when He gave His homilies, some people thought they were not theologically deep enough. Other people thought they weren’t nearly funny enough. And many in the pews thought Our Lord’s homilies were way too long.

So if we really stop and think about it, if even the Son of God Himself has a tough time impressing us with His homilies, what chance do our priests and deacons have? (Oh, by the way, Jesus didn’t really come to my parish as a visiting priest— instead He sang in the choir.)

Maybe it wouldn’t kill us to lower our standards of what the idea “impress me” really means. Maybe once in a while on the way out of Mass we can tell the priest or deacon that we liked his homily and we’re grateful that he takes the time to try and teach us about the faith. But be ready to catch the man. He hears compliments so infrequently, the surprise might cause him to faint.

(Note: Listen to these "Merry Catholic" essays on WJMJ, the radio station of the Archdiocese of Hartford, at 88.9 FM or by streaming audio at wjmj.org.)