Week 16 | On the Road to Emmaus w/ Bishop Boyea | The Homily | October 1 to 7

Friday, September 29, 2023

Feast of Saints Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, Archangels


Dear Friend,

With reference to the homily at Mass, it has previously been quipped that the term “clergyman” can be defined as “someone who talks in other people’s sleep”. So why on earth do we have a homily at Sunday Mass? That’s the question I hope to answer in this, Week 16 of On the Road to Emmaus, our year-long pilgrimage together through the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, while a homily during a weekday Mass isn’t compulsory, the Church insists upon a homily as part of Sunday Mass. Why? Perhaps, it is as St. Paul asks, “But how can they call on him in whom they have not believed?  And how can they believe in him of whom they have not heard?  And how can they hear without someone to preach?” Well, OK, but that was before we had the written New Testament. Can’t we just hear the homilies preached by the Apostles in the New Testament and be done with it?  I believe Paul would say, “No.” Again, why?
Jesus himself can be the model for us. Recall his walking with those two disciples as they were leaving Jerusalem for Emmaus.  After hearing their version of what had recently taken place in Jerusalem, Jesus then explained the scriptures to them telling them that it was necessary that the Messiah should suffer.  Luke then tells us, “Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the scriptures”. These two disciples later exclaimed, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us?”
So, there are two reasons for a homily. The first is to explain the scriptures. Evidently, Jesus knew that the scriptures are not always clear or that we who read them have barriers to understand them.  In either case, there is need to explain.  The second reason is to set hearts on fire.
As to the first reason, before the Second Vatican Council homilies were called sermons and usually were explanations of the Creed or the Commandments and usually had little to nothing to do with the scripture readings of the day.  I remember as a kid, over a series of Sundays, hearing my pastor cover the Ten Commandments.  To be honest, I don’t remember much about hearing or understanding the scripture texts that were read.
The Second Vatican Council Document, Sacrosantum Concilium or, in English, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, made a significant shift in the nature of sermons. It said this: “The sermon, moreover, should draw its content mainly from scriptural and liturgical sources, and its character should be that of a proclamation of God's wonderful works in the history of salvation, the mystery of Christ, ever made present and active within us, especially in the celebration of the liturgy.” 
This is why we now use the term, “Homily,” rather than “Sermon” to describe this action.
As to the second reason, it is clear that the preacher is to be a “walking homily” and thus his words manifest Christ and his victory through the preacher’s words and his life.  The Pope who closed the Second Vatican Council, Pope Saint Paul VI once said this: “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.” Now, of course, this places a great burden on the bishop, priest or deacon. We are all sinners preaching to sinners and thus no better than anyone else. Nonetheless, the approach I take is first to preach to myself, to let the Word of God set my sinful heart on fire before approaching that mission among all of you.
The word, “homily” itself in Greek means “to be with or converse with” someone or others. We are all in this together and thus the homily must always be seen as our communal effort to understand and live the Word of God so as to give God glory.
And that is my challenge to you for this week: Read the Scripture readings closely this week at Sunday Mass, listen attentively to the homily and then draw out from that homily a challenge to be lived this week. Got that? It’s in three parts. One: read the scripture readings. Two: listen to the homily. Three: derive a challenge from that homily.
Remember: Jesus preached, the apostles preached, and we need good and holy preachers to this day. So please do pray for your pastor or deacon – or bishop – as he approaches the pulpit, that God will give him the words to say. Until next week On the Road to Emmaus, may God bless you all.
+ Earl Boyea
Bishop of Lansing