Where Homilies Go Wrong

Claretian Appeals for More Attention to Reality and Less to Rhetoric

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BARCELONA, Spain, JULY 18, 2003 (Zenit.org).- Most of the faithful seem to share the same opinion about Sunday homilies, says a theologian. And it’s not good.

«I don’t understand what the priest says in the homilies,» is what many Catholics in the pews say, according to Claretian Father Teofilo Cabestrero.

«It is not a criticism,» he says. «It is a fact.»

Father Cabestrero maintains that «people want to understand what we say in liturgical celebrations, and what we preach in homilies; they need to understand Christian language from the reality of their lives and for their lives.»

The Claretian explained his conviction in the Spanish-language «Are Our Homilies Understood? The Need for a More Communicative Language,» published in May by the Liturgical Pastoral Center.

The author said that the problem of homilies is not just the form (the language) but also the more basic part (the content), which must be more witnessed.

Father Cabestrero, born in 1931, is a specialist in pastoral care and catechesis, in addition to having a doctorate in theology and teaching in academic centers in Spain and Guatemala.

He believes that a homily must change the life of the one who hears it. «We are asked to speak more of Jesus, to illuminate with the Gospel the real problems that ordinary people live and suffer,» he says.

The priest points out that «to the difficulties proper to all verbal language are added the difficulties posed by the Word of God proclaimed in the language of the Bible, culturally distant from us.»

«The homily must be brief,» Father Cabestrero emphasizes, convinced that formation and preparation are essential. «The language of the homily will fail if the one who speaks it does not have a thorough knowledge of the biblical-liturgical message he must transmit.»

The preacher will also fail if he does not «express the message so that it is perceived as good news of the God of Jesus for their lives.»

The key element, however, is the language of witness. «Today, homilies need the language of witnesses,» he says. Christian witness «must be simple and helpful, free and respectful of the freedom of others and as full of discretion as it is of clarity and truth.»

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