I was visiting my in-law’s parish over Thanksgiving weekend with the rest of my family and the Deacon gave the homily during Mass. The homily was memorable – but for all of the wrong reasons. It was one of the worst homilies I have heard in recent memory. Don’t get me wrong, when it comes to bad preaching, I have a high threshold for pain. But this was unbearable to sit through.
I know many Catholics who will defend or justify the bad homily at Mass. They say something like, “I don’t go to Mass for the homily, I go for the Eucharist.” While its true that the Eucharist is the summit of the Liturgy and we receive Christ regardless of the imperfections of the ministers of the liturgy, there is no point in having a homily in the Liturgy if it is going to be bad. That is to say, we should not excuse poor preparation and poor proclamation. The proclamation and teaching of God’s Word and the message of the Gospel is extremely important and therefore, the homily within the Liturgy should be treated with importance.
So what was the Deacon’s mistake? The most glaring issue is that he had no discernible message. For 15 minutes he strung together sentences in an almost incoherent rambling. It was as if he was trying to take 15 minutes to list off every single dogma of the Catholic Church. This is the biggest problem that I see when I hear someone give a presentation on the faith.
If you are in a position to share the Kerygma (the basic Gospel message) with someone – whether its a stadium full of people or someone on an airplane – here are 3 things to always keep in mind.
Know Your Message
I went to a training conference for speakers a couple years back and one of the most important lessons that we were taught was to, “know your message.” If you are giving an hour long presentation and you cannot summarize your presentation in one sentence, then you have no message. When I was a student at Franciscan University of Steubenville, one of my professors had all of his students practice their testimony. We had to talk about how Christ has converted our hearts… and we had a 2 minute time limit.
Mark Twain famously wrote, “If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.” It is a challenge to be concise when giving a message, but being concise forces a presenter to know and be able to articulate the most important points of a message.
Proclaim Your Message
When I worked at the Augustine Institute in content development, whenever we were reviewing scripts, blogs, or study guide submissions we always would read the manuscript and then ask ourselves, “what do I remember?” If we couldn’t remember anything that we had read, we determined that the manuscript wasn’t good enough.
Sometimes, it isn’t enough to be able to articulate the most important points of a message. It has to be delivered in such a way that it is memorable. This doesn’t mean every person that gives a homily or shares their testimony needs to be a charismatic, dynamic personality. One of the most relatable aspects of any presentations are the stories that people tell to give witness to their message. This is also one of the reasons why personal testimony is so important. It makes the person that is conveying a message relatable to their audience.
Speak on What You Know
This is one of my pet peeves. I can’t stand it when someone gives a presentation on something that they know nothing about. It is difficult to enough to get up in front of an audience and give a presentation. It is even more difficult when it is something that you don’t know well. When giving a presentation, you don’t want to be worried about, “what am I going to say next?” As a presenter, you want to know the material inside and out so that your focus can be on delivering the message to your audience.
It seems simple enough, but if you follow the three key steps given above, you will exponentially improve the quality of the message you give and the delivery in which you give it. Proclaiming the Gospel is the mission or every Christian. Know the message inside and out, proclaim it and speak to what you know.
EVERETT FRITZ is the founder and Executive Director of St. Andrew Missionaries. He authored the best selling book, The Art of Forming Young Disciples. Everett regularly speaks on the topics of discipleship, youth evangelization and chastity. Everett and his wife Katrina reside in Denver, Colorado with their children.