Besides, this post has been nagging at me since I read it yesterday:
A reader writes asking about “bad homilies”:There is more in the same vein here.
Every once in a while, you get a real clunker, one that isn’t just theologically weak, but turns what should be a feast into over microwaved junk. What is the proper response?
You want to know what to do?
Get down on your knees and pray for the priest who gave it.
Do penance for his intention.
Be happy you have a priest when many – many – don’t.
That is what you do.
Now, I want to begin by saying this as clearly as possible: I do not disagree with Father Z.
Let me say that again: I do not disagree with Father Z...
...if, and ONLY if, by "clunker" and "over-microwaved junk" the original letter-writer is not referring to heretical or borderline-blasphemous homilies, but only weak, silly, or poor ones.
If the letter writer was referring to heretical or blasphemous homilies, then--and note well--I still do not disagree with Father Z. The first course of action should still be to get on your knees.
The only slight mild sort-of disagreement I would have at that point would be to say that the matter ought to rest there--which, again, I will say to be clear, is not something Fr. Z. has actually said, so I don't know if you can even properly call it a disagreement.
I think that pastors, vicars general, vicars of priests, and bishops have the right to be informed when a priest under their jurisdiction is regularly delivering homilies in which the priest's regular attempts at theological creativity strays into actual heresy.
"But, Red! But, Red!" some of you might say at this point. "How is a lay person supposed to be qualified to recognize homiletic heresy, as opposed to a bad day or really unfortunate phrasing or a fine point of theology which the lay person himself might not fully understand?"
Simple. First, note my use of the word "regularly." A one-off situation in which a priest slips up should be viewed with the utmost charity; we have all experienced what some call "foot-in-mouth" disease.
Second, any lay person can double-check, using both online and offline sources, some homiletic statement or theme that seems too odd to be Catholic. Is it true, what Father said, that the Church teaches Mary didn't suffer the loss of her virginity even though she gave birth? Um, yes, actually. Is it true, what Father said, that Mary was only the mother of Jesus in His human nature and should not really be called the Mother of God? Um, no, of course not.
Some might wonder whether heresy actually crops up in homilies these days. Sure, maybe back in the bad old 1970s, but now? Alas, here are some things I've actually heard at Masses much more recently than that:
- Mary was an ignorant peasant girl who never really understood anything the Angel told her.
- Mary and Joseph had a normal married life and had other children together; the Church just doesn't want to admit that, because, you know, sex and all.
- It's perfectly fine to refer to God as "She." I've heard this in several forms, ranging from the idea that since God is genderless He didn't really choose to present Himself using male pronouns to an apparent belief that one of the Persons of the Holy Trinity is a woman, or at least ought to be.
- From a deacon who was also a guardian ad litem: if he'd been assigned Mary and Joseph as a case, he would have assigned Jesus a social worker because of their poverty and lack of decent transportation, their homelessness, and the fact that the Child didn't have a car seat. (Now that was an interesting Christmas Mass homily, let me tell you.)
- On All Souls' Day a few years ago, the priest saying Mass got so heated during his homily in which he ranted that the Church was wrong, wrong, wrong to view All Souls' Day as a penitential day and mandate violet vestments when we should be celebrating because all of our loved ones are now in heaven with God--that he tore off those vestments and said the rest of Mass in his white cassock.
There could be more, but to be honest I've developed a habit of a sort of protective tune-out when homilies start getting too, too strange; I figure that in terms of sinfulness, I'm caught between the Scylla of not paying full attention to the homily and the Charybdis of percolating to a boiling point of unholy wrath in the middle of Mass. I suppose I could use the homily as the opportunity to pray for the priest when this sort of thing happens, except that the one thing that will really get you noticed is any attempt to pray during Mass, as that is the one thing that must never happen.
Bottom line: if you are complaining about homilies just because they are sort of canned, or dull, or weak, or repetitive--follow Father Z.'s excellent advice. I've known priests who speak in a nearly-inaudible monotone about nothing I can ever remember; I've known priests who use repetitive catchphrases so much that when those start cropping up I have to fight to stay with the homily, because the temptation is to think I've already heard this one; I even know a dear, kind, fully orthodox, marvelously reverent priest whose Masses are a delight to God and man, and yet whose homilies--I must be honest--are so lengthy, so tangential, so lacking in a coherent theme, and so strangely organized that I keep expecting Nicholas Cage to show up in them. :) But to complain about any of these sorts of things, ever, really would smack of the sort of lay ingratitude that I suspect Father Z. is addressing; thankful prayers are much more appropriate.
However, if you are complaining about homilies that betray, to be as charitable as possible, a woeful and concerning lack of understanding on the part of the homilist regarding some key teaching of the Catholic faith, it may--may!--be both just and right to write a letter to the appropriate authority. The letter should be kind, and short, and to the point. You should not be surprised or disappointed if you never hear back, or if the only thing you receive in reply is a letter which reads something like this:
Dear Lay Person,
Thank you for your concerns about Father Whosis's ministry and service at St. Whatsit Parish. St. Whatsit Parish is deeply blessed to have the ministry and service of Father Whosis, who sets a tremendously important example for us all of ministry and service. We hope that you will agree that the ministry and service of Father Whosis to St. Whatsit Parish are tremendously important.
Which, translated into common speech, means: "Dear Spoiled Catholic Brat: Quit your sniveling. Sincerely, etc."
Still, if enough concerned letters about Father Whosis are received, someone may realize that something more important than Spoiled Catholic Brat syndrome is going on, and may investigate--which is a consummation devoutly to be wished, and all that.
I have great hope for the future of Catholic homiletics, however. It's not because of the reform of the reform, though that helps. It's not because of the new Mass translation, though that will likely help too. It's not even because of the influx of well-trained former Anglican priests who are coming into the Church, though the absolute best homilist I have ever known, bar none, is a former Anglican, now Catholic priest who serves in our diocese.
No, my hope for the end of the lightly-heretical homily rests elsewhere. In a word: YouTube. Priests who used to delight in Dan Brown-esque dabblings and "new" ideas (which actually date back to the Arians, the Albigensians, or the Manicheans, among others) now must fear that any yokel parishioner with an iPhone and a YouTube channel can, with one recording, get him in the kind of ecclesial hot water that no priest ever really wants to face. And should the video go viral...! The horror.
So our children may never hear, from the pulpit anyway, random speculations about whether the Trinity exists, or whether Jesus thought St. John the Baptist might be the Messiah for a while, or whether the early Church hated and feared women and that's why we don't have female priests--all because of YouTube. For which I am truly thankful.
UPDATE: I "borrowed" (ahem) the Nicholas Cage line from the brilliantly funny Bad Banana; the original line Bad Banana wrote was that his day was so awful, he kept looking around to see if Nicholas Cage was in it. :)